Nigeria’s presidential election is hanging in the balance as the country’s electoral commission meets with electoral commissioners to discuss the possible postponement of the February 14 presidential and legislative elections for six weeks.
A closed-door meeting was being held on Saturday at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, between the INEC, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), its main contender, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and other opposition parties.
National security advisor Sambo Dasuk initiated the discussions after sending a letter to INEC to postpone the election over concerns that the military would not be able to adequately provide security.
Officials in President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration have been calling for a postponement amid continuing violence as the country battles the armed group Boko Haram.
INEC chairman Attahiru Jega has been under mounting pressure to delay polling because of increased fears about the distribution of permanent voter cards to 68.8 million registered electors in Africa’s most populated country.
About 40 percent of voter cards have not yet been issued to the registered voters.
Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Adow, reporting from Lagos, said that people who are lobbying for a postponement say that these problems affect entire states and that if elections are held now, it will not adequately reflect the will of the people.
Officials from at least three states in the country’s northeast say they have been been affected by weeks of attacks by the country’s armed group Boko Haram.
Jega has repeatedly ruled out a date change, even after the issue was raised this week at a meeting of the powerful council of states, comprising the current and former presidents.
Civil rights groups, opposition political parties, and Western countries oppose a later election date.
A small protest took place ahead of the meeting on Saturday by civil rights groups opposed to any postponement.
Police prevented them from entering the electoral commission headquarters in Abuja. Armed police began deploying to block roads leading to the building.
The demonstrators say that the government has failed to secure the northeastern regions during its term in office and the six-week extension will do little else to improve the situation, interpreting this move as a stalling tactic by Jonathan.
An amalgamation of Nigeria civil society groups under the title Situation Room, issued a statement on Saturday stating that they were disappointed by Dasuk’s move.
In the statement they said that “that this amounted to the Military’s abdication of its constitutional duties to provide security to citizens and to the Commission to enable it conduct elections and appeared contrived to truncate the democratic process in Nigeria”.
“Situation Room is further worried that the Military’s position also aims to blackmail and arm-twist the Election Management Body away from its constitutional guaranteed function of conducting elections,” the statement said.
The group also called for the resgination of the military chiefs on account of their ” inability to exercise their constitutional responsibility”.
The US has been urging Nigeria to press ahead with the voting.
US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria two weeks ago and said that “one of the best ways to fight back against Boko Haram” was by holding credible and peaceful elections, on time.
“It’s imperative that these elections happen on time, as scheduled,” Kerry said.
Polls indicate the northeastern vote leans strongly towards the opposition APC, favouring former military leader Muhammadu Buhari, rather than Jonathan.
Supporters of both sides are threatening violence if their candidate does not win. Some 800 people were killed in riots in the mainly Muslim north after Buhari, a Muslim, lost 2011 elections to Jonathan, a Christian from the south.
Analysts say the vote is too close to call, in the most tightly contested election since decades of military dictatorship ended in 1999.
Meanwhile, a major offensive with warplanes and ground troops from Chad and Nigeria has already forced the Boko Haram from a dozen towns and villages in the past 10 days.
Even greater military strikes by more countries are planned.
African Union officials were ending a three-day meeting on Saturday in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, to finalise details of a a multinational force from Nigeria and its neighbours Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Niger.
“The representatives of Benin, Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad have announced contributions totalling 8,700 military personnel, police and civilians,” the countries said in a statement after the meeting late on Saturday.