Nigeria postponing February 14 elections amid security issues in the northeast

Goodluck Jonathan, President of Nigeria

Nigeria‘s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will postpone the February 14 presidential and legislative elections for six weeks to give a new multinational force time to secure parts of the northeastern areas under the sway of Boko Haram, an official close to INEC told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Millions could be disenfranchised if next week’s voting went ahead while the Islamic extremists hold parts of the northeast.

Civil rights groups staged a small protest Saturday against any proposed postponement. Police prevented them from entering INEC headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Armed police blocked roads leading to the building.

Electoral officials were meeting with political parties Saturday, asking their views on a postponement requested by the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki.

A major offensive with warplanes and ground troops from Chad and Nigeria already has forced the Boko Haram insurgents from a dozen towns and villages in the past 10 days. Even greater military strikes by more countries are planned.

African Union officials were ending a three-day meeting Saturday in Yaounde, Cameroon‘s capital, to finalize details of a 7,500-strong force from Nigeria and its neighbors Chad, Cameroon, Benin, and Niger.

The United States has been urging Nigeria to press ahead with the voting. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria two weeks ago and said that “one of the best ways to fight back against Boko Haram” was by holding credible and peaceful elections, on time.

“It’s imperative that these elections happen on time as scheduled,” Kerry said.

This is not the first time elections have been postponed in Nigeria. Elections in 2011 were postponed until April. May 29 is the deadline for a new government to be installed.

Officials in President Goodluck Jonathan‘s administration have been calling for a postponement.

Any election delay is opposed by the main opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), led by Muhammadu Buhari, though the APC stands to take most votes in the northeast.

Analysts say the vote is too close to call, the most tightly contested election since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999.

President Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has won every election since 1999.

A postponement will also give INEC officials more time to deliver some 30 million voter cards. INEC had said the non-delivery of cards to nearly half of the 68.8 million registered voters was not a good reason to delay the vote.

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