NIGERIA’S electoral commission has delayed the country’s presidential election until February 23.

Making the announcement just five hours before polls were set to open yesterday, citing unspecified “challenges” amid reports that voting materials had not been delivered to all parts of the country.

The move was expected to cause outrage as many residents of Africa’s most populous nation and largest democracy 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 postponed the previous presidential election in 2015 because of insecurity in the north-east, which remains under threat from Islamic extremists.

As word filtered out 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 the country with a population 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 post-vote violence in the past.

Now he 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 neighbours of the West African regional powerhouse and beyond.

While the military pushed Boko Haram extremists out of many communities in the country’s north-east, claims of the group being “crushed” have withered in the face of continuing violence.