Nigeria: Churches appeal for calm after general election is postponed

Archbishop Ezeokafor

Archbishop Ezeokafor

Source: Christian Aid/Fides

Church leaders have called for calm amid growing concerns over violence and insecurity in Nigeria, after the country's General Election was postponed only a few hours before polls were scheduled to open on Saturday. The shock announcement from Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in the early hours of Saturday morning, led to the two main political parties accusing each other of foul behaviour.

Now rescheduled to February 23, the Presidential election is contested by the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, and his primary challenger, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the major opposition party, alongside 71 other candidates.

Concerns have been raised that volatile regions could descend into violence, as citizens protest what some might consider to be an attempt by political parties to short-change them by 'rigging' the elections.

Speaking from Abuja, the Country Manager for Christian Aid Nigeria, Charles Usie, said: "The postponement has definitely disrupted a lot of things, and there are fears that this could lead to a higher level of voter apathy than would have happened if the election had taken place on Saturday. This is because many people had to travel to locations where they are registered to vote and might be discouraged from travelling long distances again.

"However, we have seen over the years that Nigerians are a resilient people. This might just be the push that is needed for citizens to go out en masse to vote. Nevertheless, there is still a very real risk that the outcome of the polls could trigger post-election violence, especially in already volatile areas."

The postponement comes in the context of a humanitarian crisis in north-east Nigeria, which has left more than 1.8 million people internally displaced and a significant number made refugees in neighbouring countries.

In light of this, Christian Aid has warned that the delay in the polls could increase the risk of displaced people being unable to vote, given the difficulties many would face in travelling to vote for the second time in one week.

Charles Usie said: "Christian Aid has been raising awareness among citizens, to encourage them to voice their grievances peacefully rather than resorting to violence, and we are working to ensure that adequate response plans are put in place in the event of an emergency. We are therefore hopeful that this - along with the education and programming that Christian Aid Nigeria has embarked upon with communities in some of these volatile states - will pay off.

"We are committed to promoting peaceful cooperation through the pursuit of good governance, which transcends ethnicity, religion and all other biases that have traditionally pitched people against each other. Consequently, we are confident that in the areas where we have worked, people can come together to hold their leaders accountable after the elections, rather than fight."

While campaigns closed on Thursday 14 February, political parties are now at loggerheads with INEC, with some categorically stating that they will reopen campaigns despite the electoral body's directive against this.

Although INEC cited logistical challenges as the reason for the shift, the main political parties have continued to accuse each other of masterminding the postponement and have called for the resignation of the Chairman of INEC.

Archbishop Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor of Awka, said: "The electoral process is managed by human beings and there may be errors, so let us stop complaining."

Mahmood Yakubu, President of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) assumed the "full responsibility" of the logistical delay on the preparation of the elections, stating that organizing the vote in a Country whose infrastructure is lacking or in ruins is "a huge challenge."

Archbishop Ezeokafor praised Mahmood Yakubu for taking responsibility for the delay, and urged Nigerians to support INEC's action to have free, fair and credible elections".. "Nigerians must have faith in INEC because it is the only body able to allow us to choose our leaders".

"We must stop calculating costs, we must be zealous to vote for the people we want, no matter the sacrifice we have to face" concluded Mgr Ezeokafor.

Tags: Nigeria, Elections, Archbishop Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor, Archbishop Ezeokafor

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