Government officials Monday insisted there would be no further delays in Nigeria's coming elections, one of the country's most closely fought campaigns since the end of military rule in 1999.
But the extremist group Boko Haram continued its attacks, launching deadly raids in neighboring Niger and Cameroon, raising doubts on whether security can be restored by the new March 28 election date.
In a decision that outraged opposition supporters, the nation's election commission on Saturday delayed the presidential and parliamentary elections for six weeks just days after assuring a meeting of the National Council of State that the panel was fully prepared for the elections.
Officials said the vote, originally scheduled for Feb. 14, was delayed because of insecurity in the country’s northeast, where Boko Haram has seized control of dozens of towns, preventing a free and fair vote in the area.
President Goodluck Jonathan said in a statement –- issued by U.S. public relations firm Levick -- that May 29, the end date for his current term, was “sacrosanct.” The statement followed speculation that the governing People’s Democratic Party, facing the first real electoral threat, was planning to cling to power.
The president said that it was not the time to trade blame and that it was important to support the Independent National Electoral Commission in its decision.
Nigeria’s currency, the naira, weakened sharply Monday as the political maneuver fueled fears that the election could end in chaos and violence. The economy has already been hit hard by the declining price of oil, forcing Nigeria to slash spending.
The opposition All Progressives Congress is bitterly opposed to delaying the election, and accuses the government of sensing that it faces defeat and trying to buy time. U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry over the weekend also expressed disappointment over the decision.
Nigerian National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki insisted Monday the election date would not be further delayed despite government warnings last week that Boko Haram was plotting bomb attacks in the north, an opposition stronghold. He told Agence France-Presse news service that all of Boko Haram’s camps in northeastern Nigeria would be destroyed by the new election date.
Nigerian security officials told local media that they were confident that Boko Haram's insurgency would be crushed within six weeks, with the group under more military pressure than it has been for years. Chad, Niger and Cameroon have agreed to send 8,700 troops to fight the militants in neighboring Nigeria.
As Boko Haram carried out attacks in Cameroon and Niger, the extremist group’s leader vowed in a video released Monday to defeat the multinational military force.
“Your alliance will not achieve anything. Amass all your weapons and face us. We welcome you,” Abubakar Shekau said on a video that showed images of Islamic State. “You send 7,000 troops? Why don’t you send 70 million? This is small. Only 7,000? By God, it is small. We can seize them one by one.”
“We never rose up to fight Africa. We rose up to fight the world," he added. "We are going to fight the world on the principle that whoever doesn’t obey God and the prophet -- to either obey or die or become a slave."
A second chilling video released by the group Monday showed a man in territory controlled by Boko Haram being stoned to death for alleged fornication, two men being lashed for alleged adultery and a man accused of theft having his hand amputated. A third video included images of Boko Haram fighters attacking the Nigerian town of Yobe recently, and showed dozens of pilfered vehicles and ammunition seized from Nigeria's military.
Fighting broke out in the Niger border town of Diffa on Monday after Boko Haram militants attacked a prison overnight and launched a car bomb attack on a market, according to Nigerian media. In Cameroon, they attacked several towns, ambushed a bus and abducted at least 18 passengers.
Nigerian media speculated Monday that Jonathan would try to force out the head of the nation's electoral commission, professor Attahiru Jega, and replace him with someone more malleable. But Jega’s term expires in June.
Some of Jonathan’s close supporters have accused Jega of lying over the commission's state of readiness for the elections and called for his arrest.
The government has also been hammering opposition presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator, saying he is not qualified to stand for the presidency because he doesn’t have a school certificate. Buhari has denied the claims.
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