Nigeria prepares to go to polls again after last-minute delay

Unspecified ‘challenges’ led to postponement of vote last week five hours before polling time

A staff member of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission  carries a box of ballot papers  in Port Harcourt on Friday. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba//AFP/Getty Images

A staff member of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission carries a box of ballot papers in Port Harcourt on Friday. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba//AFP/Getty Images

 

Nigerians are preparing to go to the polls again, hoping the presidential election will go ahead on Saturday morning after last weekend’s 11th-hour postponement.

The incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari, and his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, resumed campaigning this week after the announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission at 3am last Saturday, five hours before polling stations were due to open, that the vote was being pushed back.

Unspecified “challenges” meant it could not hold the election as scheduled, it said, amid reports that materials such as ballot papers and tally sheets had not all been distributed.

In multiple briefings since the postponement, the commission tried to reassure Nigerians it was ready to go ahead with the poll: that the smart card readers introduced in 2015 to accredit voters had all been reconfigured, and that other materials were in the process of being delivered.

The UN’s special representative for west Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, called on Nigerians to “turn out massively”. But less than half the country is registered to vote, and in 2015, there was only a 44 per cent turnout among 67 million registered voters. The number registered has risen to 84 million for this year’s election, but the delay will almost certainly affect turnout.

Many Nigerians who had organised their schedules and finances so as to be able to travel to cast their votes will not be able to repeat the process this weekend. In an effort to improve turnout, some airlines and bus companies are offering discounts, while some individuals are paying for voters’ transport.

Many businesses closed early on Friday because of the looming vote, and along with the higher costs to voters, as well as cancelled events, it means the delay will have a huge economic cost: one Nigerian research company estimated it at about $2.2 billion (€1.9 billion).

“We need to get to a place where it doesn’t happen that every time we have an election, it disrupts the whole economy,” said Toyin Awesu of the National Democratic Institute, an international observer mission.

Conciliatory tone

The economy struggled during Mr Buhari’s first term, which began with much hope that, as a former general with a reputation for being strict, he would tackle rampant corruption and the country’s myriad security problems. But many are disappointed with the progress on these fronts made by the president, who spent about six months of his term abroad receiving medical treatment.

Mr Buhari was widely criticised for saying that anyone who tried to interfere with the voting process or intimidate voters “will do it at the expense of his own life”, in an emergency party meeting on Monday. “I have given the military and the police instructions to be ruthless. We are not going to be blamed for the bad conduct of the election,” he said.

Addressing the nation on Friday morning, he took a much more conciliatory tone. “Do not be afraid of rumours of violence and unrest. Our security agencies have worked diligently to ensure that adequate security measures are in place,” Mr Buhari said. “You will be able to vote in an atmosphere of openness and peace, devoid of fear from threat or intimidation.”

To win the election outright, a candidate must get an overall majority and at least a quarter of the votes in two-thirds of the country’s 36 states. Otherwise, it will go to a run-off, which must be held within seven days. This would push back the gubernatorial elections, due to be held next weekend. – Guardian