Announcing the date yesterday, Ephraim Akpata, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, said elections to the new parliament would take place a week earlier, on 20 February, while the governors and assemblies for Nigeria's 36 states would be chosen by voters on 9 January.
The staggering of the dates is to ensure that not more than two elections will be held on one day. But the voting has also been arranged to try to ensure that democracy is built from the grass roots up, and that, as far as possible in an ethnically splintered country, parties have a genuinely national basis.
Speaking from South Africa where he is in the middle of a three-day visit, Nigeria's military ruler, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, renewed his promise to hand over power. Nigerians wanted "true democracy in a country where fairness, justice and equity prevail," he told the South African parliament in Cape Town.
Under the plans a voters' register will be opened on 5 October. Aspiring political parties must first contest local council elections, set for 5 December.
Only those that win at least 10 per cent of the vote in at least 24 of the 36 states will be registered and permitted to run candidates in the national voting in February.