Feb. 8 (GIN)—OUTRAGE WIDENS IN NIGERIA OVER POSTPONEMENT OF ELECTIONS

Feb. 8 (GIN)—In a mounting chorus of voices, Nigerians from north to south, from the diaspora and at home, both Christian and Muslim, flooded Facebook, blogs and Twitter, and turned out in street rallies over the weekend demanding that the people be allowed to vote, after the National Electoral Commission called off the nation’s presidential poll for reasons of national security.

Voting was moved from Feb. 14 to March 28 by official decree, allegedly to allow the army to first pacify the regions occupied by Boko Haram, which, to date, they have been unable to do.

“The commission cannot lightly wave off the advice of the nation’s security chiefs,” said Attahiru Jega, election commission chief, who announced the vote change. “Calling people to exercise their democratic rights in a situation where their security cannot be guaranteed is a most onerous responsibility.”

The incumbent, President Goodluck Jonthan, and the opposition leader, Muhammadu Buhari, are said to be nearly tied in what has been called one of Nigeria’s closest elections.

A press report titled, “Nigeria Under Fire Over Vote Delay,” was one of many that were filled with comments such as this one from “Deji of Otta,” who wrote, “It is precisely to take advantage of a chance to get rid of those who cannot defend the integrity of our country that we needed this election NOW. Instead, we are being made, by those who cannot defend our lives and properties, to wait another six weeks before we get a bite at choosing those who would defend our lives and properties.”

Jibrin Ibrahim, a political analyst with Nigeria’s Centre for Democracy and Development, said Nigeria’s security agencies forced Jega into the delay on “frivolous” grounds.

“They say they need six weeks to defeat Boko Haram,” he said. “Boko Haram has been growing for six years. If in six weeks Boko Haram has not been defeated, they could call for another delay and ultimately destroy Nigerian democracy.”

Noted Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist Femi Falana added that “by causing the election to be postponed, the national security advisor and the security chiefs have staged a coup against the Constitution. They are liable to be prosecuted for the grave offense of treason at the appropriate time.”

Sambo Dasuki, the national security advisor, first raised the prospect of a postponement last month, when he noted difficulties in distributing voter identity cards.

But as recently as last week, Jega said the electoral body was ready for the vote and that 68.8 million voters had been registered.

Jonathan stalwarts include Rita Dominic, a leading “Nollywood” actress. “James,” a supporter of the vote-date change, questioned online the haste to go to election: “The essence of democracy is that everybody who is entitled to vote gets the opportunity to do so. Millions, including myself, do not yet have a voter card through no fault of ours less than a week to the election. That in itself is an invitation to chaos and violence.”

But a statement from the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rejected the idea that security concerns could be a pretext for impeding the democratic process. Sharing the administration’s “deep disappointment” in the decision to postpone Nigeria’s presidential election, Kerry wrote, “Political interference with the Independent National Electoral Commission is unacceptable … The international community will be watching closely as the Nigerian government prepares for elections on the newly scheduled dates. The United States underscores the importance of ensuring that there are no further delays.”

Writing for SaharaReporters online, Joe Igbokwe of the opposition All Progressives Congress, commented, “All things considered, Nigeria is today at crossroads, and something needs to give way. From all indications, from all angles and from all calculations, it is obvious now that if we continue with President Jonathan, the Titanic called Nigeria may hit an iceberg.”

He continued, “Corruption is threatening our political, economic and social life. Investment funds are in private pockets, the system is not working and people who deserve nothing are pocketing billions and are asking us to go to hell. They abuse us on a daily basis, threatening our lives and dare us to challenge them.”

The abduction of more than 250 school girls was also raised in the election debate. “Today is 300 days after the Chibok abductions,” wrote Professor Mojubaolu Okome of Brooklyn College, New York, on her Facebook page. “Many girls, women, boys and even men were abducted before and after. Many have been killed by suicide bombers while going about their daily lives. Many communities were brutally attacked and were not defended by the Nigerian government.

“Now the federal government of Nigeria tells us it wants to concentrate on fighting Boko Haram. However, it’s hard to believe this rationale, and this is a sad time for Nigeria.”

Nobel prize author Wole Soyinka, in a piece titled, “No One Should Vote for Jonathan,” concurred. “The art of leadership is complex and unenviable,” he wrote. “Among its most basic, simple demands, however, is the capacity for empathy…” Referencing the kidnapped students, he asked, “If you had received news of your daughter’s kidnapping, how long would it take you to spring to action? Instantly? One day? Two? Three? A week? Or maybe TEN days?”

Boko Haram militants were not taking a holiday. In northern Cameroon, the militants attacked a border village and are suspected of kidnapping at least 18 people traveling on a bus, two military sources told Reuters Monday. The militants also launched an incursion into neighboring Niger to the north, their third border crossing in the past four days, ostensibly to liberate prisoners in a jail.

This action prompted a response from the Nigerian national security advisor. “All known Boko Haram camps will be taken out,” he told the AFP news agency Monday. “They won’t be there. They will be dismantle.” Asked if the polls could be pushed back further, he rejected the idea. “Those dates will not be shifted again,” he said.

AS EBOLA OUTBREAK SLOWS, WORLD HEALTH BODY SHIFTS FOCUS

Feb. 8 (GIN)—For the first time since the end of June 2014, fewer than 100 new cases of Ebola were reported in a week in the three most affected countries.

That was the positive news from the World Health Organization in a new report that cited 99 confirmed cases in the week ending Jan. 25, 2015—30 in Guinea, 4 in Liberia and 65 Sierra Leone.

As the numbers decline, efforts are shifting from building clinics to finding and managing new cases, ensuring safe burials and engaging communities, the agency announced. “Unaffected countries are still at risk,” warned the WHO, “as long as cases are reported in any country.”

John Ging, operations director of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, echoed the finding. “While remarkable progress has been made, we must not forget that it only takes one new case to start a new outbreak,” he said. Returning from a week-long visit to Ebola-affected countries, he urged the international community not to be complacent at this most difficult phase in eliminating the virus.

Four West African countries, designated “highest priority,” will be receiving UN support to prepare their health systems to detect and respond to Ebola. They are Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Senegal.

At a recent UN-African Union meeting on Ebola, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, thanked government and civil partners for their support thus far in the fight against Ebola and urged global efforts to continue.

Still, he cautioned, “There is Ebola in more than 25 of the 66 districts, counties and prefectures in the region. I ask you all to maintain support until the task is completed.”

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is unprecedented in world history, as is the response. More than 70 countries, hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of people have been directly involved in the fight to stop Ebola.

The epidemic has turned, he said, “and we are now beginning to see an overall decline in the number of new cases.”

More positive news was released by UNICEF, which announced that every child who was orphaned by Ebola in Guinea now has a place to call home—an astounding development considering these youngsters were shunned just a few months ago.

Since the Ebola outbreak struck the region, 773 children in Guinea lost both parents to the disease. As of today they have all been taken in by relatives, according to UNICEF.

“Since overcoming their initial fears and misconceptions about Ebola, families have been showing incredible support, providing care and protection for children whose parents have died,” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement.

According to the aid organization, an estimated 16,600 children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone lost one or both parents or their primary caregivers to Ebola. But less than 3 percent of those children had to be placed outside family or community care.

International adoptions were put on hold in November, and the focus was placed on reuniting families.

“The first priority is to reunite children with their close relatives or other community members willing to look after them,” Najwa Mekki, a UNICEF communications officer, told a reporter. “Making permanent decisions about children’s long-term care should be kept to an absolute minimum during this period.”