Kano, Feb 17 (AP/UNB) — Nigeria's top candidates on Saturday condemned the surprise last-minute decision to delay the presidential election for a week until Feb. 23, blaming each other but appealing to Africa's largest democracy for calm.
The decision, announced five hours before polls were to open, is a costly one, with analysts at SBM Intelligence estimating an economic hit of $2 billion, plus a blow to the country's reputation. Authorities now must decide what to do with already delivered voting materials in a tense atmosphere where some electoral facilities in recent days have been torched.
Electoral commission chairman Mahmood Yakubu told observers, diplomats and others that the delay had nothing to do with insecurity or political influence. He blamed "very trying circumstances" including bad weather affecting flights and the fires at three commission offices in an apparent "attempt to sabotage our preparations."
If the vote had continued as planned, polling units could not have opened at the same time nationwide. "This is very important to public perceptions of elections as free, fair and credible," Yakubu said, adding that as late as 2 a.m. they were still confident the election could go ahead.
The new Feb. 23 election date is "without equivocation" final, he said.
Bitter voters in the capital, Abuja, and elsewhere who traveled home to cast their ballots, including from Nigeria's vast diaspora, said they could not afford to wait another seven days, and warned that election apathy could follow. Some anguished over rescheduling weddings, exams and other milestones.
If the electoral commission knew about complications, why wait until the final moment to announce a delay, asked Godspower Egbenekama, spokesman for the Gbaramatu kingdom in Delta state in the restive south. "This shows that someone is pulling the strings from somewhere."
The party backing top opposition challenger Atiku Abubakar accused President Muhammadu Buhari's administration of "instigating this postponement" with the aim of ensuring a low turnout. It urged Nigerians to turn out in greater numbers a week from now.
"You can postpone an election, but you cannot postpone destiny," Abubakar tweeted.
Buhari said he was "deeply disappointed" after the electoral commission had "given assurances, day after day and almost hour after hour that they are in complete readiness for the elections." His statement appealed for calm and asserted that his administration does not interfere in the commission's work.
A spokesman for the president's campaign committee, Festus Keyamo, accused Abubakar's party of causing the delay to try to slow Buhari's momentum.
But a ruling party campaign director in Delta state, Goodnews Agbi, said it was better to give the commission time to conduct a credible vote instead of rushing into a sham one "that the whole world will criticize later."
A civic group monitoring the election, the Situation Room, blasted the "needless tension and confusion" and called on political parties to avoid incitement and misinformation.
Nigeria's more than 190 million people anticipate a close race between Buhari and Abubakar, a billionaire former vice president. Both have pledged to work for a peaceful election even as supporters, including high-level officials, have caused alarm with warnings against foreign interference and allegations of rigging.
When Buhari came to power in 2015 — after a six-week election delay blamed on extremist insecurity — he made Nigerian history with the first defeat of an incumbent president. The vote was hailed as one of the most transparent and untroubled ever in Africa's most populous country, which has seen deadly post-election violence in the past.
Now Buhari could become the second incumbent to be unseated. This election is a referendum on his record on insecurity, the economy and corruption, all of which he has been criticized by some Nigerians for doing too little too slowly.
Harare, Feb 16 (Xinhua/UNB)-- More than 60 people are believed to have died in two mining shafts after a nearby dam burst in Zimbabwe's Mashonaland West Province, authorities said on Friday.
The number of illegal miners who could have been trapped was estimated at between 60 and 70, said Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister July Moyo.
In a statement on Friday, Moyo said hopes of finding survivors are fading following heavy rains that pounded the area during the night.
Rescuers successfully pumped out water from two interlinked tunnels, and work to retrieve the bodies is expected to start Saturday, Moyo said.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared the incident a State of Disaster on Friday.
Mashonaland West Provincial Affairs Minister Mary Mliswa-Chikoka said the tragedy was a big wake-up call for mining authorities and the miners on the need to adhere to safety standards.
Kano, Feb 16 (AP/UNB)— Nigeria's electoral commission delayed the presidential election until Feb. 23, making the announcement a mere five hours before polls were set to open Saturday. It cited unspecified "challenges" amid reports that voting materials had not been delivered to all parts of the country.
Residents of Africa's most populous nation and largest democracy will soon wake up to outrage. Many had relocated for the chance to vote.
"This was a difficult decision to take but necessary for successful delivery of the elections and the consolidation of our democracy," commission chairman Mahmood Yakubu told reporters in the capital, Abuja. He said more details would be released during an afternoon briefing.
A review of logistics, along with the determination to hold a credible vote, led the commission to conclude that going ahead with the election as planned was "no longer feasible," he said.
Nigeria also postponed the previous presidential election in 2015 because of deadly insecurity in the northeast, which remains under threat from Islamic extremists.
As word filtered out after midnight of a possible election delay at least in some regions, the Situation Room, a civil society collective monitoring the vote, said in a statement that "any suggestion that the election be held in a staggered manner will be totally unacceptable, and would be a recipe for a disastrous election."
More than 84 million voters in this country of some 190 million had been expected to head to the polls in what is seen as a close and heated race between 76-year-old President Muhammadu Buhari and top challenger Atiku Abubakar, a billionaire former vice president.
Both have pledged to work for a peaceful election even as their supporters, including high-level officials, have caused alarm with vivid warnings against foreign interference and allegations of rigging.
"This is truly disappointing but ... Nigeria will prevail," the spokesman for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said on Twitter, noting that Buhari was already in his hometown where he had been set to vote.
When Buhari came to power in 2015 he made history with the first defeat of an incumbent president in an election hailed as one of the most transparent and untroubled ever in Nigeria, which has seen deadly post-vote violence in the past.
Now Buhari could become the second incumbent to be unseated. His term has been marked by a crash in global oil prices that spun Nigeria's heavily crude-dependent economy into a rare recession, from which it only emerged in 2017. Unemployment shot up. The country passed India as the nation with the most people living in extreme poverty. More than 13 million children are said to be out of school.
Insecurity on multiple fronts has seen little improvement, worrying neighbors of the West African regional powerhouse and beyond. While the military pushed Boko Haram extremists out of many communities in the country's northeast, claims of the group being "crushed" have withered in the face of continuing violence. A new offshoot pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group has surged in recent months, attacking military bases — and this week, a governor's convoy — sending tens of thousands of people fleeing anew.
On top of that, banditry in the northwest, oil militants in the south and deadly fighting in the central region between farmers and herders over increasingly precious land keep security forces stretched and the population on edge. On Friday, authorities reported at least 66 deaths in a single community this week in what one resident blamed on farmer-herder clashes.
"We love our country and we need our country to be safe from all the violence ... and all the nonsense that takes place during election time," worshipper Amin Muhammad Khalif said as he emerged Friday from prayers in Kano, Nigeria's second-largest city in a nation largely evenly split between Muslims and Christians.
Even in the fight against corruption, in which Buhari could claim some progress, many in Nigeria have expressed concern that those targeted are mostly opposition figures..
Meanwhile, many Nigerians worry about Buhari himself after he spent more than 150 days outside the country for still-unspecified medical treatment. Spare in both charisma and physique, Buhari spoke for just a few minutes at his final campaign rally on Thursday and struggled to hear or grasp a number of questions in a recent televised town hall.
Borrowing a page from President Donald Trump's playbook, top challenger Abubakar has campaigned on the theme of "Let's Make Nigeria Work Again," while vowing to apply his business acumen to privatize Nigeria's all-important state oil company and lift 50 million people out of poverty by 2025.
Despite such proclamations, Abubakar has never managed to shake years of corruption allegations. And, as Buhari grumbled in his final pre-election address to the nation on Thursday, one "cannot simply proclaim jobs into existence."
In the end, the now-delayed vote could come down to the sorry state of Africa's largest economy and people's empty pockets, and stomachs.
In Abuja, 56-year-old Bako Sharibu was wrist-deep in a dumpster as he fished out pieces of plastic for recycling. His shy smile disappeared as he recalled that he once had good work as a janitor. Now he struggles to make his target of 300 naira (83 cents) a day.
"Everybody suffers too much. Hungry everywhere," he said, adding that if he could save a few thousand naira he would send the money to his three children in northern Kaduna state.
Then he shook his pocket. It was near sunset. He had just 50 naira in hand.
He will be voting for Abubakar, he said. Nigeria needs change.
Port-Au-Prince, Feb 10 (AP/UNB) — Protesters have stoned the Haitian president's home and clashed with police, leaving at least one demonstrator dead in the third straight day of demonstrations against economic mismanagement and corruption.
Organizers pledged more protests for Sunday, increasing pressure on President Jovenel Moise, who is calling for negotiations with his opposition.
A crowd of thousands protested in downtown Port-au-Prince Saturday, and an Associated Press journalist saw at least one fatally shot, apparently by nearby police. Protesters in the Petionville neighborhood blocked the road to Moise's house and stoned his property after guards protecting a Moise ally hit a woman's car and beat her near the president's house.
Protesters are angry about skyrocketing inflation and the government's failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to Haiti.
Colombo, Jan 29 (Xinhua/UNB) - Two people have died and over 3,700 affected by the dengue virus across Sri Lanka within the first three weeks of January, the Epidemiology Unit said here on Tuesday.
Till Friday, 3,743 dengue cases were reported from across the country with the highest number reported from capital Colombo, followed by Jaffna in the north and Gampaha on the outskirts of the Colombo district.
Medical experts urged people to seek immediate medical attention if they suffered from high fever, uncontrolled vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness and reduced urinary.
"All fever patients need rest and should refrain from attending work or school," epidemiologists said.
"Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF) can be fatal," epidemiologists added.
Last year, over 50 people died and over 48,000 affected by the dengue virus with the National Dengue Control Unit launching several programs to eradicate dengue's breeding grounds in several districts of the island country.