No, not Nigeria

If you followed my suggestion and checked the electoral commission website yesterday to find results from the Nigerian general election, you would have been disappointed.

A little hunting on the site, however, reveals this announcement from the chairman of the commission that, due to a host of logistical problems, the election has been postponed a week, to this coming Saturday. State elections are to follow two weeks later, on 9 March.

Having run elections myself, I’m certainly not unsympathetic. Logistical problems happen, and Nigeria is a very big and awkward sort of country. As the chairman says:

In preparing for the 2019 general elections, we have come face-to-face with the realities of conducting such an extensive national deployment of men and materials in a developing country like ours. It is said that elections constitute the most extensive mobilization of men and materials that any country could undertake in peacetime. The challenges of doing so, even under the best of circumstances, are enormous.

Nonetheless, to postpone the entire election at the last minute is an extraordinary step. It suggests either an alarming degree of incompetence or an ulterior motive of some sort.

The commission, of course, has roundly denied political interference. The two major parties have both condemned the delay, each blaming the other for trying to achieve an unfair advantage. But they have also both urged their followers to be patient and, in president Muhammadu Buhari’s words, “refrain from civil disorder.”

Postponements of elections in developing countries are not unusual; often the logistical issues are completely genuine. But political interference is not unusual either.

The striking thing about this one is its last-minute nature; many voters would not have discovered what had happened until they arrived at a polling place. Understandably, they were not happy. As the BBC says, “In many cases they reacted with disappointment, frustration and anger.”

If an electoral authority suspects that things won’t be ready on the day, and it has the power to postpone the election, it should do so in plenty of time, rather than hope for the best and have to make a decision with only hours to spare.

So check back next Sunday and we’ll see if they get it right this time.

One thought on “No, not Nigeria

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