A ballot box filled with ballot is pictured before being counted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at a polling station in Yenagoa in Bayelsa State ~ PIUS UTOMI EKPEI
Lagos - A further postponement of Nigeria's general elections beyond the rescheduled polling day of March 28 would be "unconstitutional", the country's election chief, Attahiru Jega, said on Wednesday.
"I don't see how anybody can contemplate any extension beyond these six weeks because there is no constitutional grounds on which you can do that," Jega said in testimony to the Senate.
Jega told the chamber that his Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was prepared to hold the vote on the original polling day, February 14, but was persuaded to support a delay by guidance from the country's security chiefs.
National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki and military top brass said soldiers would not be able provide election security nationwide because they were fighting Boko Haram in the northeast.
The Islamist rebels have continued killing at a relentless pace, including at least 38 deaths in two separate suicide attacks on Tuesday.
The military has also claimed major gains in recent days.
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Asked how he would respond if the security agencies requested a further delay, Jega referred to a constitutional provision that requires elections to be concluded at least 30 days before May 29, when a new government must be sworn in.
"Every Nigerian knows we want elections to hold... within a constitutional time frame," he told senators.
"The security agencies are (made up of) patriotic Nigerians. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt."
But he added that a further delay "will only have to be unconstitutional and I don't see how anybody can contemplate unconstitutional things".
There were widespread accusations that the military pushed for the delay to allow President Goodluck Jonathan more time to revive his struggling re-election campaign.
Experts say he is facing a tough test against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party, with the vote likely too close to call.