Last weekend, Nigeria’s electoral commission announced that, contrary to statements made just days prior by the chief of defense staff and the chief of army staff, the country’s security forces could not guarantee the safe conduct of presidential and parliamentary elections originally scheduled for Feb. 14 and 28. The commission postponed the poll for six weeks, the minimum time the security forces say they need to conclude a major military operation against militants from Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria and before which they would be unavailable to provide security for the elections.
The presidential and parliamentary elections are now set for March 28, followed by local elections on April 11. As with previous—unfulfilled—official projections of Boko Haram’s demise, Nigeria’s national security adviser insists that the group’s camps will be dismantled by then. But there is already speculation that security concerns are being used as a pretext for President Goodluck Jonathan’s incumbent government to delay what is shaping up to be the most competitive election in Nigerian history. Jonathan has denied any role in the postponement decision.
For nearly six years, Nigeria has attempted to eradicate or pacify Boko Haram by declaring states of emergency in northeastern states, launching joint and combined military operations, soliciting foreign security assistance and even offering to negotiate with the group. Despite a nascent “soft approach” to counterterrorism by introducing programs to address the socio-economic marginalization of Borno and other states, the government’s approach to the insurgency has most frequently relied on the use of force.