The US criticises a decision to delay Nigeria’s general elections amid concerns the elections will be not be safe from attacks by Boko Haram fighters.
Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) confirmed on Sunday that the elections, due to take place on Valentine’s Day, would be delayed.
Nobody has coerced us… to take this decision. INEC chairman Attahiru Jega
“The commission cannot lightly wave off the advice of the nation’s security chiefs,” INEC chairman Attahiru Jega told reporters.
“The risk of deploying young men and women and calling people to exercise their democratic rights in a situation where their security cannot be guaranteed is a most onerous responsibility.” The elections have been rescheduled for 28 March.
Boko Haram, the jihadist group which has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group, has been conducting a resurgent campaign of terror throughout Nigeria – killing thousands, burning villages to the ground and abducting children and women.
It is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process. John Kerry
US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement Washington was “deeply disappointed” by Nigeria’s decision to delay the election.
“Political interference with the Independent National Electoral Commission is unacceptable, and it is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process,” Mr Kerry said.
However, Mr Jega insisted that “nobody has coerced us… to take this decision”. He said National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki had written to INEC last week stating that it could not guarantee security during the original proposed election timetable because of on-going military operations to fight Boko Haram insurgents.
The decision will not be welcomed by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s opposition rival, retired major-general Muhammadu Buhari.
Speaking to Channel 4 News on Saturday, Mr Buhari said country’s like Syria had been able to conduct elections in times of war.
“What is Boko Haram,” he said defiantly (see video, below).
Mr Jonathan is facing a strong challenge to his presidency from Mr Buhari who is seen by some as a strong hand to tackle Nigeria’s security concerns.
According to Nigerian polling company NOI, security is the number one issue Nigerians want politicians to focus on in the election campaigns.
48 per cent of Nigerians said this was their primary concern, rising to 70 per cent in the north-east where Boko haram has been rampaging. In addition, 64 per cent of Nigerians said the most pressing issue in the election would decide which way they voted “to a great extent”.
Meanwhile, Boko Haram continued its assaults outside Nigeria’s border on Sunday.
The group, whose name means “Western education is forbidden”, launched an attack on the border town of Diffa in south eastern Niger.
If these girls were the children of politically or financially powerful parents, much more would be done to free them. Malala Yousafzai
At least five people were reported killed when a bomber targeted a market in the town, before Boko Haram fighters raided. There were conflicting reports about the bomber, with some residents saying a boy carrying explosives blew himself up, and local radio saying a man on a motorcycle threw the bomb.
It was the second attack on the town by Boko Haram in two days. Niger’s army has repelled both attacks, with assistance from Chadian forces.
On Saturday, the governments of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin agreed to establish an 8,700 strong regional force to tackle the group.
Boko Haram achieved notoriety in April last year with the kidnap of hundreds of schoolgirls from the town of Chibok.
On Sunday Nobel prize winning education campaigner Malala Yousafzai called on world leaders to do more to free the girls, who have been in captivity for 300 days.
Writing on her website she said: “If these girls were the children of politically or financially powerful parents, much more would be done to free them.
“But they come from an impoverished area of north-east Nigeria and sadly little has changed since they were kidnapped.”