Nigeria may delay election in face of voter card shortage

An election committee is considering a postponement of the Feb. 14 vote if there is a failure to disburse enough voter I.D. cards. President Goodluck Jonathan faces a tough battle against Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general.

Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters
A man holds a flag in support of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at a campaign rally for Lagos governorship candidate Jimi Agbaje of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in Ikeja district in Lagos February 3. Nigeria is due to hold a presidential election on Feb. 14.

Nigeria may delay its Feb. 14 presidential election if the electoral commission cannot distribute enough voter I.D. cards by Feb. 8, an electoral commissioner told Reuters on Wednesday.

The hotly contested poll will pit President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People's Democratic Party against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress.

“Let's see how the PVC (permanent voter card) distribution goes by Feb. 8, then maybe,” Amina Zachary, a commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said on the sidelines of a news conference when asked whether or not the date could be changed.

She made it clear that no decision had been taken. INEC extended its deadline for voters to collect their cards to Feb. 8, but only 44 million out of 68.8 million have been distributed so far, with just 10 days to go before the poll.

Foreign powers are closely observing how elections will be held in Africa's biggest economy and have voiced concerns over violence in the aftermath, as was the case after the 2011 election, when 800 people died.

A delay would stoke already rising tensions ahead of the vote, but failure to get enough cards out would also compromise the poll.

National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki caused outrage when he called for a postponement in London last month, citing concerns over the slow distribution of voter cards.

The opposition and civil society groups say a delay would bring the credibility of the election into question and they say People's Democratic Party wants a postponement because it fears losing. But they are also concerned about the slow collection of cards by voters.

The main issue is the uneven distribution across the states as the total is already higher than the number that voted in 2011, Zachary said.

Out of Nigeria's 36 states and its federal capital territory, Abuja, 11 have distributed less than 60 percent of the cards while 4 of those are below 50 percent.

Lagos, the most populous state and opposition stronghold, has distributed fewer than 40 percent of its voter cards.

“We've sometimes just had one person at some distribution stations ... now we put two but the cost is very high ... it has eaten up all the money as we have to pay INEC staff extra for staying late,” Zachary said, lamenting a lack of volunteers.

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