Nigeria’s presidential elections are scheduled for February 14, 2015, though there has long been speculation that they might be postponed. The Nigerian National Security Advisor, Sambo Dasuki, called for the elections to be postponed on January 22 to allow time for the distribution of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), which are necessary for a ballot to be cast. Dasuki’s call was rejected by the opposition and civil society.
On February 4, a commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the body in charge of conducting elections, re-opened the possibility that the vote could be postponed. Amina Zachary, another electoral commissioner, confirmed that only 44 million out of 68.8 million PVCs had been distributed to voters. According to reports, 60 percent of voter cards have been distributed in eleven of Nigeria’s thirty-six states. In four states, less than 50 percent have been dispursed. In Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous state, about 40 percent of cards have reached voters. INEC plans to review election preperations on February 8, the initial deadline for completing PVC distribution, in order to decide whether to continue delivering PVCs up to the election or honor the deadline.
The slow distribution rate of PVCs could effectively disenfranchise a substantial percentage of the electorate. If INEC proceeds with elections and more PVCs are not delivered, a significant portion of the voting population would not have their say on election day, a reality that would call into question the credibility of the elections. In addition, INEC is having trouble delivering PVCs to Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa, the three northern states under a state of emergency. Swaths of this territory is controlled by the radical Islamist movement, Boko Haram. It is expected that the group will try to significantly disrupt voting. It is also likely that a high percentage of Nigeria’s one million-plus internally displaced persons and refugees will be unable to vote, despite reports that INEC is making some provisions for them.
Attahiru Jega, then as now the INEC chairman, delayed the 2011 presidential elections by one week. As is currently the case, voting materials for the 2011 election had not been distributed throughout the country on time. In 2011, by and large, non-governmental organizations were supportive of Jega’s decision. Today, it is unclear whether postponement would be welcomed. The opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) is deeply suspicious that the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan would somehow use postponement to rig the elections.
Most recently, the council of state, an organ of the Nigerian government that advises the executive branch, determined that the elections should not be postponed. Western media is claiming that the council convinced government proponents of the postponement to back down. It remains to be seen whether the council will maintain this stance as we get closer to elections.
The logistics of conducting a national election in Nigeria are daunting in the best of times. Failure to distribute many PVCs along with a very close race between the two presidential candidates, much higher levels of pre-election violence than in 2011, and the Boko Haram insurrection compound the challenges of holding credible elections. To say the least, these are not the best of times.