Nigeria postpones presidential election for one week

Ad-hoc staff wait to load election materials onto a truck for distribution in Yola, in Adamawa State, Nigeria February 15, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 16 February 2019
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Nigeria postpones presidential election for one week

KANO, Nigeria: Nigeria’s electoral commission delayed the presidential election until Feb. 23, making the announcement a mere five hours before polls were set to open Saturday. It cited unspecified “challenges” amid reports that voting materials had not been delivered to all parts of the country.
Residents of Africa’s most populous nation and largest democracy will soon wake up to outrage. Many had relocated for the chance to vote.
“This was a difficult decision to take but necessary for successful delivery of the elections and the consolidation of our democracy,” commission chairman Mahmood Yakubu told reporters in the capital, Abuja. He said more details would be released during an afternoon briefing.
A review of logistics, along with the determination to hold a credible vote, led the commission to conclude that going ahead with the election as planned was “no longer feasible,” he said.
Nigeria also postponed the previous presidential election in 2015 because of deadly insecurity in the northeast, which remains under threat from Islamic extremists.
As word filtered out after midnight of a possible election delay at least in some regions, the Situation Room, a civil society collective monitoring the vote, said in a statement that “any suggestion that the election be held in a staggered manner will be totally unacceptable, and would be a recipe for a disastrous election.”
More than 84 million voters in this country of some 190 million had been expected to head to the polls in what is seen as a close and heated race between 76-year-old President Muhammadu Buhari and top challenger Atiku Abubakar, a billionaire former vice president.
Both have pledged to work for a peaceful election even as their supporters, including high-level officials, have caused alarm with vivid warnings against foreign interference and allegations of rigging.
“This is truly disappointing but ... Nigeria will prevail,” the spokesman for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said on Twitter, noting that Buhari was already in his hometown where he had been set to vote.
When Buhari came to power in 2015 he made history with the first defeat of an incumbent president in an election hailed as one of the most transparent and untroubled ever in Nigeria, which has seen deadly post-vote violence in the past.
Now Buhari could become the second incumbent to be unseated. His term has been marked by a crash in global oil prices that spun Nigeria’s heavily crude-dependent economy into a rare recession, from which it only emerged in 2017. Unemployment shot up. The country passed India as the nation with the most people living in extreme poverty. More than 13 million children are said to be out of school.
Insecurity on multiple fronts has seen little improvement, worrying neighbors of the West African regional powerhouse and beyond. While the military pushed Boko Haram extremists out of many communities in the country’s northeast, claims of the group being “crushed” have withered in the face of continuing violence. A new offshoot pledging allegiance to the Daesh group has surged in recent months, attacking military bases — and this week, a governor’s convoy — sending tens of thousands of people fleeing anew.
On top of that, banditry in the northwest, oil militants in the south and deadly fighting in the central region between farmers and herders over increasingly precious land keep security forces stretched and the population on edge. On Friday, authorities reported at least 66 deaths in a single community this week in what one resident blamed on farmer-herder clashes.
“We love our country and we need our country to be safe from all the violence ... and all the nonsense that takes place during election time,” worshipper Amin Muhammad Khalif said as he emerged Friday from prayers in Kano, Nigeria’s second-largest city in a nation largely evenly split between Muslims and Christians.
Even in the fight against corruption, in which Buhari could claim some progress, many in Nigeria have expressed concern that those targeted are mostly opposition figures..
Meanwhile, many Nigerians worry about Buhari himself after he spent more than 150 days outside the country for still-unspecified medical treatment. Spare in both charisma and physique, Buhari spoke for just a few minutes at his final campaign rally on Thursday and struggled to hear or grasp a number of questions in a recent televised town hall.
Borrowing a page from President Donald Trump’s playbook, top challenger Abubakar has campaigned on the theme of “Let’s Make Nigeria Work Again,” while vowing to apply his business acumen to privatize Nigeria’s all-important state oil company and lift 50 million people out of poverty by 2025.
Despite such proclamations, Abubakar has never managed to shake years of corruption allegations. And, as Buhari grumbled in his final pre-election address to the nation on Thursday, one “cannot simply proclaim jobs into existence.”
In the end, the now-delayed vote could come down to the sorry state of Africa’s largest economy and people’s empty pockets, and stomachs.
In Abuja, 56-year-old Bako Sharibu was wrist-deep in a dumpster as he fished out pieces of plastic for recycling. His shy smile disappeared as he recalled that he once had good work as a janitor. Now he struggles to make his target of 300 naira (83 cents) a day.
“Everybody suffers too much. Hungry everywhere,” he said, adding that if he could save a few thousand naira he would send the money to his three children in northern Kaduna state.
Then he shook his pocket. It was near sunset. He had just 50 naira in hand.
He will be voting for Abubakar, he said. Nigeria needs change.
 


Germany in push to resurrect talks with Taliban

Updated 3 min 41 sec ago
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Germany in push to resurrect talks with Taliban

  • Only the Afghans ‘can decide upon the future of their country’

KABUL, BERLIN: Germany, a leading donor and member of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, has been talking with the Taliban and the Afghan government in an effort to restart peace talks to end 18 years of conflict, officials said.

While the Taliban have been talking with US officials since October about withdrawal of international troops, they have so far refused formal talks with the Western-backed government, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime.

Berlin’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Markus Potzel, has visited Kabul for talks with the Afghan government and met Taliban officials in Doha at least twice this month.

“The current chance for a process toward a more peaceful Afghanistan should not be missed. If the friends of Afghanistan — and Germany is one of them — together can help in this effort, then we should do it,” Potzel said.

“In the end, only the Afghans themselves, including the Taliban, can decide upon the future of their country.”

The chief US negotiator in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, in March said that a draft agreement had been reached on a withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a commitment by the Taliban to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda.

But there has been no agreement yet on a cease-fire or a start to talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, both seen as key conditions for a settlement.

An Afghan delegation had been due to meet Taliban officials in the Qatari capital Doha last month to build the basis for possible negotiations, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute after a dispute over the number of participants.

FASTFACT

 

● At least 3,804 Afghan civilians were killed in the war last year. ● 14,000 US troops are still stationed in Afghanistan.

“We realize that US-Taliban talks will gain momentum only if the insurgent leaders start engaging with the Afghan representatives,” a senior German official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, said that Germany was one among several countries to have offered help to seek a peaceful resolution. 

The EU and Indonesia are among those to have offered help, another Taliban official said, declining to be named.

Discussions were held with Germany about an Afghan-Taliban meeting in Germany but no decision has been made, Shaheen told Reuters.

 

Captives subjected to abuse

Afghan captives held by the Taliban have been subjected to abuse, ill-treatment and actions that may amount to torture, the UN said on Sunday.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said it interviewed 13 detainees from a group of 53 recently rescued from the Taliban, mainly members of Afghan forces but also civilians and government officials captured by the insurgents.

The group was freed on April 25 when Afghan troops raided a Taliban-run detention facility in the Khas Uruzgan district in southern Uruzgan province.

Most of the captives were held since 2018, with three since 2016, the UNAMA statement said, adding they were kept in poor conditions and subjected to forced labor. It cites the detainees as saying that the Taliban killed some of their captives.

“I am gravely concerned about these serious allegations of ill-treatment, torture and unlawful killing of civilians and security personnel, as well as the deplorable conditions of detention,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of UNAMA.

The detainees were shackled while in captivity and almost all said they were beaten. The Taliban told them it was punishment for supporting the government, working with the Americans or fighting the insurgents.