Criticism mounted Sunday over Nigeria's decision to postpone its February 14 presidential election due to security concerns and the Boko Haram insurgency.
The opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), led by former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, described the postponement as a "major setback for Nigerian democracy," but appealed for all Nigerians to remain calm.
On Saturday, election body chairman Attahiru Jega announced the postponement for presidential and parliamentary polls from February 14 to March 28.
"If the security of personnel, voters, election observers, and election materials cannot be guaranteed, the lives of innocent young men and women and the prospect of free, fair, and credible elections will be greatly jeopardized," he said.
Jega told a news conference Saturday night that national security advisers and intelligence officers have said security forces need six weeks to conduct "a major operation" against Boko Haram.
Boko Haram militants control large parts of northeastern Nigeria. Experts say conducting a peaceful vote in those areas would likely be impossible.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement Washington was "deeply disappointed" by Nigeria's decision to postpone the election.
"Political interference with the Independent National Electoral Commission is unacceptable," Kerry said. "It is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process."
President Goodluck Jonathan is seeking another term. Many Nigerians have criticized him and his government for what they say is the failure to defeat the extremists.
Four West African countries announced earlier Saturday plans to join forces to help their neighbor Nigeria fight Boko Haram.
Delegates from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria revealed their plan at the end of three days of talks in Cameroon. It calls for deploying 8,750 soldiers in the area next month.
Boko Haram Attacks
Boko Haram has carried out a bloody campaign of terrorism since 2009 to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state, but has recently spread across the borders to attack towns in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Boko Haram staged an attack on a border in Niger overnight Saturday while a suicide bomber detonated an explosive near a market in the same town killing one person and injuring several more.
U.S. intelligence officials said the group has 4,000 to 6,000 hardcore fighters. A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said Boko Haram's "brutality and barbarism know no bounds." Civilians, including children, are frequent victims of Boko Haram violence.
Last April, Boko Haram sparked international outrage when it kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the remote Nigerian town of Chibok. Dozens have managed to escape, but more than 200 remain missing.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai urged Nigeria's leaders and the international community to improve their efforts to find the girls and do "much more to resolve this crisis and change their weak response to date."
Yousafzai said Sunday marks the 300th day of captivity for the kidnapped girls and "if these girls were the children of politically or financially powerful parents, much more would be done to free them." She said that because the girls come from an impoverished area of northeast Nigeria "sadly little has changed since they were kidnapped."
Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel laureate, was shot by the Taliban for encouraging girls to attend school.
Some material for this report came from AP, AFP and Reuters.