Nigeria pushes back polls after logistics chaos

ABUJA Sun Apr 3, 2011 2:40pm EDT

A poster showing how to vote is pasted on a wall at a polling centre before the postponement of the parliamentary election in Mushin neighbourhood in Nigeria's commercial Lagos April 2, 2011. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

A poster showing how to vote is pasted on a wall at a polling centre before the postponement of the parliamentary election in Mushin neighbourhood in Nigeria's commercial Lagos April 2, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye

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ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria postponed parliamentary and presidential elections by one week Sunday after failing to get logistics prepared in time, a major embarrassment for a nation hoping to break with a history of chaotic polls.

Africa's most populous country will now hold parliamentary elections on April 9, presidential elections on April 16 and governorship elections in its 36 states on April 26, electoral commission head Attahiru Jega said.

Nigeria was forced to abort parliamentary elections on Saturday after voting materials failed to arrive on time in large parts of the country.

It had planned to try again Monday, but political parties complained the timeframe was too tight.

"Following consultations we had with stakeholders, the commission has found out that the overwhelming sentiment is to further reschedule the elections," Jega said.

"All of the political parties have fully endorsed these recommendations," he told reporters.

Elections since military rule ended 12 years ago have all been marred by ballot-stuffing and intimidation. The 2011 elections had been eagerly anticipated as a chance to break that cycle.

"Such repeated and last minute changes are regrettable and do not reflect positively on the state of preparedness of INEC," said Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana and head of the Commonwealth observation mission.

"What is important, however, is that the elections take place as now rescheduled," he said.

Despite Jega's brave face, the logistical chaos is a huge embarrassment both for him and for President Goodluck Jonathan, who made organizing a credible election one of his key promises when he took office last year after his predecessor died.

Jega was given an 88 billion naira ($570 million) budget last August just for overhauling voter lists and buying additional ballot boxes, leading some Nigerians to question whether they were getting value for money.

"WORRISOME"

Conspiracy theories were already abundant after the first postponement, ranging from a concerted bid to discredit the electoral commission by those scared of a free poll, to an attempt by the ruling party to cling on to power.

News website Sahara Reporters, run by Nigerians in the United States, said the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) had been losing heavily in those areas where voting did begin on Saturday.

"Are we sure Jonathan is not planning to hand over to the military? This whole thing is worrisome," said Garba Uba, an opposition supporter in Hawul in the remote northeastern state of Borno.

Voting had already started in Nigeria's biggest cities -- the commercial capital Lagos in the south and Kano in the north -- and in some other parts of the country when INEC was forced to postpone the process Saturday.

Adding to the confusion, there were also reports of names missing from the much vaunted new electoral roll, and of an opposition party being completely left off Senate ballot papers in Lagos.

The electoral commissioner in the northern state of Kano, Abdullahi Danyaya, told Reuters he no longer had enough ballot papers to cover all registered voters after more than a million of them were used Saturday.

The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the main opposition party in the southwest, had lobbied against trying to hold the parliamentary vote Monday, saying that sensitive materials were now in circulation and voters would be exhausted.

"It is sad, most unfortunate and embarrassing that as a nation, we are unable to get a credible election process right," said Miriki Ebikibina, national youth leader of the ACN.

(Additional reporting by Joe Brock in Port Harcourt, Samuel Tife in Yenagoa, Joe Penney in Kano, Ibrahim Mshelizza in Maiduguri; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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