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Nigerian President Backs Election Chief Despite Poll Delay

Electoral officers unload election materials from a vehicle at the Independent National Electoral Commission building in northern city of Kano, Nigeria, April 3, 2011

Nigeria's president is supporting the embattled electoral commission chief whose decision to postpone the country's elections has sparked a flurry of criticism.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said the head of the Independent Nigerian Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega, made the right call in postponing Nigeria's election to allow for logistical problems to be worked out.

Jonathan told reporters in Abuja the INEC's decision should reassure Nigerians the body is committed to holding a fair poll. “So what happened is another demonstration that the country and the electoral body is totally committed to ensuring they conduct credible elections.”

Jega first pushed parliamentary elections from last Saturday to Monday, and then again to April 9, which also pushed the presidential and state polls to later this month. The electoral head blamed the postponement on problems getting enough ballots to polling stations.

The decision set off a flurry of criticism in Nigerian media and among voters, some of whom have called for Jega to step down.

A fellow with the Africa Program at Chatham House, Sola Tayo, said it makes sense for Jonathan to defend Jega, because he is the one who appointed him last year to clean up Nigeria's flawed electoral system.

“He made a huge song and dance about the fact that he appointed a man who is well-respected," said Tayo. "People like Professor Jega, they think he is a good person, and they saw him as somebody who was kind of tough on corruption and very outspoken on these issues.”

Tayo said ultimately the responsibility lies with Jega, but that does not mean he deserves all the blame. She said even if all the voting materials are distributed properly, the poll's credibility is still in doubt.

“Whether you have a clean, fair, peaceful election, again, it remains to be seen. Because when you have so many competing interests, you can have the best technology, the best rule in the world, but if people are determined to rig it, they are going to rig it.”

This month's polls are being seen as test of whether the continent's most populous nation can hold a functional election after its last elections in 2007 were marked by disorder, violence, and fraud.