Labour Party struggles as internal row tears structure apart
Without structure, is it possible for a presidential candidate and his party to win elections in Nigeria? That poser seems to be the subtext of the ongoing leadership disputation within the Labour Party (LP).
A fragment of the membership had gone to court to obtain an order restraining Julius Abure from parading himself as the party’s national chairman. But, the owners of the political platform, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), has come out to declare that despite the shenanigans of some disgruntled former members, Abure remains in office as national chairman.
Watchers of the Nigerian polity noted that the strong showing of the party as a vibrant third force must have become its albatross. Although its was dismissed as an unserious political party powered by overzealous young people, most of whom do not have voter card, LP gave the established political parties, especially the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a run for their money.
From its competitive showing and popularity among the young and new voters, it was, therefore not expected that some interest groups would start laying claims to exact some relevance and reap from the party’s anticipated bright future.
It would be recalled that LP’s profile rose shortly after former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, became it’s presidential candidate. Obi had dumped his former party, PDP, on which platform he had contested the 2019 presidential election as running mate to former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.
With Obi’s entry and barely eight months to this year’s general elections, LP’s fortune changed, even as its soft-spoken standard bearer rallied the country towards a counter political narrative that emphasised character, competence, capacity and compassion in leadership selection.
Obi’s promise of switching Nigeria from a consumption nation to productive economy captured national attention. The message resonated with the people to the extent that some drew a contrast between him and the African-American former U.S. President, Barrack Obama, whose ‘Yes we can” change slogan handed the Democratic Party the presidency from the incumbent Republican Party.
Obi also energised the youths with his demand on them to take back their country from established corrupt politicians that had held the country hostage for decades. He cited his personal examples from days as Anambra State chief executive, stressing that bad and corrupt leadership was responsible for mass poverty, insecurity, growing population of out of school children and comatose economy.
Although the general impression among analysts is that Obi’s entry into LP changed the stature of the party as well as the political narratives of the country, the party was already a player in Nigeria’s politics.
However, apart from the 2009 upset it caused in Ondo State, when the party threw up Dr. Olusegun Mimiko as governor, 2023 elections had been phenomenal for the workers’ party. Enhanced with the demographic appeal to youths under the aegis of ‘Obidient movement’, the party placed third at the presidential poll, replicating its effort with a governor elect in Abia State, seven Senators-elect and 34 members-elect for the House of Representatives in the recent general elections.
Recall that opinion surveys conducted by many polling platforms before the election had predicted the possibility of the party’s presidential contender, Obi, coming out tops as winner.
However, while the polls were dismissed as mere projections by the other parties, LP proved book makers right by its unexpected electoral triumph in Lagos State, the favourite base of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC). The party also won in Nasarawa, the home state of APC national chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu; won in the FCT, as well as, Plateau and a couple of other states.
While the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced APC’s standard bearer, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, as winner after collation of results, Obi and LP, who were placed third behind Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, picked holes with the electoral processes leading to the return of a winner.
Already, both Obi and Atiku and their parties-LP and PDP- have petitioned the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) to register their disapproval of the entire process and outcome, even as they individually laid claims to victory.
Ever since the LP posted its competitive showing in the 2023 general elections, the party has been struggling to maintain its cohesion, especially following internal wrangling that border on leadership tussle, allegations and counter-allegations of corruption among some of its top officials.
Not those alone, the party’s presidential contender, have also been inundated with various issues. First was the purported treasonable comments by his running mate, Senator Datti Baba-Ahmed, as well as the petition against Obi, threats of arrest and a leaked audio conversation believed to be between Obi and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Church, David Oyedepo.
While the party was contending with the storms, the wind of disunity began to blow around the LP leadership. The decision of an Abuja High Court to issue an order restraining the National Chairman, Julius Abure, National Secretary, Farouk Ibrahim, National Organising Secretary, Clement Ojukwu and one other, from parading themselves as national officers of the party came like a thunder from the blues.
Ruling on an ex parte application argued by Chief James Onoja SAN, Justice Hamza Muazu, said the affected officers should cease to function in their respective offices pending the hearing and determination of the substantive motion.
However, in a swift move, a counter court order from an Edo State High Court sitting in Benin, last Wednesday restrained Labour Party and all its members from any suspension or purported suspension of its national officers till the determination of motion on notice.
Labour Party’s counsel, G. C. Igbokwe (SAN), confirmed to newsmen that he had gotten a High Court order to the effect that status quo be maintained, stipulating that no action, which may result to the suspension of any national officer of the party should be taken.
He stated: “Our attention has been drawn to a latter order purportedly from another court of equal jurisdiction restraining my clients. Of course, such order is of no consequence and will have no effect until after the determination of the motion on notice.”
A group that claimed to be Ward Three LP executives in Edo State, led by the Ward Chairman, Martins Osigbemhe, had earlier announced the suspension of the LP national chairman. As such, in a bid to counter that move, the entire leadership of Labour Party in Edo State, including the state, Local Government and Ward executives were on hand to pass a vote of confidence on Abure
The group in a solidarity visit to Abure at the party’s National Secretariat in Abuja, said the Osigbemhe faction is unknown to the party and that they were working for some unnamed opposition political parties. Mr. Kelly Ogbaloi, Edo State Chairman of the party, told newsmen in Abuja that the constitution of Labour Party does not empower any group or party members to suspend a national officer.
Ogbaloi recalled that ever since Abure was elected at the party’s national convention, those he called impostors, “who are not registered party members cannot suspend him. So, their action is out of ignorance. Those who did it don’t even understand the message they were asked to deliver.”
As if the irritations were not enough, some members of the National Working Committee (NWC) who were on suspension, led by one Apapa, the Publicity Secretary, Aboyomi Arambabi, and former Youth Leader, allegedly broke into the LP national secretariat in a bid to forcefully take ownership and in apparent scheme to enforce the court order.
Exit of peace
With the wrangling from Edo and Abuja, peace has left the Labour Party. Watchers of the polity relate the various crises to LP Presidential candidate’s insistence on pursuing his case to reclaim what he termed, his stolen mandate.
Obi and LP claim that they not only won the election out rightly, but also that they have overwhelming evidence to upturn the victory of APC and Tinubu, who were declared winners by INEC.
It is against this background that the governing APC is being fingered as mastermind of the rumblings in the workers’ party.
Those who hold onto that conspiracy theory allege that the antagonists of Abure’s leadership are the same party faithful in the Southwest that worked against LP in the election by collapsing their structure for APC in the zone.
Recall that Southwest LP had collapsed its entire structure into the APC days to the general elections.
National chairman of South West Agenda For Asiwaju Tinubu (SWAGA) 2023, Dayo Adeyeye and other members of the group facilitated the switch.
Consequently, it was believed that the same group represented by Lamidi Apapa and Arambabi procured the court injunction that barred the national chairman and other national officers of LP from parading themselves as such.
The group schemes that in the event that the Abure leadership is successfully eased out, the new leadership would later withdraw the petition at the PEPT and declare support for the President-elect, Tinubu to help boost his legitimacy. The attempted take over of the LP secretariat last Thursday by the faction was aimed at achieving that target.
However, the party’s state chairmen, who are also members of the National Executive Council (NEC), stormed the party’s secretariat on rescue mission on Good Friday. Determined to leave nothing to chance, the 28 state chairmen took over the LP national secretariat in Utako, Abuja. They were emphatic that Abure remains their national chairman.
The previous day, Abure had, in a statement, claimed that the National Headquarters of Labour Party was under attack, as a detachment of Nigeria Police Force and thugs believed to be working for the governing party invaded the building. He disclosed that the perimeter fences, burglaries, doors and windows to the secretariat were vandalised, adding that workers and stalwarts were chased away.
Ironically, seven members of the NWC had announced the National Vice-Chairman (South), Lamidi Bashir Apapa, as Abure’s replacement in acting capacity. In his remarks after an emergency meeting in Abuja, Apapa said the NWC members acted on the ruling of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, which restrained Abure from parading himself as national chairman.
While he addressed the press, armed security personnel were conspicuous at strategic locations, possibly, to avert a breakdown of law and order.
Apapa explained that the NWC also reviewed suspension of party members and executives. The other three restrained officials, were also replaced by Saleh Lawal as acting national secretary, Rowland Daramola (acting treasurer) and Prince Reuben Favour (acting organising secretary).
But, on their part, the 28 LP state chairmen led by their spokesperson, High Chief Kehinde Rotimi, after forcefully reclaiming the secretariat, told journalists that few hours earlier, “We were amazed at the report that hoodlums and thugs invaded our party secretariat at Utako, that is why we came.”
He stated: “They destroyed properties, carted away our documents, committed all sorts of atrocities that are not in tandem with the rule of law
“We were told that they went to court and took a particular order but they did not wait for the court to determine whatever motion of notice, they took laws into their hands to come and destroy our Secretariat
“That is why we, as very important organ of NEC, the council of chairmen in the party, which constitutes NEC along with the members of our party, have decided to come here to do an on-the-spot assessment and on getting here, we discovered that these sets of hoodlums, some of them have been suspended and are no more members of our party.
“Some of them sold our party to other political parties. The party is still investigating to see that they have violated our rights as a political party and they have gone all around to intimidate us with security agencies.
“We are saying it that we can not be intimidated, we can not be cowed. Labour Party has come to stay in Nigeria, we want to advice all political parties to allow us, leave us alone.
“We want to tell all the security agencies not to turn to political party members, because the police are not party members so they should do what is right according to the rule of law.
“You can not be a judge in your own case. They want to be judges in their own case by taking the law into their own hands. That is why we are here, our entire members from all over the country; to counter this obnoxious and evil move to derail us from pursuing the mandate that Nigerians have given to us.
“Nigerians gave us their mandate on the 25th of February 2023 and on that mandate we stand. That is why we believe in the rule of law and that is why we have gone to the tribunal.
“Instead of creating diversion and division in our party we will not agree. That is why we are telling the whole world we have began the legal process on this evil and barbaric act.”
Enugu State chairman, Cashmir Uchenna Agbo, described what was happening as “very unfortunate, because Labour Party is a party of rule of law.
“Our principal has maintained that we must be guided by the Constitutional provisions and the laws of this land and the party. It is very unfortunate that those who have ran this party for many years are engaging in acts of brigandage and criminality in terms of enforcing their own right.”
Agbo accused the Apapa group of mixing criminality with civil process, contending that the court that gave them that order erred in law, saying, “There are a plethora of such cases that once you have element of criminality in any motion, you just put the other party in notice, so that he could be heard.
“You cannot shave a man’s head in his absence. You have done this to this party; we are referring to a party in particular in this country that is known for criminality and brigandage. And that is APC.”
Speaking on efforts made to maintain order, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Utako, Gregory Victor,, said the police took over the secretariat to prevent breakdown of law and order. He blamed the party chairmen for coming to take over in a commando style, adding that if his men were not on ground and there was lawlessness how would they have been able to take back their secretariat.
The party’s youth Leader, Prince Kennedy C. Ahanotu, disclosed that the rumbling in the party was not unexpected, especially because the party and its Presidential candidate, Peter Obi, have gone to court with overwhelming evidence and that the ruling party is jittery looking for any foothold to discredit the process.
Ahanotu spoke at the party secretariat when the 36 State chairmen of the party delivered a communique reaffirming their support for Julius Abure as their national chairman. “For Abayomi Arabambi, money is the game and he was determined to sell his soul to achieve that dangerous appetite to enrich himself by whatever means.
“The only means is to initiate and sustain the crisis in the party by turning himself into a hireling and making himself available at a price to be purchased by desperate politicians,” he added.
He stressed that the LP’s youth wing is in solidarity with the 36 State chairmen for coming to the rescue of the party at a very trying time, assuring that “on behalf of the labour party youths we will overcome this. We would not allow our collective sensibilities and our collective future to be destroyed by people who we have evidences on how they perpetrated evil and worked against the party even in the last election.”
The National Publicity Secretary, Abayomi Arambabi, did not respond to text messages seeking to get their own side by the time of filing this report, even though he kept on promising to respond. But, a member of his faction who did not want his name in print said Abure remained suspended, stressing that there are a number of criminal allegations against the former national chairman including forgeries.