After millions of Nigerians, including the president and his main opponent, traveled to their home towns to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections, the electoral commission announced a week’s delay, less than six hours before the balloting was due to start.
After reviewing its plans for the vote, the Independent National Electoral Commission decided “that proceeding with the election as scheduled is no longer feasible,” Chairman Mahmood Yakubu told reporters early Saturday in Abuja, the capital.
The announcement may heighten tensions in what has been a tight race in Africa’s biggest democracy between incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, a 76-year-old former military ruler, and his main challenger, businessman and ex-vice president Atiku Abubakar, 72. Both campaigns, which have traded accusations of attempts to rig the vote, condemned the decision.
In 2015, presidential and state governorship elections scheduled for Feb. 14 and 28 were moved to March 28 and April 11. Buhari went on to win that election to become the first opposition candidate to take power through the ballot box in Africa’s biggest oil producer.
Polling centers were initially meant to open Saturday at 8 a.m., with more than 84 million registered voters across 36 states and the federal capital.
Buhari was already in his home town of Daura, in Katsina state, where he was planning to vote, and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had traveled to Lagos, Osinbajo’s spokesman Laolu Akande said on Twitter. “This is truly disappointing, but the march to the next level continues,” he said in reference to their campaign slogan.
The president’s personal assistant, Bashir Ahmad, called the decision “terrible,” while Abubakar said it was part a plot by the Buhari administration to ensure a low turnout.
“I call on all Nigerians to be patient,” Abubakar said in a statement. “We have tolerated the maladministration of this government for four years. We can extend our tolerance a few more days and give them our verdict via our votes.”
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