“There are two things relevant to security: yes, the Boko Haram aspect is there, but also the threat factor in the country,” Mr Jonathan argued during a 11 February broadcast. “With elections you have a lot of of problems involved, but especially when the issue of Permanent Voting Cards (PVCs) was branded as a problem” that impacted the threat level.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which administers voter cards as well as conducting the polls on election day, “said they were ready, but to me they were only a bit” ready, the president says.
According to some claims, INEC has failed to distribute one third of voter cards in Nigeria, blocking these individuals from casting their ballots.
Mr Jonathan claims that in powerful Lagos state, which contains the country’s biggest city , only 38 percent of registered voters had received Permanent Voting Cards (PVCs). “That means that if you conduct an election in Lagos, 62 percent of people who want to vote will not vote. Don’t you think there are security implications in that arena?” he queries.
“For any security chief, you need to review the security architecture in place, otherwise the whole country will go up in flames.”
Mr Jonathan also claimed to have the power under the constitution to remove the country’s election commissioner, Attahiru Jega. These moves raise questions about the autonomy of Nigeria’s democratic process.
“If I feel that Mr Jega is not good enough, for obvious reasons, then I can [remove him] by provisions in the constitution that gives the person who appoints the power to remove,” Mr Jonathan said, before adding: “I have not told anyone that I am going to remove Jega, I never said so.”
Elections originally slated for 15 February have been postponed by INEC on advice from security authorities citing security concerns. Most observers have tied these concerns to the inability of the government to curb the violent islamist Boko Haram insurgency, which has established a semi-autonomous caliphate in the country’s northeast while carrying out regular attacks against civilians. Boko Haram killed 6,347 civilians in 2014 alone, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
However Mr Jonathan appears to be claiming that insecurity due to voter disenfranchisement around the country as a result of INEC’s shortcomings was as much a factor in the decision to postpone as Boko Haram. Nigeria has a long history of politically linked violence during election periods. The last elections in 2011 claimed 800 lives.
This position seems to contradict most analysis, which cite the threat posed by Boko Haram - which critics claim Jonathan’s administration has failed to curb - and the chances that Mr Jonathan might lose at the polls as prime motivators for delaying. There is also speculation that the president has little control over the decision taken by the country’s military chiefs. Mr Jonathan, for his part, denies any role in the decision to delay the vote.
“I do not set the date for elections,” he said during the media address. “Security services did not consult me on this decision.”
Overall, however, he seems to feel reaction to postponing the polls has been overblown. “I do not see the big deal about it. When people decide to make white look like black and black look like red, then the society will be confused,” he laments.
However, some believe his re-election is far from guaranteed and could have motivated this manoeuver.
“This has been engineered by the recognition that they are in severe danger of losing the election, so it gives them [Jonathan’s campaign] some sort of breathing space,” Martin Roberts, senior analyst at IHS Global Risks, tells This Is Africa.
President Jonathan’s campaign office has accused INEC’s Mr Jega of plotting to rig the elections in favor of the opposition All Progressives Party (APC) candidate, former military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari. Neither INEC or the APC responded to requests for comment.
A tough race
This election is projected to be the most closely fought contest since the end of military rule in 1999.
Mr Jonathan’s administration faces mounting criticism over failure to curb Boko Haram and a burgeoning economic crisis on the back of low oil prices and plunging currency. Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil exporter. The president is also said to be sitting on the results of a PwC audit into some $20bn in public revenues that are allegedly missing from the national oil company.
If the delay is a ploy by Jonathan’s campaign, however, they may be disappointed. African Union-backed troops from neighboring countries moved into Nigeria’s embattled northeast states this week, and appear to be making some headway in pushing back against Boko Haram.
“The postponement may inadvertently end up playing into Buhari's hands. The Nigerian army may succeed in securing certain towns in the North East, making them safe for voting, boosting turnout for Buhari,” says Amy Gibbs, associate at insurer JLT.
Several Jonathan’s supporters have come out calling for INEC’s Mr Jega to be removed, according to local media, including prominent politician and longtime supporter of the president Edwin Kiagbodo Clark.
Mr Jonathan has attempted to distance his official campaign from these messages: “One thing about politics, or leadership anywhere really, when you are a leader... you have a number people who support you. But you do not even know what they do or what they say.”
Should Jonathan make a move to remove INEC’s chairman, some believe he could find himself coming under diplomatic pressure, with potentially serious consequences to Nigeria’s democratic credentials.
“I think they would find themselves in very difficult diplomatic relations with a number of western powers. There would be a lot of violent protests around this, because the clear message would be: we are going to steal the election by appointing someone more pliable and putting them in charge of the electoral commission,” warns IHS’ Mr Martin.
This article was originally published by This Is Africa magazine, a sister publication to fDi Magazine (www.thisisafricaonline.com)