Abuja, Feb 8: The electoral commission of Nigeria has postponed the presidential and parliamentary elections by six weeks, citing security concerns.
The elections, scheduled for Feb 14, will now take place March 28, Attahiru Jega, who heads the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said.
The governorship and House of Assembly elections also have been rescheduled from Feb 28 to April 11, Jega said.
Last Thursday, the National Council of State called to deliberate on the general election and security issues in the country could not decide whether to postpone the elections following renewed threats to the peace in some parts of the country.
The opinions in the council were divided along the party lines.
Following this, Jega was instructed to hold consultations with his National Electoral Commissioners, resident electoral commissioners and the political parties to decide if the polls should go ahead as planned.
Jega said, "It is necessary to take into context the things outside the control of the commission such as attitude of politicians, political parties, candidates and voters, and significantly, security for election personnel, materials and voters in areas under the insurgency, which only the appropriate authorities can definitively speak on."
Jega said security chiefs advised that the polling dates be shifted because of the troops' unavailability following their deployment in operations against Islamic insurgents in the country's north east.
"If the security of personnel, voters, election observers and election materials cannot be guaranteed, the lives of innocent young men and women and the prospect of free, fair and credible elections will be greatly jeopardised," he said.
The INEC has about 700,000 electoral staff, including 600,000 ad hoc staff, he added.
Reacting to the new poll dates, chairman of the main opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) John Odigie-Oyegun said it was "clearly a major setback for Nigerian democracy".
"Though what has happened is highly provocative, Nigerians must remain calm and resist from violence and any activity that will compound this unfortunate development," he said.
Earlier in the week, government sources said, women suicide bombers were being prepared by the Islamic insurgent group Boko Haram, which has been fighting the government over the past year, to attack and destroy polling stations.
The sources said the African Union has deployed about 7,500 troops from the member nation of the Lake Chad Basin Development Commission (LCBDC) to combat threats.
Coordinator of the National Information Centre (NIC) and Director General of National Orientation Agency (NOA) Mike Omeri said the 7,500 AU-backed multi-national force was to be composed mainly from the Lake Chad Basin Commission areas.