Nigeria has postponed its national elections in response to growing instability caused by Boko Haram attacks in the country's northeast.
Presidential and legislative elections were supposed to be held February 14, but the government announced Saturday that they would be delayed in favor of securing control over the wide swaths of the country that have been taken over by the militant Islamist group. The presidential election is now slated for March 28, and the legislative elections for April 11.
The delay was reported by the Associated Press early Saturday and confirmed later in the afternoon in an announcement by chairman of the country's Independent National Election Commission (INEC).
Dozens of Nigerians protested the expected postponement Saturday afternoon in the capital of Abuja. Armed police blocked protesters from entering the INEC's headquarters.
According to the AP, Nigeria's national security advisor requested that elections be delayed for fears that the military would be unable to protect the millions of citizens currently in territory under Boko Haram's control. The National Election Commission is expected to announce the postponement sometime Saturday after meeting with candidates and government officials.
Military vehicles and troops were deployed in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, ahead of the expected announcement.
Boko Haram has been wreaking havoc in Nigeria over the past six years, waging a bloody insurgency that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than a million others. Just this week, Boko Haram members carried out two attacks in neighboring Niger and one in Cameroon, which officials said killed at least 100 civilians. Nigeria's military responded by killing more than 100 militants.
The violence spilling over the border has prompted Nigeria's neighbors, including Chad and Niger, to join Nigeria's military in fighting the militant group. Chad has sent 2,500 troops to the border in order to secure the area.
The African Union concluded a meeting Saturday in Cameroon's capital to discuss launching an even stronger mission against Boko Haram that would consist of 7,500 troops from Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Benin and Cameroon. Details of the offensive, including who will fund it, remain unclear.
Presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari said in an interview last week that it is a "big disgrace" that Nigeria must rely on its neighbors, all of which are significantly smaller and poorer, to battle Boko Haram.
"It is now Cameroon and Chad fighting the insurgency more than Nigeria. We will build the capacity and Nigeria should be able to secure its territorial integrity," Buhari told Reuters.
Buhari's comments echo the frustration that many Nigerians feel toward President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been blamed for the country's failure to effectively tackle the threat from Boko Haram.
Despite increased operations in the northeast carried out by the Nigerian military, Boko Haram's insurgency has rapidly grown out of control in the last year. Some 10,000 people have been killed in the past year alone, a major increase from 2,000 over the previous four years. Nigeria is also home to endemic corruption and a faltering economy that has made battling Boko Haram more difficult.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited Nigeria last month to address the threat from Boko Haram, urged the country to continue to hold scheduled elections as "one of the best ways to fight back against Boko Haram."
"The United States reiterates its support for peaceful, free, transparent, and credible electoral processes in Nigeria and renews its calls on all candidates, their supporters, and Nigerian citizens to reject election-related violence," the State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement Saturday. "As the Secretary said when he met with the leading candidates in Lagos on January 25, it is imperative that all Nigerians not only reject violence, but also promote peace."
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