Labour Party’s pyrrhic victory in Southeast
Shocking verdicts of tribunals that sacked elected members of the Labour Party (LP) seem to have turned the table, deflating erstwhile optimism of a potent third force in party politics of the Southeast, LAWRENCE NJOKU reports.
One poser that has returned many political watchers to the drawing board is the implication of the current wave of “sack” of members of the Labour Party (LP) in the Southeast region.
At the conclusion of the 2023 general elections, the LP took the zone by storm when it unseated the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that was dominating the region.
In Enugu State, the party won two of the three senate seats; six of the seven House of Representative seats, and 14 of the 24 House of Assembly seats. In Anambra State, the party won two of the three senatorial seats, six of the 11 House of Reps, and eight out of the 30 State Assembly seats.
In Abia State, LP won one senatorial seat; six House of Reps seats, and ten House of Assembly seats. It capped it up with the governorship seat of the state.
It won one senatorial seat and one House of Reps seat in Imo State and in Ebonyi State won one House of Reps seat and one House of Assembly seat. Indeed, the outcome of the exercises presented the party as an emerging “force” that could deflate the many years of inroads of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the PDP nationally.
At the moment however, the joy and hope that the party exhibited at the conclusion of the polls, especially in the Southeast region is beginning to give way to despair.
Various pronouncements by the tribunals so far in the region have not offered the required hope, but tended to weaken the party as the declarations by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which returned victory to its candidates, are being upturned by the tribunals. No fewer than eight House of Reps seats won by the party have been upturned so far.
In the same vein last Thursday, September 21, the hope that the party would secure additional state in the region was dashed when the governorship tribunal sitting in Enugu State dismissed the suit filed by its governorship candidate in the election, Chijioke Edeoga as incompetent and lacking in merit.
It was a judgment that has left members of the party bewildered and confused. That was basically because Edeoga finished second in the election and raised strong issues against the declaration of Peter Mbah of the PDP as the winner of the exercise on March 18 by the INEC.
Part of the issues, which the party canvassed against Mbah was his qualification for the exercise, having allegedly forged his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) discharge certificate; working as Chief of Staff to the Enugu government when he was supposed to be at the NYSC, as well as the contentious votes accruing from Nkanu East Local Government of the state that led to the suspension of the result of the election for two days.
But the party members were disappointed last Thursday as the Justice Kudirat Akano panel did not find any merit in their petition and ruled to the contrary. The panel did not only dismiss the case of the party but reaffirmed the election of Mbah as eminently qualified and legitimately earned the votes registered in his favour.
Although the LP had indicated readiness to appeal the decision of the tribunal which they branded as a “miscarriage of justice”, similar disappointments had been met by the party in other elections decided by tribunals in Enugu State.
Of the six seats, which it won in the House of Representatives, three currently stand in jeopardy as the tribunal has nullified the elections in favour of the candidates of the PDP who challenged them.
Chijioke Okereke who was pronounced winner by INEC for the Awgu/Oji River federal constituency; Prof. Paul Nnamchi, who was pronounced winner for Enugu East/Isiuzo federal constituency and Mr Sunday Umeha, who was returned for Udi/Ezeagu have their victories annulled as the tribunals have ruled in favour of Anayo Onwuegbu, Cornelius Nnaji, and Festus Uzor, respectively; all of the PDP.
These lawmakers are now sustaining their election on the appeals they filed against the ruling of the tribunal. Unless the appeal holds in their favour, they might as well lose their seat.
Already, Justice A. M. Abubakar of the National Assembly Tribunal had nullified the election that brought Bright Ngene of the LP to the State House of Assembly for Enugu South Urban constituency.
He had ordered a rerun in the constituency within 90 days to determine the actual winner of the election, on the premise that he was not convinced that the result before him that emanated from the contest was enough to return Bright against Sam Ngene, the candidate of the PDP.
In Abia State, the election of four House of Rep members from the party, including Amobi Ogar, Ibe Okwara Osunwa, Emeka Nnamani and Munachimso Alozie now contentious, following the sack of the occupants by the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Umuahia.
Ogar, the member representing Isukwuato/Umunneoche federal constituency was sacked following the petition filed by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Nkiruka Onyejeocha of the APC, who had earlier contested in the election.
Osonwa, who represents Arochukwu/Ohafia federal constituency, was removed by the Justice Adeyinka Adegberegbe team, which held that the candidate of the APC, Daniel Okeke actually won the election and ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate issued Osonwa for Okeke.
Nnamani who represents Aba North/ South federal constituency was sacked for All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Alex Ikwechegh over qualification issues; while that of Alozie for Osisioma/Obingwa/Ugwunagbo federal constituency was nullified for a rerun to be conducted by INEC within 90 days.
A source stated that more elected representatives on the platform of the party may suffer a similar fate in the coming days; a development that may weaken the party and truncate its forays in the Southeast region.
The way it is going, there are worries already among the members that the LP may be decapitated and extinguished the same way the party suddenly came to the limelight of the politics of the southeast region.
There are, however, divided views on how the current move to weaken the LP may impact the electoral fortunes of the PDP and APC in the region. Although it would appear that PDP would benefit more in the event of the appeal courts sustaining the rulings so far since majority of the cases were from its members, many however, believe that such would be too infinitesimal and would not lift the party (PDP) from its present squalour, following the rejection it suffered in 2023 general elections in the zone
PDP held control of the region with five states in 1999. Currently, however, it can only boast of one state (Enugu). There is no state at the moment where the party can boast of producing a greater number of National and State Assembly members.
Public Affairs analyst, Jude Uwandu told The Guardian that should the ruling be sustained, the APC, which controls two states of Ebonyi and Imo in the region, are the most likely beneficiaries in the long run. He stated that the party had shown character so far to wrest power from others in the region.
“I think weakening the LP in the Southeast will benefit the APC, not PDP. This is because the PDP is losing grip by the day in the region. Those who made the party thick have abandoned it. The party has descended from controlling five states to now controlling one (Enugu) and even in Enugu where it is controlled, I am not convinced about efforts to bring together what remains of the party. I don’t know the state presently where the party (PDP) produced majority seats in the state House of Assembly not to talk about National Assembly,” he said.
Uwandu added that the kind of politics being played by the APC in the Southeast region was such that has seen it made strong footings in the various states, stressing that, the party has leveraged winning the national election to “curry strong sympathy support from other governors not produced by APC in the Southeast region.”
He added: “If you go to Anambra State, although APGA produced Governor Chukwuma Soludo, his body language suggests that he is well disposed of APC national leadership and is willing to undertake any responsibility from them. This is a serious factor in politics as it places one at the mercy of the other.
“Go to Enugu State, you will discover that Governor Peter Mbah has become the closest ally of Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State. Do you think such an alliance is for nothing for a governor who has neither shouted PDP anywhere nor called a meeting of the party that produced him since he came to power?
“The same governor had visited the President who of course is of the APC twice or more in the last four months when even those produced by APC have not had such privilege. You can also recall that some members of the party had earlier complained about the kind of appointment he made that did not factor in card-carrying members of the PDP. So, it is unlikely that the Enugu governor could use his office to muster the needed resistance that could check any foray by the APC in the region,” he said.
He, however, added that these permutations may only come to fruition if the LP was not able to muster enough resistance over the cases at the tribunal.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.