General Elections in Nigeria were postponed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to the 28th March and 11th April 2015. The reason for this postponement is a fractious topic. In my previous blog, I stated that some, especially officials of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were calling for the postponement of the elections due to concerns that Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) were not being distributed effectively. The reason given for the delay, though, was a security one – that Nigerian Military in collaboration with joint regional forces will be engaging in the fight against insurgency in the north-eastern part of Nigeria and therefore needed at least six weeks for this. . This is widely believed to be an excuse for the ruling party and President Goodluck Jonathan to buy more time to enable them reach out to more voters following their lack of acceptance following the conclusion of the earlier campaign window. .
The opposition party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), strongly opposed the delay and public commentators have stated that security is not a justifiable reason for the postponement. Critics of PDP’s government point out that the insurgency in three states of north eastern Nigeria that the President wants time to address has existed for six years, so it seems unlikely that it can be addressed in six weeks. President Goodluck Jonathan has consistently played down and ignored the threat from Boko Haram prior to this. Whilst the military seem to now be making good progress, the government have not acted to quell this insurgency until it was electorally beneficial to do so.
The INEC itself had also said it was ready to go to the poll shortly before their announcement. This has increased speculation that Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP government had seen the hand writing on the wall. The probability was high that had Nigeria gone to the polls on the 14th February, the APC would have claimed victory. It was a move by the PDP to buy time to strategize and reach more voters.
Goodluck Jonathan’s party are using the additional time effectively by meeting traditional leaders in the areas where he is most challenged: the north and the south west, with the south west the area that is likely to be the area that decides the outcome of the election overall.
The delay, however, may be a gamble which doesn’t pay off for President Goodluck Jonathan.
The PDP have so far suffered negative publicity as a result of the speculation that they instigated the postponement and shortly after it was announced, former President Olusegun Obasanjo quit the PDP, tearing up his membership card in public in protest at Goodluck Jonathan’s leadership.
In contrast, the opposing party reacted well to the news of the postponement, urging supporters to remain calm and to use the opportunity to ensure they have collected their voter cards. 80% of voters have now collected their cards, with some regions reporting take up of 98-99%. The APC can spend time gaining new supporters, albeit with access to much fewer resources.
Opposition leader Buhari has used the opportunity to visit Chatham House in London to speak about Nigeria’s transition to democracy, an event which has been well received by the international community. Key bilateral partners such as the US and UK have had concerns about how the current government has run the country and the reported corruption for some time, and through this event, they appear to be lending support to Buhari. This will not go unnoticed in Nigeria where aid and trade relationships are so important.
In the time between the original election date and 28th March, the media has drawn attention to the one year anniversary of the kidnap of over 200 girls in Chibok. The President was criticised for initially ignoring the incident, and for still failing to resolve it, and so the resurgence of the issue in the press looks likely to remind voters of his previous inaction on the issue.
With the polls so close, the result, and what effect the ruling party’s delay tactics have had, will only be known on the election day. The south west will be the beautiful bride – whoever takes this region looks set to take the day and form the national government. The elections cannot be delayed again. This would cause a constitutional crisis and heighten the likelihood of civil unrest. The international community including the US Secretary of State has made a plea for a peaceful election to go ahead.