, ABUJA, Apr 7 – Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday appealed to voters in Africa\’s most populous country to turn out in large numbers to cast ballots after general elections were postponed twice.
The first of a series of elections which was due to take place last Saturday was postponed for a week and will now take place this Saturday following major organisational problems.
Voters had turned out in droves across the West African country to pick legislators early last Saturday before the head of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega, went on television to announce the postponement, because polling materials and officials failed to showed up.
"I deeply share with all Nigerians the understandable feeling of disappointment and frustration that was caused by the postponement," president Jonathan said in address to the nation on Thursday morning.
"My appeal to you… is to sustain that patriotic zeal that you so visibly displayed last Saturday. I call on you all to come out again, en masse on Saturday and on all subsequent election days, to cast your vote."
Presidential elections have also been moved back a week to April 16 while state governors and assemblies polls will follow on April 26.
Nigeria, Africa\’s largest oil producer, is seeking to break with its history of deeply flawed and violent polls as it heads into the parliamentary, presidential and state elections.
Jonathan urged politicians to shy away from violence.
"At this critical stage in our national development, we cannot afford to engage in acts that can fan the embers of violence and discord," he said.
"Nigeria is bigger than anyone of us. No one\’s political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian," he said.
Tremendous hope has been placed in recently appointed electoral commission chief Attahiru Jega, a respected academic, who is under immense pressure to deliver improved polls in one of the world\’s most corrupt countries.
Despite initial anger from civic rights activists and politicians over the shift in the elections date, Jega appears to have won widespread plaudits over his decision including from diplomats and international observers.
"Whatever the logistical problems that have arisen, (the electoral commission) and Professor Jega seem genuinely committed to conducting an election in which individual votes matter and are counted," US Ambassador Terence McCulley told AFP.
The former prime minister of Canada, Joe Clarke who is leading a team of observers from the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) praised Jega\’s performance for recognising there was a problem "and to face it head-on rather than to pretend things were in order."