from Africa in Transition

Why Were Nigeria’s Presidential Elections Postponed?

February 09, 2015

Blog Post

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Politics and Government


Elections and Voting

Civil Society

On Saturday, Nigeria’s Independent National Elections Commission (INEC) announced that Nigeria’s presidential election would be delayed until March 28. According to Attahiru Jega, chairman of the INEC, National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki directed the postponement of the February 14 elections for at least six weeks. Dasuki said that starting February 14, the military and security services will launch a campaign against Boko Haram, the militant Islamist movement in northeast Nigeria. Therefore, they can not provide the necessary security for the electoral process.

Predictably, the opposition presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, leaders of civil society, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have expressed frustration and disappointment. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) support the postponement. Buhari has called for calm, and thus far there has been no violence. Yet, there are reports of soldiers patrolling the streets of Lagos, one of the world’s largest cities and a center of opposition to the Jonathan government.

Jega’s statement makes it clear that the postponement was not caused by the logistical challenges of organizing the polling, specifically the distribution of permanent voter cards. Rather, postponement is the direct result of the national security advisor and the security services call for postponement.

Skepticism abounds about the postponement. Buhari’s momentum had been building. A delay may allow Jonathan and the PDP to recapture the momentum. Cynics – or realists – suggest that a delay will also enable the PDP to put in place the necessary arrangements to rig the elections. Others suggest that the military and the security services will do all that is necessary to block a Buhari presidency. When Buhari was chief of state for twenty months, 1983-1985, he cracked down on the ubiquitous corruption within the military and elsewhere. Accordingly, he was ousted from office in a military coup led by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.

Given the government’s failure over the past five years to address the resilient militant movement’s violent insurgency, Dasuki’s claim that the security services can defeat Boko Haram in the next six weeks rings hollow. Despite the short period to fulfill such an enormous task, Dasuki is claiming that the general election will not be postponed any further. Nevertheless, if his new military initiative against Boko Haram falls short and the elections are again postponed in March, the possibility of popular unrest will increase.

The de facto contract among the cooperating and competing elites that have run Nigeria is fractured. Signs include the recommendation of the Council of State, comprised of former heads of state and former chief justices, that the elections go forward on February 14. Nigeria is in unchartered territory, with political developments no longer following familiar precedents.