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Nigeria postpones 2019 general elections hours before polls open, citing ‘logistics and operations’ concerns

Screenshot of INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu, announcing the postponement of the Nigerian General Elections on February 16, 2019 in Abuja, Nigeria.

Nigerians woke up on Saturday, February 16, to news that presidential elections will no longer be held as scheduled for that day.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that that the presidential and national assembly elections will now be held on February 23, one week later, while the governorship and state house of assembly will be held on March 9. The electoral commission has halted the elections due to its inability to implement “logistics and operational plans” ahead of the elections.

The 2015 presidential elections were delayed for six weeks over security challenges. However, this is the first time in Nigeria's history that an election will be canceled less than five hours before the commencement of polls.

Fears of a possible postponement

There had been unconfirmed fears that the elections might be postponed. However, in September last year, INEC denied having such plans. Similarly, on January 19, the head of commission Professor Mahmood Yakubu during a video interview stated that “we started this long ago and we have gone ahead with our preparations … there's no possibility of a postponement.”

These fears persisted until the eve of the elections on social media. But Tolu Ogunlesi, head of digital media in the presidency, dismissively branded it as propaganda from the opposition.

What went wrong?

The coordination of the election by the electoral commission encountered many challenges. Less than two weeks before the elections, there were fire outbreaks in INEC offices in Plateau, Abia, and Anambra States, which destroyed electoral materials like uncollected Permanent Voters Cards, smart card readers and ballot papers.

Also, on the eve of the elections in Kaduna State on February 15, 66 people — including 22 children and 12 women — were allegedly killed by unknown gunmen. These killings have not yet been independently verified.

This led credence to the rumour that elections may be deferred to a later date in affected states.

WhatsApp broadcast and group messages, largely adopted by political parties during this election to win support, aggravated this apprehension. These social media groups have stoked rumours and spread misinformation and disinformation.

Main opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party described the cancellation as “obviously a case of the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob.” Abubakar stated:

The Buhari administration hopes to disenfranchise the Nigerian electorate in order to ensure that turn out is low on the rescheduled date.

On the other hand, the ruling party All Progressive Congress condemned the “tardiness of the electoral umpire” and also insinuated that INEC had “orchestrated” the postponement “in collusion with the main opposition, the PDP.”

Nigerians react!

Nigerian netizens have reacted strongly against the last minute rescheduling of the presidential polls by INEC.

“Excuses don't cut it!”

Why wait till the last minute?

Waste of resources

INEC lacked the courtesy to even apologize

Wicked!

Questions for INEC

INEC is not saying the truth!

Apathy is not an option. We'll vote next week!

Nigeria's electoral commission left many questions unanswered. The decision spiked tensions and casts doubt on the credibility of the presidential elections. It also reinforces the need for a genuinely independent electoral commission. Until INEC is completely weaned from executive manipulation and interference, election postponements will continue to happen in Nigeria.

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