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No postponement for Nigerian elections

Nigeria’s Council of State said on Thursday, February 5 that it is satisfied with preparations for the country’s presidential election on February 14, and the poll will not be postponed. The Council, a body that regroups all previous heads of State, all governors and some other political heavyweights, met with Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to hear how preparations were going.

The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had earlier pushed for a postponement on the grounds that INEC’s preparations were behind schedule, but the opposition suspected that its calls were motivated by fears that its presidential candidate, current President Goodluck Jonathan, would lose the election. The meeting lasted seven hours, and when Mr Jega insisted that INEC would be ready for the election, it apparently dissuaded Mr Jonathan from making any step in the direction of a postponement.

This announcement is a relief – although postponement was always unlikely, there was some chance of it happening, and the consequences would have been unpredictable and destabilising. The other possible destabilising event that still remains is that of a court disqualifying Mr Jonathan’s challenger, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). That, too, is unlikely, but possible. The main case on the issue will start deliberating (and possibly finish – it is an urgent application) on Monday, February 9.

Also this week, the Nigerian currency dived to a record low of N195/$. Pressure on the naira mounted as portfolio repatriation exacerbated the oil price slump’s burden on the balance of payments position. The monetary regulator has reverted to almost daily interbank intervention in a bid to support the local unit, including de facto capital controls.

Elsewhere, the involvement of Chadian troops is resulting in near-daily battles between Boko Haram and soldiers from three armies. On Tuesday, February 3, a joint command of Cameroonian and Chadian troops crossed the border from Cameroon (where they are based) into Nigerian territory to attack the Boko Haram-held towns of Gambaru and Ngala. According to the Chadian government, the soldiers “completely wiped out” the insurgents’ bases there, killing over 200 militants at the cost of nine Chadian lives.

But it seems Boko Haram circumvented the advancing troops and attacked the Cameroonian town from where they had set out: Fotokol, less than 1km from Gambaru across the bridge that serves as the main border crossing in the area. On Wednesday, February 4, Boko Haram entered Fotokol at dawn, breaking into houses to massacre civilians and then setting fire to the homes. They also burned down the main mosque in the town. Cameroonian troops eventually expelled them from the town, but not before more than 100 people had died. Six soldiers also died, and the military says that it killed around 50 insurgents.

The Cameroonian and Chadian troops are substantially more effective against Boko Haram than their Nigerian counterparts have been, and increased international co-operation will, over time, restrict the group’s capacity to cause harm. The job is a huge one because of how big Boko Haram has grown over the past two years, but recent engagements have made it clear that a multinational military solution can defeat the insurgents, at least in towns. To decisively address Boko Haram, however, requires addressing the drivers that allow it to recruit – that will require political will on the part of the governments of Borno State and Nigeria.

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