The upcoming local government elections in Rivers State have been scheduled for October 5, 2024, but the process has already been marred by controversy. The Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC) announced the date at its headquarters in Port Harcourt, with Chairman Justice Adolphus Enebeli (rtd) assuring that the elections would be free, fair, and non-violent. Despite these assurances, the major opposition parties, including the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), boycotted the stakeholders’ meeting, raising concerns about the legitimacy of the upcoming elections.

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Chief Tony Okocha, the caretaker committee chairman of the APC in Rivers State, claimed that his party was not officially invited to the meeting. Okocha stated, “I was not invited. My party was not invited. My party is too big not to be officially invited for an event like that. I am too big to attend an event I was not officially invited. RSIEC refused to officially invite me as a chairman of a major opposition party in the state.”

The APC’s absence from the meeting casts a shadow over the election preparations. Okocha explained that he only learned about the meeting through social media and even reached out to the RSIEC chairman via email, receiving a reply that acknowledged the APC as a major stakeholder. However, he emphasized that the APC would only participate in the election if proper procedures were followed.

In contrast, the Rivers State chairman of the Interparty Advisory Council (IPAC), Hon Solsuema Osaro, confirmed that 17 out of the 19 political parties in the state would participate in the elections. “Seventeen parties were in the stakeholders’ meeting. I want to thank the Governor, His Excellency Sir Siminalayi Fubara, for his determination to allow for the conduct of the elections. APC and the PDP were not in the meeting. We don’t know why they were not there. But I can assure you that the 17 parties at the meeting will gladly participate in the election,” said Osaro.

Justice Enebeli, addressing the stakeholders, emphasized the importance of democracy and the principles it upholds, such as freedom of expression, the rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary. He acknowledged the ongoing disputes and tensions surrounding the local government elections but reiterated the Commission’s commitment to ensuring a fair and peaceful process.

The backdrop of the current controversy includes the recent political crisis following the termination of the tenure of former council chairmen loyal to the FCT minister, Nyesom Wike. This termination, which took place at midnight on June 17, 2024, sparked significant unrest. The former chairmen argued that Law No. 2, enacted by the Martins Amaewhule-led House of Assembly, extended their tenure by six months. Their refusal to vacate the council secretariats led to the intervention of the Nigeria Police Force, which took control of the secretariats until a final judgment is issued by the federal high court in Abuja.

The stakeholders’ meeting, attended by security agencies, civil society organizations (CSOs), the media, and other key stakeholders, highlighted the complexities and challenges facing the upcoming elections. With major parties like the APC and PDP boycotting the preparatory meeting, questions arise about the inclusiveness and fairness of the electoral process.

As the October 5 election date approaches, the RSIEC and other involved parties must work diligently to address the concerns raised by the opposition to ensure a credible and transparent election that reflects the will of the people of Rivers State.