Africa's largest election will not be delayed, officials say

Election posters in Nigeria. The country will hold its general election on Feb. 14. Photo by:  Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung / CC BY-SA

After a prolonged back and forth between political parties, civil society, and the current administration, Africa’s largest election — and a touchstone for the state of global democracy — appears to be on track to move forward as planned.

As election commissioners in Nigeria struggle to distribute voter ID cards throughout the sprawling country’s 36 states, rumors circulated that the government would delay the vote for the next Nigerian president due to sluggish distribution of voter IDs. Members of civil society in Nigeria worried the delay could compromise the public’s faith in an already fraught electoral capacity, and derail a democracy effort that has captured the world’s attention.

That concern appears to be assuaged. Multiple sources are reporting that Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission has declared the election will proceed as planned on Feb. 14.

Still, the election process faces obstacles. Permanent voter cards, which are embedded with a digital fingerprint confirming voter registration, have reached only 44 million out of 66.8 million registered Nigerians.

On Tuesday, more than 100 protesters staged a demonstration in support of the delay outside the Independent National Electoral Commission headquarters, bearing placards with the words, “INEC, do the right thing.” The protest is now under suspicion, with the Nigerian press reporting that protesters were later paid by campaign officials.

Members of civil society in Nigeria worry that a delayed election would not only signal weakness to the insurgent terrorist group, Boko Haram, which many fear are planning attacks on Election Day, but that a postponement could also drain the support of an electorate eager to turn over a new social and economic leaf in the country.

Victor Ehikhamenor, a Nigerian artist and founder of get-out-the-vote campaign, “Ink Not Blood,” told Devex that delaying the election would be “a terrible mistake on the part of [the International Nigerian Electoral Commission].”

“It will show ineptitude on their part because they had four years to prepare for this, confirming the lack of independence of the electoral body from the incumbent government.”

Ehikhamenor added that the coalition opposition, led by moderate Islamist Muhammadu Buhari, also opposes the delay because it will strain campaign resources.

“Also the economy is so bad now, the earlier the election is conducted so the recovery can start, the better,” he said.

But given the recent plunge in oil prices and looming budget cuts in the country, hopes for a recovery may be in vain, damaging one of the key selling points of President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign.

Jonathan’s administration submitted a budget proposal to parliament on Wednesday that would freeze badly needed infrastructure projects, particularly improvements to national ports and roads, and lay off thousands of workers. The cuts are the result of a global plummet in the price of oil, which accounts for 80 percent of Nigeria’s revenue.

Infrastructure cuts are easier to manage than cuts to federal wages, Nigerian Budget Office Director-General Bright Okogu said Wednesday, suggesting the country’s bureaucracy would not be a target.

Accusations of maintaining an already bloated bureaucracy, financial mismanagement and infrastructural neglect already plague Jonathan’s campaign. For a strapped electorate — an estimated 61 percent of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day — the budget cuts could squander public hopes that Jonathan will lead the country in an economic recovery.

National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki sparked criticism last month when he supported a delayed vote, citing concerns that voter cards were being distributed unevenly. Out of Nigeria's 36 states and capital Abuja, 11 have distributed less than 60 percent of the cards, even though voter registration has already surpassed that of 2011, an Independent Nigerian Electoral Commission official told Reuters.

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About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

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