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Is Nigeria's Postponed Presidential Election Really About Security?

The main opposition candidate General (Rtd) Muhammadu Buhari speaking at African Diaspora Conference in London. Some political observers believe that the postponement is a  political strategy meant to favour the ruling party. Photo by Michael Tubi

The main opposition candidate General (Rtd) Muhammadu Buhari speaking at African Diaspora Conference in London. Some political observers believe that the postponement is a political strategy meant to favour the ruling party. Photo by Michael Tubi, copyright © Demotix (5 April, 2013)

The Nigerian Independent National Election Commission (INEC) announced on February 7, 2015, that presidential election due on February 14 would be pushed back by six weeks because of security concerns in areas held by militant group Boko Haram.

The group has increased its campaign of violence in northern Nigeria. Recently, it conducted what Amnesty International described as the group’s “deadliest massacre in recent history” in Baga, a town in the north-eastern state of Borno.

The chairman of the election commission Attahiru Jega said that security forces would be conducting a six-week special operation against Boko Haram so “they would rather not be distracted by the elections.” The government has vowed to finish off the group in six weeks.

This is the first time in Nigeria’s history that the presidential election is being postponed. However, this is not the first time a national election will postponed in Nigeria. In 2011, we reported the reaction of Nigerian netizens to the rescheduling of the national parliamentary elections.

Since the announcement, there has been many speculations as to the real reasons for the postponement. For example, ‘Gbénga Sèsan, the director for Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, thinks that the electoral commission was forced to postpone the election:

Henrik Angerbrandt, a PhD candidate in political science and researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute, believes the postponement has more to do with politics than security. He wonders why the offensive against an insurgency that has lasted for six years coincides with the date of the presidential election.

He writes:

Less than three weeks ago, the national security advisor to the president called for the elections to be postponed. However, this was not because the security agents were unprepared but because of slow distribution of voters’ cards. INEC, the responsible authority, replied there was no reason for postponement. Hence, it looks like a last resort has been to return to the security argument, first articulated in September by the PDP Senate President.

There are different theories on what [ruling People's Democratic Party] PDP benefits from the postponement. As the election has come closer, opinion polls have shown growing dissatisfaction with [President Goodluck] Jonathan’s government and [ex-military dictator Muhammadu] Buhari has emerged as a possible winner of the election. A postponement would provide an opportunity for Jonathan to recover some lost grounds. As incumbent party, PDP is furthermore believed to benefit from more resources than [All Progressive Congress] APC, making an extended campaign phase seem preferable. Another possible advantage is that despite long resistance from Jonathan, neighbouring countries are increasingly present in the combat of Boko Haram and some extra weeks may halt the loss of territory to the insurgents. That would make Jonathan have something to show the many critics that have questioned both his capability and commitment to respond to Boko Haram.

He notes that the postponement has been met with widespread disappointment and suspicion. He wonders what will happen if the objectives of the special operation are not met after six weeks:

The initial responses to the postponement express widespread disappointment and suspicion. The opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, and major actors in civil society have appealed for calm, but the decision triggers major discontent. Ahead of the decision, Nigerians gathered for protests in the streets in Lagos and Abuja. If there would be nationwide demonstrations, there are many places in which there is a high risk for violence.

The special operation that the military commences is scheduled for six weeks. The record of the military’s operations in the north east in the last six years offers few indications that the situation will have improved significantly in these weeks. The question is what will happen if the objectives of the operation are deemed not to have been accomplished at this time. Will the military call for postponement for another month? The end of April is the upper limit according to the constitutional requirements for when elections must hold. Or, even worse, will there be a suggestion for an interim government?

Moyosore Ayodele also wonders how Boko Haram can be defeated in six weeks after terrorising the country for six years:

Ruggedman asks:

Twitter user President Obiang notes sarcastically:

According to Alexander Osondu, the postponement is a violation of Nigeria’s constitution:

Adaure Achumba, the West Africa correspondent for AriseTV, disagrees:

This is one of the reasons some are speculating that led to the postponement:

Ryan Cummings, a South African security analyst, says postponing election because of Boko Haram is nonsensical:

By the time of writing this, 316 Twitter users have retweeted and 16 favourited the following tweet after a call by Voice of America Hausa to its followers to express their opinion about the postponement:

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