Town-criers menace: Rivers CSO coalition threatens court action against communities banning settler-voters ahead voting day

Reports are going round and video clips are going viral where communities in some sections of Rivers State are using town-criers to warn settlers (non-indigenes) from stepping out on Saturday, March 18, 2023, except to vote for a particular political party.

Now, the coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has threatened to secure court order to nullify the election in any community where voters were stopped from coming out.

They have also threatened to use actions to remove polling units in such areas in the future.

One particular video clip showed three young men with native gongs warning settlers in their deepest dialect not to come out to vote except they were voting the candidate of the ruling party in the state.

The statement sent out by the Solomon Lenu, the public relations officer of RIVCSOs, said the coalition has received the reports of voters’ intimidation sponsored by a particular party in various Ikwerre communities in the state, and strongly condemned the development.

“This is said to have been going on through the use of the local information dissemination model of “Town Crier” to inform all non-indigenes in these communities not to come out on election day “IF” they are not going to vote for the candidates of the PDP.

“This is entirely wrong as it goes against every extant law known in this country, and even goes against the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which guarantees every Nigerian the right to freedom of association and right to vote for any party or individual of their choice so long they have attained the rightful voting age and had gone through the registration process.”

The statement also noted that the constitution made it explicitly clear that no Nigerian regardless of tribe or origin who resides lawfully in the country shall be restricted from lawful movement or shall be expelled for any reason.

“The Electoral Act 2022 as amended also frowns at this action in Section 126(1). The Electoral Act in section 93 of (part V) as amended also prohibits the use of force or coercion on citizens or candidates of a political party in a state to get them to act against their will.

“Consequent upon the foregoing, we wish to call on the security agents to immediately call to order the leadership of the (party) in Rivers State, and also call to order the leadership of community such as “Ogbum-nu-Abali” and those in Emohua local government area where these incidents and infractions have been recorded.”

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In Ogbum-nu-Abali area of Port Harcourt, the entire computer section is said to have been shut down by the community over election matters.

RIVCSOs said the people of Rivers State irrespective of their place of origin or residence, should come all out on Saturday the 18th of March 2023 to freely exercise their franchise without fear or interference.

“This action is not only anti-democratic but also illegal because it stands in abeyance to our laws and the principles of democratic practices which we are all subject to as Nigerians.

“We therefore warn, that if such instructions are not refuted and rescinded before 8pm today through a well publicised medium to restore confidence to the people living in these areas, RIVCSO in collaboration with other sister organisations shall do the following.

“We shall institute a legal process to ensure the nullification of any result or election that may emanate from such communities.

“We are also going to work towards ensuring the withdrawal of election units in such community, and ensure that such community will be marked as unsafe for future electoral processes by the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC.”