The National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki, has promised that elections will not be postponed past March 28, saying that Boko Haram fighters who forced the delay would be defeated within the coming six weeks.
“Those dates will not be shifted again,” Dasuki said when asked if the polls, which had been initially scheduled for February 14, could be pushed back further.
The NSA for several weeks had been urging the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to reschedule the vote, offering a range of explanations.
Last month he cited difficulties in distributing voter identity cards.
Then last week, he wrote INEC chief Attahiru Jega urging a delay on the grounds that the military could not provide nationwide election security because all available resources were being deployed to the northeast to fight Boko Haram.
The latter explanation has been particularly criticised, in part because the military is not primarily responsible for election day security in Nigeria.
Troops have only been called in when police and civil defence units have needed reinforcements.
INEC’s decision to postpone the polls at Dasuki’s urging was criticised by civil society and many Western governments including the United States, Britain and Canada.
The opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) said INEC’s independence had been compromised and accused Dasuki of “crude and fraudulent” action to help the political interests of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Many believed Jonathan was heading for defeat against APC leader and ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari and desperately wanted more time to revive his campaign.
Dasuki, however, categorically rejected the notion that politics was behind his desire for a delay.
“Somebody looking at it the other way would say I’m helping the APC,” he told AFP.
He noted that northeast states hardest hit by Boko Haram were all opposition strongholds.
Distributing voter cards in the region has been tough and hundreds of thousands of people displaced by fighting were facing disenfranchisement.
If the military pacifies the area over the next six weeks, more people can get to the polls, Dasuki said, describing this as his foremost objective.
“It’s not everybody who does things for selfish reasons. Some of us have a conscience,” he said.
Asked about the apparently shifting reasons given for a poll delay, Dasuki maintained that he had been consistent throughout but that some of the issues had not previously been made public.
With violence in the northeast raging in December, he said he asked INEC about holding the vote in the northeast on a different day to the rest of the country so the security forces would not be overstretched.
INEC said “that will be very difficult for them,” and the idea was scrapped, said Dasuki.
Boko Haram has grown in strength through each of the past six years and many have voiced disbelief that substantial military gains can be made against them over the next six weeks.
But Dasuki argued that a new regional cooperation agreed two weeks ago with neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger was a game-changer.
The multi-lateral effort would pressure the insurgents from all sides and close their escape routes, he explained.
“We’ve been fighting it alone for years… Now we are having support,” he added.
Nigeria and Chad have claimed major gains over Boko Haram since the start of this month, including the recapture of several towns under rebel control.
Asked if the militants can be defeated by election day, Dasuki said “all known Boko Haram camps will be taken out. They won’t be there. They will be dismantled”.