ABUJA, Nigeria — The climate. Sabotage of buildings storing election supplies. A raft of court docket challenges.
Those have been some of the explanations Nigeria’s elections commissioner cited for his middle-of-the-night choice — introduced at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday — to delay the nation’s presidential vote hours earlier than polls have been to open.
The 11th-hour postponement, he assured a crowd of worldwide observers, diplomats and civil society teams at information convention within the capital “had nothing to do with security, nothing to do with political influence.”
The information got here as an enormous disappointment to thousands and thousands of Nigerian voters who awoke Saturday morning anticipating to vote for one of the greater than 70 candidates. Among the contenders is President Muhammadu Buhari, 76, who’s vying for a 3rd time period. He had traveled to his dwelling village to forged a poll, solely to fly again to the capital Saturday as a substitute.
Many others had additionally traveled lengthy distances to their dwelling districts to be in place to vote — Nigeria has no absentee voting system. And the frustration was palpable.
Mr. Buhari and his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, 72, urged their supporters to be affected person whilst they condemned the one-week delay.
Critics of Mr. Buhari say that in 4 years in workplace he has failed to deliver on promises to fix the economy, tackle corruption and improve security. Attacks carried out by criminal organizations and by Boko Haram have been on the rise. This week, more than 60 people were killed in Kaduna in an attack blamed on religious tensions.
Critics also say the president has used his anticorruption campaign to target political enemies while sparing his allies.
Mr. Abubakar is a former vice president and wealthy businessman who has himself been dogged by accusations of corruption. In 2010, a United States Senate subcommittee accused him of funneling tens of millions of dollars’ worth of Nigerian oil revenues into foreign shell accounts. Mr. Abubakar has responded to the allegation by noting that he has never been charged with a crime.
The political parties of the two leading candidates each accused the other of gaining an advantage from the delay.
A considerably lower turnout is almost certainly guaranteed. It is unlikely many voters who live far from their polling stations will be able to afford the time or money to make the trip again. But it is unclear which candidate that would benefit.
The leaders of Mr. Buhari’s party said Mr. Abubakar would gain an advantage from “a breather” and that his party had been “bent on discrediting this process the moment it realized it cannot make up the numbers to win this election.”
Mr. Abubakar accused the president of orchestrating the delay to suppress voter turnout.
“Their plan is to provoke the public, hoping for a negative reaction, and then use that as an excuse for further antidemocratic acts,” he said.
Yet both camps also urged supporters to be patient in the face of a delay that risks inflaming tensions in an already tense election.
The decision upended the plans of millions of people, including huge teams of international observers from the European Union, the African Union and pro-democracy organizations in the United States and elsewhere. Observers had fanned out across the country and set up command centers in hotel conference rooms to monitor the election.
On Saturday they were busy rebooking flights and paying for extra nights in hotels. Though many said they were committed to monitor voting on the new date, it was unclear whether their ranks would remain as strong.
Voters vented on social media. Some said they had traveled to areas known for violence to cast their ballots, and that they were now stranded there without the election officials they had expected to rely on for security.
There were concerns that rumors and bogus news reports could spread about the reasons for the delay. And it seemed possible that still more logistical problems could develop.
Mahmood Yakubu, Nigeria’s elections commissioner, said that among the challenges was the fact that 180,000 high-tech smart card readers would need to be reprogrammed for the new election date.
He cited weather delays that stalled the distribution of voting materials to all of the nearly 120,000 polling stations. A massive dust storm has lingered over parts of the country for days stalling some flights. Up to 640 court challenges by various contenders had also contributed to delays at the commission. And three buildings storing election materials were burned in acts of sabotage, he said.
Mr. Yakubu considered postponing the vote by just one day, but said the nation’s many Christians would have objected to an election on a Sunday. Waiting until Monday wouldn’t work either, he said, as retrieving and resetting tens of thousands of card readers from polling sites across the country would be a lengthy process.
Rescheduling the election is bound to come at a huge cost, not just for the redeployment of people and equipment, but for the scores of restaurant workers, market employees, taxi drivers and others who all missed a day of work Saturday to vote. The government had ordered all vehicles off the roads for the day, and most businesses had shuttered.
Still, many observers were optimistic that a sense of calm would prevail. The past two Nigerian presidential elections were also delayed.
But this campaign has been closely fought, and tensions have been high throughout.
The opposition has accused Mr. Buhari’s government of plotting to rig the vote. In turn, Abba Kyari, the president’s chief of staff, made a rare public comment in an article for an Nigerian newspaper, accusing the United States and the European Union of working with Mr. Abubakar’s party.
The governor of Kaduna, a close ally of Mr. Buhari, had earlier caused outrage by warning that foreign actors intervening in Nigeria would leave the country “in body bags.”