Nigeria election: Five questions about delay

By Lucy Fleming
BBC News, Lagos

Image source, AP

Nigeria's elections, due in February, have been postponed by six weeks because of security concerns in the north-east, where Boko Haram militants have taken over territory displacing some 1.5 million people. The electoral commission said it made the decision after the security agencies advised there would not be enough troops available to guarantee the safety of voters. However, many Nigerians suspect foul play.

Can Boko Haram be beaten in six weeks?

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Boko Haram is fighting to create an Islamic state

It is unlikely - the Islamist insurgency has been going on for six years.

In the last few weeks, however, the conflict has taken on a more regional dimension, with Nigeria's neighbours providing military assistance against Boko Haram.

Cameroon and Niger have promised to beef up a multi-national force to take on the militants, while Chad has been involved in bombing campaigns on Nigerian territory and has sent in troops to retake some border towns.

Interior Minister Abbo Moro told the BBC the regional coalition was gaining the upper hand, and troops could bring violence "to a level that will allow for a free and fair election".

Could the election be delayed again?

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Mr Jonathan is facing a strong election from his rival Muhammadu Buhari

The presidential and parliamentary polls are now due on 28 March - but they could still be pushed forward by a few weeks as the constitution states that the electoral process must be completed 30 days before 29 May, when power should be handed over.

There is strong suspicion in opposition circles that President Goodluck Jonathan and the governing People's Democratic Party (PDP) will use every tactic to hold on to power, as it risks defeat in the polls for the first time since military rule ended in 1999.

But PDP supporters and the government deny this, insisting there is no ulterior motive and there will be no further delay.

They point out that postponements are not unusual - this happened in the last election in 2011 because of the huge logistical difficulties in getting election material to polling stations across a vast country with poor infrastructure.

Nevertheless, supporters of opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress (APC) remain suspicious.

They fear that if the violence escalates in the north-east, the election will be delayed again and, in the worst scenario, the military will seize power, ending the democracy Nigeria has had since 1999.

Why was it left so late to postpone them?

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Gen Buhari is confident that he will be more effective in tackling the insurgents

Nigeria works in opaque ways. In 2011, the postponement of the presidential election was announced mid-way through voting, after the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) said it would be unable to deliver result sheets to polling stations on time.

So Inec has done better this time, announcing a postponement a week before the election.

This gives it more time to roll out permanent voters cards - only two-thirds of Nigeria's 66.8 million voters have so far collected them and it will not be possible to vote without one.

But Inec says the decision to postpone the poll was taken on the advice of the military, which said it would be unable to guard polling stations nationwide while so many of its soldiers are battling Boko Haram.

Mr Jonathan has also come under international pressure in recent weeks to step up the campaign against Boko Haram - at its heads of state summit last month, the African Union (AU) called for decisive action against the militants and backed the creation of a regional force to fight the group.

Will the delay affect the campaign?

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Democracy was restored in Nigeria when military rule ended in 1999

In the last few weeks, the momentum has swung in favour of the APC. The six-week delay will give the PDP time to strategise and fight back, analysts say.

They say the APC may struggle with funding to keep its campaign going for another six weeks. Money is unlikely to be an issue for the PDP, which has deep pockets - even though the party denies accusations that it uses public money.

People suspect that the PDP will also use this opportunity to buy time for cases in court seeking Gen Buhari's disqualification from running as president, saying Inec accepted him as a candidate without receipt of his certificates of education.

Many Nigerians also suspect that the military will be hoping for some symbolic victories over Boko Haram, which will restore its battered image and also help Mr Jonathan's electoral prospects.

Why has the whole process been so disorganised?

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Oil contributes more than 70% to Nigeria's government revenues

Nigeria is a giant in many ways - it is Africa's largest oil producer, biggest economy and most populous nation but its vast wealth has not been used to invest in developing the country and most people still live in poverty.

Government officials are often accused of corruption, inefficiency and indiscipline - some see their job largely as a way to extract bribes. This means they have a lot to lose if they are defeated in an election and so they do everything possible to ensure victory, fuelling perceptions that the election will not be credible.

However, others note that despite the problems, Nigeria has made huge strides since military rule ended in 1999 and democracy is taking root in the country.

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