On Saturday, as Nigeria’s three-week electoral process was launching, the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) dismayed domestic and international onlookers by postponing the elections, first for forty-eight hours and now for a full week. The original schedule, available along with other details on the elections, is here. The new schedule is as follows:
- Saturday, April 9, Senate and House of Representatives Elections;
- Saturday, April 16, Presidential Elections;
- Tuesday, April 26, State House of Assembly and Governorship Elections.
Reactions to the delay have typically been negative, but there is some variance in how news outlets have explained the delay and envisioned its consequences. While some remain in “wait-and-see” mode, others feel this incident confirms fears of an electoral “fiasco” in Nigeria.
Regarding the causes of the delay, the official explanation concerns logistical problems with the delivery of voting materials from abroad. But the BBC emphasizes growing suspicion among Nigerian voters regarding potential interference by the ruling party: “The BBC’s Caroline Duffield in Lagos says the country’s political culture of vote-rigging and violence has made it difficult for people to accept the official explanations for the delay. She says many voters – and some politicians – think political interference caused Saturday’s chaos.”
Regarding the consequences of the delay, many people are watching to see what happens next before they pronounce the process a failure, even members of opposition camps like the campaign of General Muhammadu Buhari. 234 Next pulls no punches in saying, “On the face of it, this was a massive failure and a national embarrassment.” But their editorial also notes that INEC, in the person of its chairman Dr. Attahiru Jega, “still enjoys a goodwill that he can exploit towards restoring the public confidence.” 234 Next adds, “The next one week is absolutely crucial. The margin for error is now completely obliterated. The expectations are heightened and the world is now paying even closer attention.”
Some say the outlook has already turned grim. Reuters quotes a young Nigerian who said Saturday, “Nigeria has not changed and today we have seen that.” Maggie Fick, at the Christian Science Monitor, concludes, “The cards remain stacked against a vote free of intimidation and violence.” And This Day, while continuing to urge Nigerians to vote and take the process seriously, writes that the postponement has “cast a shadow on the entire general election” (permanent link unavailable).
For its part, INEC has apologized and is now working to get the vote back on track. We’ll soon see whether this delay was a temporary setback or a harbinger of major problems to come.