In a mounting chorus of voices, Nigerians from north to south, from the diaspora and at home, both Christian and Muslim flooded Facebook, blogs, and Twitter, while turning out in street rallies over the weekend demanding that the people be allowed to vote after the national electoral commission called off the nation’s presidential poll for reasons of national security.
Voting was moved from Feb. 14 to March 28 by official decree, allegedly to allow the army to first pacify the regions occupied by Boko Haram which, to date, they have been unable to do.
“The commission cannot lightly wave off the advice of the nation’s security chiefs,” said Mr Attahiru Jega, election commission chief who announced the vote change.
“Calling people to exercise their democratic rights in a situation where their security cannot be guaranteed is a most onerous responsibility.”
Voters for the incumbent President Goodluck Jonthan and opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari are said to be nearly tied in what has been called one of Nigeria’s closest elections.
A press report titled “Nigeria under Fire over Vote Delay,” was one of many that filled up with comments such as this from “Deji of Otta” who wrote: “It is precisely to take advantage of a chance to get rid of those who cannot defend the integrity of our country that we needed this election NOW.
“Instead we are being made, by those who cannot defend our lives and properties, to wait another six weeks before we get a bite at choosing those who would defend our lives and properties…”
Jibrin Ibrahim, a political analyst with Nigeria’s Centre for Democracy and Development, said Nigeria’s security agencies forced election commission chief Attahiru Jega into the delay on “frivolous” grounds.
“They say they need six weeks to defeat Boko Haram. Boko Haram has been growing for six years… If in six weeks Boko Haram has not been defeated, they could call for another delay and ultimately destroy Nigerian democracy,” he said.
Noted Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist Femi Falana added that “by causing the election to be postponed, the National Security Advisor (NSA) and the security chiefs have staged a coup against the Constitution. They are liable to be prosecuted for the grave offence of treason at the appropriate time.”
Sambo Dasuki, national security adviser, first raised the prospect of a postponement last month when he noted difficulties in distributing voter identity cards.
But as recently as last week, election chief Jega said the electoral body was ready for the vote and that 68.8 million voters had been registered.
Jonathan stalwarts include Rita Dominic, a leading “Nollywood” actress. “James”, a supporter of the vote date change questioned online the haste to go to election… “The essence of democracy is that everybody who is entitled to vote gets the opportunity to do so. … Millions including myself do not yet have a voter card through no fault of ours less than a week to the election. That in itself is an invitation to chaos and violence.”
But a statement from the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, rejected the idea that security concerns could be a pretext for impeding the democratic process. Sharing the administration’s “deep disappointment” in the decision to postpone Nigeria’s presidential election, Kerry wrote: “Political interference with the Independent National Electoral Commission is unacceptable… The international community will be watching closely as the Nigerian government prepares for elections on the newly scheduled dates. The United States underscores the importance of ensuring that there are no further delays.”
Writing for SaharaReporters online, Joe Igbokwe of the opposition All Progressives Congress, commented: “All things considered, Nigeria is today at cross roads and something needs to give way. From all indications, from all angles and from all calculations it is obvious now that if we continue with President Jonathan, the Titanic called Nigeria may hit an iceberg.
He continued: “Corruption is threatening our political, economic and social life. Investment funds are in private pockets, the system is not working and people who deserve nothing are pocketing billions and are asking us to go to hell. They abuse us on a daily basis, threatening our lives and dare us to challenge them.”
The abduction of over 250 school girls was also raised in the election debate. “Today is 300 days after the Chibok abductions,” wrote Professor Mojubaolu Okome of Brooklyn College, New York on her Facebook page. “Many girls, women, boys, and even men were abducted before and after. Many have been killed by suicide bombers while going about their daily lives. Many communities were brutally attacked and were not defended by the Nigerian government.
“Now the Federal Government of Nigeria tells us it wants to concentrate on fighting Boko Haram. However, it’s hard to believe this rationale, and this is a sad time for Nigeria.”
Nobel prize author Wole Soyinka, in a piece titled “No one should vote for Jonathan,” concurred. “The art of leadership is complex and unenviable. Among its most basic, simple demands however, is the capacity for empathy…” Referencing the kidnapped students, he asked: ”If you had received news of your daughter’s kidnapping, how long would it take you to spring to action? Instantly? One day? Two? Three? A week? Or maybe TEN days?”
Meanwhile, Boko Haram militants were not taking a holiday. In northern Cameroon, the militants attacked a border village and are suspected of kidnapping at least 18 people traveling on a bus, two military sources told Reuters on Monday. The militants also launched an incursion into neighboring Niger to the north, their third cross border crossing in the last four days, ostensibly to liberate prisoners in a jail.
This prompted a response from the Nigerian national security advisor: “All known Boko Haram camps will be taken out. They won’t be there. They will be dismantled,” he told the AFP news agency on Monday. Asked if the polls could be pushed back further, he rejected the idea. “Those dates will not be shifted again,” he said.