UPDATED -- (HN, April 3, 2011) - In a huge embarrassment for Africa's third largest economy and regional superpower, elections for Nigeria's House of Representatives were suspended just four hours after tens of millions of registered voters started to head for voting stations.
The Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) said Saturday it has postponed the elections for 109 seats in the Senate and 360 seats for the House of Representatives across the country to Monday, April 4th.
INEC chief Attihiru Jega said on TV that he blamed the postponement on ‘ unprecedented late arrival of results sheets’ to the country's 120,000 polling stations.
According to Nigeria's Vanguard newspaper, glitches on Saturday were caused by poor logistics, as materials arrived in many polling stations late. Voting materials reportedly failed to arrive in the capital Abuja and other regions, including Rivers, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom, Edo and Delta, Plateau and Borno states.
Later reports attributed the delay to the late delivery of ballot papers from Europe and South Africa. It remained unclear Sunday what would be the fate of the ballot papers already used.
There are fears that the crisis could stoke more violence in an election campaign that has already reportedly claimed the lives of hundreds of people in politically-motivated communal and sectarian violence across the country of 150 million people.
Late Saturday, the Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) said it was "naturally very disappointed" and that it sympathises with the "frustration" felt by the Nigerian people.
"We also call for calm and restraint on the part of all stakeholders, so that the elections can take place in an atmosphere of peace and order," said a statement issued by the Chair of the COG, Festus Mogae.
Some Sunday newspapers in Nigeria called Saturday's failed National Assembly vote an "election fiasco" and a "national shame."
The former Chieftain of the Alliance for Democracy, Musa Umar, told The Vanguard that the postponement was surprising. "This is the first time in the history of Nigeria that an election is postponed on the day fixed for it."
Opposition groups have been quoted as saying that the postponement is a deliberate attempt by the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) to prevent defeat at the polls.
Debo Adeniran, head of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders pressure group, was quoted as calling the postponement "a national shame and a monumental waste of time and resources."
Widespread disappointment was visible as ordinary Nigerians tweeted about their disbelief in the postponement. "It seems Nigerians showed up to do their civic duty in hoards but the government failed to do its part...unfortunately," said a student in Nigeria in Twitter post at 1730GMT today.
The debacle comes several weeks after a nationwide registration process had to be extended twice due to chaos involving computers and other equipment.
An election observer mission led by the European Union arrived in the country about two weeks ago to monitor the polls.
Next weekend elections for the presidency are scheduled to take place, followed by governorship elections in 36 states a week after that. Many will see this development as a major blow to Nigeria's desire to break a cycle of election fraud and violence.
- HUMNEWS staff
A HUMNEWS correspondent in Nigeria reports:
"The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has announced the postponement of the National Assembly again from Monday, April 4, to Saturday, April 9. INEC has announced a new schedule for the general elections. The National Assembly, Presidential, and Gubernatorial elections will now occur on April 9, 16 and 26,respectively. (Please note: the last date is a Tuesday, instead of a Saturday, in deference to the Easter Holiday weekend.)"