LONDON (Reuters) - Any further delays to Nigeria’s election would be unacceptable and the opposition will take the government to court if the election commission chief is forced out, presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari said on Thursday.
The vote pits incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) against former military leader Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the most hotly contested election since the end of military rule in 1999.
The election was set for Feb. 14 but postponed to March 28 after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said it had been told by the military it could not guarantee security due to an offensive against Islamist militant group Boko Haram.
Nigeria’s government has said there will be no more delays.
“It is in our collective interest that the postponed elections will be held on the scheduled date, that they should be free and fair, and that their outcome should be respected by all parties,” Buhari said in a speech in London.
“Any form of extensions under whatever guise is unconstitutional and will not be tolerated,” he said.
The PDP called his talk a “stage-managed show of shame” and said it showed he thought it “more important to win the hearts and minds of the British than (those) of the Nigerian people”.
Nigeria’s top presidential security adviser also gave a talk in Chatham House at the end of last month.
The decision to postpone the election was widely viewed as INEC yielding to pressure from the PDP and local media have reported mounting pressure on INEC chairman Attahiru Jega.
“Jega was appointed constitutionally,” Buhari told reporters after giving his speech. “Let the president’s supporters react (within) the constitution of the country. If they react unconstitutionally we’ll take them to court.”
The vote is another big test for Africa’s most populous country, whose 170 million people are split almost evenly between Christians and Muslims.
Security has become a major election battle ground following the Boko Haram insurgency, which is battering Nigeria with almost daily attacks, and over the past five years has killed thousands and displaced 1.5 million.
Bomb attacks killed at least 23 people in north and central Nigeria on Thursday, in what looked like the latest in a spate of revenge attacks by the Islamist insurgents.
A former military ruler, Buhari is hoping his strongman reputation will resonate with voters disheartened by Jonathan’s failure to get the insurgency under control during his five years as president.
“Boko Haram has certainly put Nigeria on the terrorism map,” Buhari said, noting that he would equip soldiers better and increase intelligence to choke off Boko Haram’s supply of recruits and funding.
Another priority was to tackle corruption, he said.
Graft scandals, most recently a claim that between $10-20 billion owed to state coffers by state oil firm NNPC were not remitted, have fueled public anger. Jonathan authorized a forensic audit of the company on March 12 last year.
Additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Lagos; Editing by Louise Ireland