Nigeria is postponing presidential and legislative elections until March 28 because security forces fighting an Islamic extremist uprising cannot ensure voters' safety around the country, the electoral commission announced today, a week before the vote was scheduled to occur. Millions could be disenfranchised if voting originally scheduled for Feb. 14 went ahead while Boko Haram extremists hold a large swath of the northeast and commit mayhem that has left 1.5 million people homeless. Commission chairman Attahiru Jega told a news conference that national security advisers and intelligence officers have said security forces need six weeks to conduct "a major operation" against Boko Haram and cannot also safeguard the elections.
Jega said it would be "highly irresponsible" to ignore that advice and endanger the lives and security of electoral personnel and materials, voters and observers as well as the prospects for free, fair and credible elections. "Many people will be very angry and annoyed" by the postponement, Jega said, but "I want to assure all Nigerians: No one is forcing us to make this decision." Officials in President Goodluck Jonathan's administration had been calling for the postponement. Any delay was opposed by Jonathan's chief rival, former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, and his opposition coalition, even though the opposition is expected to take the most votes in the northeast. (Read more Nigeria stories.)