The upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Nigeria were scheduled to be held on February 14, 2015, but were postponed for six weeks just one week before the initial date. The decision to delay an election that was already rife with controversy stirred up supporters and politicians on both sides of the divide.
Current President Goodluck Jonathan and the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is facing the stiffest challenge his party has seen in years in Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the sides have already begun to clash.
The election is of even greater importance as Nigeria continues to face insecurity from Boko Haram terrorists in the northeast, and voters will have to decide which candidates are best suited to handle the insurgency. As Nigeria and international observers work diligently to ensure a free and fair vote, here are 12 things to know about the upcoming election.
1. The national security adviser called for a delay
Nigeria’s national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, made recommendations that the election should be postponed, albeit briefly, to allow for more time for voter card distribution and further security measures. Particularly in northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram insurgents have caused destruction and violence for years, election preparation has been at a minimum. Several of Nigeria’s smaller opposition parties also supported a postponement, as well as the ruling PDP party, but the main opposition party, the APC, was highly opposed.
2. Election officials decided to delay the election for security reasons
Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) decided on February 8 to postpone the election in order to secure more troops and security measures for polling stations – after Nigeria’s security services informed INEC of a six-week offensive against Boko Haram insurgents in the north that would make security unavailable for the February 14th elections. The chairman of the APC, John Odigie-Oyegun, called the delay “highly provocative” and “a major setback for Nigerian democracy,” accusing the PDP of influencing INEC in order to garner more time for campaigning. Similarly, United States Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the U.S. is “deeply disappointed by the decision to postpone the elections,” and that “political interference with the INC is unacceptable, and it is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process.” President Jonathan maintains that the May 29th date for the transfer of power is “sacrosanct,” and will not be affected by the delay. The new date for the presidential elections is set for March 28th, and state elections will be held on April 11th.
3. This will be the first Nigerian election to use biometric cards
The upcoming election will use biometric cards for the first time (a new type of ID card to combat widespread electoral fraud), but less than half of the eligible 70 million voters have obtained their cards. The minimum voting age is 18, but many eligible voters, particularly those in Boko Haram-controlled areas and, surprisingly, major cities such as Lagos, have not received their cards. As it stands, 150,000 polling stations have been set up for the election, over 30,000 more than previous years, and approximately 360,000 police officers are scheduled to patrol strategic areas to keep the peace. An estimated 1 million people displaced the insurgency were given voting rights by an electoral law passed by Parliament on January 15, but no system was put in place to distribute their voting cards
4. The election is expected to be the most tightly contested since 1999
Buhari and the APC’s challenge to President Jonathan is considered the strongest opposition the People’s Democratic Party has faced since it assumed power in 1999, following the end of military rule in Nigeria. This will be the fifth quadrennial election to be held since civilian rule began.
5. Presidential candidates must receive at least a quarter of the vote in at least two-thirds of all states
In order to win, the presidential candidate must receive the majority of votes cast, as well as at least 25 percent of the votes in a minimum of two-thirds of all 36 states in Nigeria, as well as the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. If no candidate gains enough votes in the first round of voting, a run-off election is held within seven days between the two leading candidates.
6. President Jonathan’s nomination for the PDP resulted in many PDP Members of Parliament (MPs) defecting from the party
President Jonathan ran opposed in the PDP’s primaries in December 2014, and easily won the nomination of the party to run for reelection to a second and final term. However, this violated an unwritten rule within the PDP that candidates should alternate between Muslim northerners and Christian southerners (Jonathan is the latter), and “dozens” of PDP MPs in the House of Representatives reportedly defected from the party.
7. The current APC is an alliance of four former opposition parties
The APC in its current form is the result of an alliance of four opposition parties: the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Congress for Progressive Change, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, and the All Progressives Grand Alliance. Muhammadu Buhari easily won the party’s primary in December 2014, receiving 57.2% of the vote.
8. Only 13% of Nigerians have confidence in its country’s elections
In a Gallup poll conducted on January 13, 2015, a shockingly low 13 percent of Nigerians reported to have faith in the honesty of the country’s elections. In previous years, elections have been dominated by violence and allegations of vote rigging. This statistic is down from 51 percent of Nigerians who had confidence in elections back in 2011.
9. Former President Obansanjo has backed Muhammadu Buhari
Though Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obansanjo, has said that he will not speak to media outlets about the elections until after the 14th, he has made his support for Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) party well known. Obansanjo avoided President Goodluck Jonathan and his delegation when they paid a visit to his home in Ota, but went out of his way to receive the APC delegation and make it known that he supports Buhari’s bid for the presidency.
10. Clashes between supporters have already resulted in death
Several incidents related to the election have already resulted in fatalities, including a clash between rival supporters on February 3, 2015, in Kaduna that left eight dead. Three others were killed on February 2 when a suicide bomber attempted to strike a Jonathan campaign rally in Gombe.
11. There are 14 presidential candidates in the election
Though only the PDP’s President Jonathan and the APC’s Buhari have reasonable chances of winning, there are 14 candidates in total running for the presidency. All of the candidates have signed an agreement that binds them to credible and non-violent elections, issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Official campaigning was slated to end on February 12, 2015, but will be pushed back with the vote delay. 739 candidates are also vying for positions in the 109-seat Senate and 1,780 for the 360-seat National Assembly. Now on April 11th, two weeks after the initial election, Nigerians will take to the polls once more to choose new governors and state assemblies for 29 of the 36 states.