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A recent increase in violence in the Nigerian Boko Haram uprising has caused the electoral commission to call for a delay in the presidential election. Originally set for February 14, the election will now be held on March 28 to give security forces time to ensure the safety of voters. If the election were to be held as planned, organizers fear that millions of people could be disenfranchised.
Supporters of both current President Goodluck Jonathan and former dictator Muhammadu Buhari have threatened violence if their candidate does not win. After the last election in 2011, approximately 800 people were killed when northern Muslim Buhari lost to southern Christian Jonathan.
Jonathan’s party has won every election since Buhari’s regime ended in 1999. However, the recent failure of his government to bring an end to the 5-year Islamic uprising along with accusations of corruption and a struggling economy have caused a significant downturn in his approval ratings.
Despite security concerns from Nigerian officials, other world leaders, including the United States government, are urging the country to continue with elections as planned. When Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria two weeks ago, he said that “one of the best ways to fight back against Boko Haram” would be to hold elections as scheduled.
Since becoming active in 2009, the Islamist group Boko Haram has caused significant problems in northern Nigeria. These include a previous delay in elections.The terrorist organization has regularly attacked schools, churches, and government buildings. It’s stated goal is to impose a stricter form of Sharia law across all of Nigeria, which is divided between the mostly Muslim north and Christian south.
In recent months, Boko Haram has branched out into regional attacks on Cameroon and Niger. Members of the African Union have been meeting this week in Cameroon to decide on a plan to deal with the escalating violence. In addition to postponing the elections, Nigeria and other members of the AU announced a plan on Saturday to deploy 8,750 troops to the region by next month. Chad and Nigeria have each offered 3,500 troops, Cameroon and Niger 750 each, and Benin has offered 250.
The plan is an expansion of a proposal from a previous meeting involving 7,500 troops. The increase in number is to account for police and humanitarian officials. The revised statement made on Saturday also requested $4 million to support the deployment, although the AU remains uncertain where financial assistance would come from. The U.N. has offered some logistical support, but Jacqueline Seck Diouf, the United Nations representative at the meetings, said that she could not guarantee any financial support without first getting approval from the Security Council and the Secretary-General.
The nations will need to continue to work out details of what each government will contribute, as well as funding issues. Therefore, it may be a while before any troops are actually deployed. In the meantime, because of Boko Haram’s escalation of the uprising, the electoral commission will delay elections in Nigeria until March 28. A new government will have to be installed by May 29.
By Kirstin Pinto