The Nigerian government postponed its Valentine’s Day presidential election until March 28, potentially endangering aid needed to fight Boko Haram.
Secretary of State John Kerry reminded Nigerians of his recent visit to the country, where he called for elections to go on as scheduled despite security concerns.
“As I reaffirmed when I visited Lagos last month, we support a free, transparent, and credible electoral process in Nigeria and renew our calls on all candidates, their supporters, and Nigerian citizens to maintain calm and reject election-related violence,” he said in a statement.
The United States, he said, “is deeply disappointed by the decision to postpone Nigeria’s presidential election, which had been scheduled for February 14.”
“Political interference with the Independent National Electoral ommission is unacceptable, and it is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process,” Kerry continued. “The international community will be watching closely as the Nigerian government prepares for elections on the newly scheduled dates. The United States underscores the importance of ensuring that there are no further delays.”
President Goodluck Jonathan, the Christian incumbent since 2010, faces a challenge from former President Muhammadu Buhari. The retired major general, who ascended to power in a 1983 coup, is a Muslim. The two have close in the polls, and Buhari decried the election day shift as an attempt to stack the deck against him.
A 2012 Pew survey showed Christianity edging out the country’s Muslim population, 49.3 percent to 48.8 percent. Catholic bishops there have urged the West to get involved in the battle against Boko Haram as Jonathan’s government has been unable to get a handle on the scourge.
Jonanthan’s government has vowed to wipe out all Boko Haram camps by March 28. “All known Boko Haram camps will be taken out. They won’t be there. They will be dismantled,” Nigeria’s National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki said.
That will prove difficult as Boko Haram has made recent incursions into Cameroon and Niger.
During his visit last month, Kerry was wholly focused on elections and put conditions on aid to fight Boko Haram.
Kerry stressed that he doesn’t believe “the level of support provided by the United States or the international community is the limiting factor in the Nigerian government’s ability to fight Boko Haram,” adding that the assistance just doesn’t always work as they’d like it to.
“We are prepared to do more, but our ability to do more will depend to some degree on the full measure of credibility, accountability, transparency and peacefulness of this election,” he said. “And one of the principle reasons that President Obama asked me to come here at this moment is to reinforce to all Nigerians the desire of the United States to be able to engage even more so in the effort to push back against Boko Haram or any other violent extremist group, but the quality of the democratic process is important to contributing to our ability to do so.”