ABUJA Nigeria may extend a deadline for the distribution of voter I.D. cards for its upcoming presidential election beyond next Sunday, an electoral commissioner said on Wednesday, but no consideration was being given to delaying the election itself.
Distribution of the cards in Africa's most populous nation has lagged ahead of the hotly contested poll on Feb. 14 that will pit President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People's Democratic Party against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress.
Asked if whether the election date might have to be delayed, Amina Zachary, a commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said: "Let's see how the PVC (permanent voter card) distribution goes by Feb. 8, then maybe."
She later clarified her comment, saying INEC was only considering possible extension of the Feb. 8 deadline for the distribution of voter cards, not any potential postponement of the election itself.
"We are continuing with our distribution. We are watching the distribution. We may extend the distribution but nobody talked about extension of an election, a delay in the election," she said.
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.
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.
(Editing by Tim Cocks and Giles Elgood)