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Nigeria Delays Elections


Nigeria's president has appealed for calm after the last-minute postponement of today's highly anticipated elections. The head of the electoral commission, Mahmood Yakubu, made the late-night announcement just five hours before voting was set to start, explaining a one-week delay. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in the capital, Abuja, and joins us now. Ofeibea, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: And why the delay?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, the electoral commissioner says it was because of logistical problems. Voting materials have apparently not been delivered to all the remote parts of Nigeria. And there've been a series of fires destroying smartcard readers and voting cards. Now, Mahmood Yakubu says it was simply not feasible to proceed with these key elections today and that the delay will ensure that the electoral commission and Nigeria hold free, fair and credible elections.

But those explanations are not going to wash because why, just five hours before the polling stations were meant to open? Surely, many people are saying, this should have been known weeks ago or at least at the beginning of the week.

SIMON: What about the reaction from candidates?

QUIST-ARCTON: First of all, let me tell you that Nigeria's president, who had gone all the way to the north to Katsina State where his hometown is, Daura, has appealed to his compatriots to remain peaceful, patriotic and united after the 11th-hour announcement. But as a candidate, because, of course, President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking re-election, his party - the two main parties, Buhari's All Progressives Party and his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar's People's Democratic Party, have criticized the Independent National Electoral Commission.

And they're also blaming each other. Buhari's APC says Atiku's PDP has undermined the electoral commission. Atiku's camp suggests that this delay is to help Buhari's chances of re-election. But the parties of both front-runners have appealed for calm and are asking their supporters to be patient because, of course, there is always the threat of violence if elections are delayed or if there's any sort of trouble with Nigeria's elections.

SIMON: What kind of reaction have you been able to get from voters in Nigeria?

QUIST-ARCTON: Absolute fury. Nigerians are angry. They're frustrated. They're disappointed that they can't vote. Some simply can't believe this is happening. And the reaction on social media, Scott, has been brutal, critical of the election organizers, saying they must have known that they weren't ready now. And also, let's add, many voters have had to travel to their hometowns and villages all over the country.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation. Eighty-four million people registered to vote. Some have travelled hundreds of miles from where they work and live, which is, of course, costing them time and money. And now, they can't vote. They're not happy. And many are suspicious of the reasons for this postponement.

SIMON: Mr. Yakubu, the election chief, says the vote will go ahead a week from today, Saturday, February 23. Do you see that happening?

QUIST-ARCTON: He and his commission had better get it organized. Otherwise, the fury Nigerians are feeling today could spill into much worse. So they say the presidential vote and, of course, it wasn't just voting for president - also for governors, also for national assembly, also for the state assembly.

So we'll have the presidential next Saturday in another vote. But some other votes have been postponed till 9 of March. That's after the original second-round vote date of the 2 of March. So the electoral commission has got to get itself sorted out.

SIMON: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, thanks so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.