The postponement of Nigeria’s presidential and parliamentary election by one week has set off a flurry of questions about what was behind the delay — and what happens next.
Who benefits from the delay?
Nigeria’s political establishment has criticised the postponement, which was announced about five hours before polls were to open.
Both President Muhammadu Buhari, who is standing for a second term, and the leading opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president, have signalled their disapproval.
But behind the scenes, observers say Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) and Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) both have complaints about how the election commission has handled preparations.
The PDP claimed repeatedly that the vote’s integrity was being undermined.
Meanwhile the APC has fumed over court orders that barred their legislatives candidates from running in the states of Zamfara and Rivers, because of disputes of primary polling.
The week-long delay could benefit either party, and some are openly suspicious that the APC orchestrated it, despite official denials from the electoral body that the decision was all theirs.
“Many people believe that the government created an enabling environment for the postponement,” Auwal Musa, executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre said in a televised interview.
Was Nigeria ready to vote?
People across Nigeria reacted with dismay to the last-minute announcement but signs of disorganisation were apparent in the days before voting was to start.
AFP journalists saw numerous polling stations that were only receiving ballot papers and voting card readers on Friday evening or had not received them at all.
“We had gone through training, preparation, we were ready,” said Austin Onwuosanya, who had been due to officiate in the commercial capital, Lagos.
But voting equipment never showed up at his polling station.
Election planning in Nigeria is often hampered by poor roads and the dilapidated power grid.
The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in part blamed bad weather and roads for a delay in the distribution of materials.
He insisted ballot papers and results sheets were ready.
But Cheta Nwanze, of analysts SBM Intelligence, said “INEC organisation has regressed under the current chairman”, and that it was possible politicians were deliberately undermining the preparations.
What does the delay mean for the election?
It seems certain the delay will affect the outcome of the final vote.
Many Nigerians travel from cities into the countryside to vote in their family homes, while others return from overseas.
But with most of the country impoverished, despite the country’s vast oil wealth, many Nigerians will struggle to recover from wasted transport money or days of lost work.
“This is really disheartening,” said Paul Emurotu, who travelled from Lagos to Warri in the oil-producing Niger delta region to cast his ballot.
He doesn’t know if he can afford to make the 450-kilometre (280-mile) journey a second time.
Thousands of INEC employees have also deployed across the country, some to hard-to-reach rural areas without electricity.
There, they organised voting materials by the light of their cellphones, then slept on the floor in order to open polls on time, only for voting to be postponed.
Udo Ilo, Nigeria director for the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, said it was now imperative that INEC safeguard the ballot papers and other sensitive materials distributed before the postponement to prevent tampering.
“What steps (are) INEC… taking to ensure the integrity of the material?” he asked.
Yakubu has assured all sensitive materials are being stored at Central Bank of Nigeria facilities until the rescheduled dates.
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