The main opposition party in Nigeria on Monday accused President Muhammadu Buhari of urging “jungle justice” by ordering the police and armed forces to be “ruthless” with any attempts to tamper with the vote following the last-minute decision by the country’s top electoral body to postpone the general election by a week to February 23.
The comment was made in a statement issued by the main opposition People’s Democratic Party [PDP] after Buhari said anyone trying to steal or destroy ballot boxes and voting material would do so “at the expense of his own life.”
Saturday’s 11th-hour postponement reportedly disappointed the millions of people in Nigeria ready to go to the polls. Over 84 million people are expected to vote in Nigeria, the largest democracy in Africa and the continent’s most populous country.
Although more than 70 candidates are vying for the presidency in Nigeria, only two have a real a chance at winning: incumbent President Buhari from the APC and Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president from the PDP.
Both Buhari and Abubakar condemned Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) move to delay the elections scheduled for Saturday and accused each other of trying to manipulate the vote.
The INEC made the postponement announcement hours before voting was scheduled to start on February 16.
That day, Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of INEC, told reporters that the decision to postpone the vote, which also involves the election of the members of the country’s National Assembly, “had nothing to do with security, nothing to do with political influence.”
He attributed the decision to logistical issues, including “problems with the transportation of electoral materials – ballot papers and results sheets – to some parts of the country,” BBC notes.
Earlier, Yakubu argued that INEC made the decision because of a “determination to conduct free, fair and credible elections.”
BBC points out:
In the past two weeks several [INEC] offices have been set alight, with thousands of electronic smart card readers and voter cards destroyed. Nigeria has seen violence in the run-up to the elections and on Saturday 11 people were killed in an attack by Boko Haram militants south of Maiduguri.
The opposition has blasted Buhari for his inability to decimate Boko Haram, a jihadi group that the Washington Post acknowledges has, since the incumbent president’s election in 2015, “metastasized into two factions, the larger of which pledges allegiance to the Islamic State.”
In the wake of the election delay, President Buhari urged the public in Nigeria to “refrain from civil disorder and remain peaceful, patriotic and united to ensure that no force or conspiracy derail our democratic development,” BBC reports.
On Monday, Buhari stressed that he provided the electoral body with all necessary support to ensure a smooth election, but noted that INEC still displayed “incompetence” and failed to let Nigerians go to the poll as originally scheduled, the Premium Times adds.
Furthermore, the president reportedly threatened consequences against INEC chairman Yakubu, agreeing with the assessment of APC party chief Adams Oshiomhole that the leader had conspired with the opposition PDP.
Abubakar reportedly called for calm, declaring, “I’m appealing to Nigerians to please come out and vote and I’m asking them to be patient about it.”
Abubakar took to Twitter to accuse the Buhari administration of trying to “disenfranchise” voters.
The delay of the vote is “dangerous to our democracy,” Uche Secondu, the chairman of the opposition PDP proclaimed, accusing President Buhari of trying to “cling on to power even when it’s obvious to him that Nigerians want him out.”
In an analysis published by the Conversation media outlet over the weekend, Fola Adeleke, a senior research fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, accused Nigeria’s electoral body of incompetence.
The country’s electoral commission had three years in which to prepare for the poll. The postponement can therefore be viewed as a display of utter incompetence and inefficiency. It is the first time since 1999 – when Nigeria shunned military rule for democracy – that a Nigerian electoral commission has failed so spectacularly.
The research fellow suggested that the INEC’s reason to delay to vote is illegitimate, noting, “This is not the first time an election has been postponed in Nigeria. But reasons cited on previous occasions – such as the threat posed by Boko Haram – had more substance and felt more legitimate.”
Nigeria’s electoral body also postponed the governorship, state assembly, and federal area council elections, from March 2 to March 9.
Urging people in Nigeria to be patient and support the democratic process following the delay, the United States has come out in support of the postponement.
In a statement issued Saturday, the U.S. embassy in Nigeria declared:
We join in encouraging all Nigerians to ensure a free, fair, peaceful, and credible election by supporting the Independent National Electoral Commission while it finalizes electoral preparations this week and by voting in peace together on February 23.