By Linda Bordoni
Nigeria's electoral commission delayed a presidential and parliamentary election until February 23, making the announcement a mere five hours before polls were set to open on Saturday.
It cited unspecified "challenges" amid reports that voting materials had not been delivered to all parts of the country.
Meanwhile the top candidates in the vote condemned the decision and blamed each other but appealed to Africa's largest democracy for calm.
The party backing top opposition challenger Atiku Abubakar accused President Muhammadu Buhari's administration of "instigating this postponement" with the aim of ensuring a low turnout at the polls.
On the other hand, Buhari said he was "deeply disappointed” and issued an appeal to Nigerians for calm during the "trying moment in our democratic journey" while stressing that his administration does not interfere in the commission's work.
Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, told Vatican news the announcement was a shock to himself, and to the people of Nigeria who are very disappointed.
“We woke up early this morning to hear that the elections have been postponed for a week. The reasons given are still not clear and are certainly not adequate” he said.
As they await further information from the Electoral Commission, Cardinal Onaiyekan said people across the country, many of whom had travelled from afar to cast their ballots, are very upset.
Bad news for Nigeria
Regarding voices that attribute the postponement of the poll to logistical problems or to security concerns, Cardinal Onaiyekan said he has heard that some of the electoral material had not been adequately distributed. He also confirmed there are security challenges, especially in the north east of the country where Boko Haram militants are still active.
“But we knew of all this more than four years ago, so there was plenty of time to take action and make sure the election went on; and in fact up to yesterday afternoon the Electoral Commission called a press conference, with observers from all over the world, and assured them that things were in good shape and that we were ready for the election this morning” he said.
He asks himself what possibly could have happened between yesterday evening and tonight: “whatever it is, it’s bad news for Nigeria”.
‘People being killed in Nigeria is no longer news’
On Friday, news emerged that 66 people were killed in the past days in Kaduna State, but details regarding the attack have not been released.
“One of the problems is that in Nigeria, that people are killed is no longer news. It’s just like a normal thing” the Cardinal said.
In fact, he added, the government has not even reacted to the news, but he said he hopes details will come to light “to find out the truth”.
The Cardinal confirmed that Kaduna has been a very problematic area for the past 3 or 4 years, but he claimed the violence is not due to religious tension between Christians and Muslims.
“Even though most of the people who are indigenous to the area are Christians, and most of the people who are settlers in the place are Hausa Fulani Muslims” he said, a fact that leads many, in Nigeria, to say “when a Christian and a Muslim quarrel, it becomes a Christian/Muslim quarrel instead of seeing it the way it is”.
We still believe, he said, that the issues are not religious: “they are ethnic, they are social.”