Friday, February 23, 2024

Labour Party in the iron-grip of palpable confusion

BY AUGUSTINE AVWODE

Though there were rumblings within the party in the run-up to the 2023 general elections, nobody expected things to quickly explode and dramatically fall apart soon after the general elections in the Labour Party. Therefore, when the news broke of the suspension of the National Chairman of the party, Julius Abure, over alleged anti-party activities and other sundry allegations on March 31, political pundits knew immediately that the ship of the party must have sailed into stormy waters. And, considering the fact that it emerged as the toast of the moment, it would take more than just a mere wish to refocus the ‘Papa, Mama & Pikin’ lot and salvage it from going into complete disarray.

Like a bolt out of the blues, a group of people who identified themselves simply as Ward 3 executives of the party in Edo State led by one Martins, who claimed to be the Ward’s Chairman, announced Abure’s suspension at a press conference he addressed. He declared that Abure was suspended by the executive, pending the determination of the numerous petitions and cases against him in courts.

In a swift counter move, the LP passed a full vote of confidence on Abure three days later. Addressing its own press conference in Abuja just like the first group did, the party recalled that some people who claimed to be Ward 3 executives of the party in Edo State had announced Abure’s suspension over allegations of forgery, perjury, mismanagement of funds, anti-party activities, among others.

Led by the Chairman of the party in Edo State, Kelly Ogbaloi, LP argued that the constitution of the party did not empower any group or party members to suspend a national officer who was elected by and through a national convention.

Apart from disowning those who made the declaration as non-party members, he alluded to extraneous interventions in the party which he accused of causing disaffection and disunity within its rank and file.

He said “Imposters who were not registered party members cannot suspend him, so their action was borne out of ignorance. Those who did it don’t even understand the message they were asked to deliver.

“It’s nonsense when few boys assembled themselves in Abuja and made the pronouncement they made. Those that issued the suspension were not members of the party, nobody knows them at ward level or Local Government level talk more of the state level.

“In the constitution of the Labour Party, no state, no local government, no ward has the right whatsoever to assemble anywhere to suspend a national chairman who is a product of a national convention,” he said.

“We want the world to know that Peter Obi was not properly nominated as our party flag bearer which we pointed out to him and the reason he wanted all of us oppose to his illegal candidacy out by all means”

Ogbaloi stressed that such a development whereby Ward executives are free to suspend and even possibly sack a national chairman could be obtainable in other political parties but not in the Labour Party. He argued that whatever action carried out by the group had no effect on the leadership of the party.

In his words, “Mr. Julius Abure remains the National Chairman of our party and we have since passed a vote of confidence on him and he shall take this party forward.

“No reasonable person will come and be talking about the suspension of a chairman who had delivered on the just concluded elections,” he said.

On his part, Patrick Obed, the Esan East Local Government Chairman of LP in Edo laughed off the news of the suspension, describing it as a rumour that was intended to just cause disaffection and rift within the party.

According to him, Abure is the National Chairman and has not been suspended at any level.

“He has been good to us, he has been working assiduously to move the party forward,” he said.

Thompson Ehiguese, Chairman Ward 3, Esan East LGA, others and himself from the Edo State chapter of the party were in Abuja to clear the air on the purported suspension of Abure by people he described as impersonators of ward 3 Esan East Local Government Council executives.

“We are here to dismiss the information about the suspension of the National Chairman and to say that it is not correct. I am his ward chairman in Ward 3, Uromi, where the National Chairman hails from.

“The truth of the matter is that those who claimed to have suspended the national chairman are not members of the party. Their names are not in our party register. They are impersonators and they will be arrested,” he declared.

National Secretary of the party, Mallam Farouk Umar, added his voice to the official position of the party on that day. According to Umar, those who announced the suspension “Also made some spurious allegations against him which are untrue and concocted by the sponsors of the press conference. We, however, deemed it fit to make some responses.

“The young men we saw on those visuals are apparently not anybody from the Labour Party in Edo State as claimed. The executives of the party in the state, Local Government and chairman’s ward are well known to the party.

“None of them were at the press conference. We make bold to say that they are people assembled and rented from some Abuja slums and paid to read a prepared speech given to them,” Umar said.

He said that the LPs Constitution was clear on who can suspend and who cannot suspend the National Chairman, saying “They should go and read the party constitution. It is only the National Convention that can suspend the National chairman of the Labour Party. It also must be through such a convention called for the purpose of the suspension of the National Chairman.”

Alleging extraneous interference, he claimed that the sudden suspension was an after-thought of some opposition parties who were rattled by the performance of the party in the just concluded election and so it was purely to distract the leadership of the Labour Party from focusing on the election petitions that were in various tribunals across the country.

“There is no reasonable party member at this point in time who will be thinking of such a thing when we are pursuing our presidential mandate in the court and all other mandates including the governorship, Senate and House of Representatives that were brazenly stolen.

“A party from the party competing with the top two political parties and in the process, winning eight Senate and 34 House of Representatives as well as numerous House of Assembly seats. We also won a governorship seat while we are in court to retrieve other mandates including the presidency.

“This is certainly not a matter that should be given serious attention by the media. We ordinarily should be talking to our lawyers by now but the fact that you are dealing with faceless individuals who are obviously being sponsored makes it imperative that we should respond.

“We are also calling on Nigerians to distance themselves from politicians who take pleasure in maligning political leaders, especially, politicians who are afraid of the rising profile of our National Chairman, Julius Abure,” Umar said.

However, events that followed these developments have since shown that contrary to Umar’s claims that “it is certainly not a matter that should be given serious attention by the media,” the matter has grown in leap and bound such that it is now threatening the very foundation and existence of not only the party but also the unprecedented political gains it made in the just concluded 2023 general election where it came third and more importantly the fact that the status of its presidential candidate is now at stake.

TWIST IN THE TALE

Following Abure’s suspension, events moved in quick succession to the consternation of LP faithful. Damning allegations popped up and before one could say Jack, a High Court in Abuja slammed Abure with a restraining order alongside three other officials of the party.

Justice Hamza Muazu, also ordered that the originating processes of the court be served on the restrained officials – Abure, the National Secretary, Umar Farouk Ibrahim; the National Treasurer, Oluchi Opara; and the National Organising Secretary, Clement Ojukwu.

They were all accused of criminal allegations bordering on forgery, perjury, illegal substitution of candidates in the recent election and mismanagement of party funds.

The judge held that the ex parte application for interim injunction restraining the four officials by aggrieved members of the LP before the court has merit and granted the same.

“An order of interim injunction restraining the 1 to 4th Defendants, their agents, privies, servants, employees and representatives’ whatsoever and howsoever described from parading themselves as the National Chairman, National Secretary, National Treasurer and National Organising Secretary of the 5″ Defendant (LP) pending the determination of the Motion on Notice,” he said.

The application was brought by Martins Esikpali John O., Lucky Shaibu, Isah Zekeri, Omogbai Frank, Abkhaiu Aliu, Ayohkaire Lateef, Job Elomah and Dr Abayomi Arabambi though their lawyer, James Onoja (SAN).

In an interview with The Point last week, the Ebonyi State governorship candidate in the election, Splendour Eze-Oko, asserted that Abure’s suspension was long overdue and that he should in fact have been arrested before now.

He claimed that but for the clandestine interference by Abure which resulted in his illegal substitution for which he spent a reasonable time in the court, he could have made a huge impact, possibly winning the election. He blamed Abure for his failure and declared that characters like the suspended chairman should not be found anywhere near the presidential candidate of the party, Peter Obi.

“The issue of the failure of the Labour Party in Ebonyi State was caused by Julius Abure. And it was not just peculiar to Ebonyi State. It happened in different states where authentic candidates were shortchanged because of money, thereby creating court cases,” he declared.

Eze-Oko advised Abure to honourably obey the court order, step aside and allow the acting chairman of the party to do his official job while he clears his name in court.

“Take a look at what happened with the National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, didn’t he step aside? Go and check the history of political parties’ leadership, once you’re found guilty of any particular thing, you step aside. If you refuse to step aside, you will be putting yourself into more trouble. Let me tell you something. I’ve been thinking that by now, Abure would have come out openly to tell the world that he did not forge people’s signatures. Why is he avoiding that? Why couldn’t he come out straight and say I didn’t forge anybody’s signature? I never tendered any letter of resignation. Both the Police report, the CTC all attest to the fact that my signature was forged,” he stated.

APAPA EMERGES ON THE SCENE

The confusion in the party deepened a day after the court order restraining Abure and three others. At an emergency meeting of the LP National Working Committee, some members of the National Working Committee of the Labour Party, led by the Deputy National Chairman of the party (South), Lamidi Apapa, took over the affairs of the party.

Apapa declared himself as the Acting National Chairman of the party while Saleh Lawan was named the Acting National Secretary. He argued that Abure and the three others must vacate the order of the Federal High Court retraining them before further action can be taken on the leadership of the party.

The emergency NWC meeting also reinstated Executive Council members from Ogun State, Rivers State, and Gombe State. During the meeting, Apapa also reversed the suspension of Eragbe Anslem as the National Youth Leader and Yomi Arabambi as the National Publicity Secretary.

Abure in his reaction to the development tagged it “illegitimate,” alleging a ploy by the ruling APC to destabilise the party.

“A court of competent jurisdiction only yesterday ordered that I, Julius Abure remain the National Chairman, and should not be restrained from performing my duties, it, therefore, baffles me why the Nigerian Police should allow itself to be used to perpetrate illegalities,” he said in a statement in apparent reference to an Edo High Court’s ruling which quashed his suspension and reinstated him as chairman.

He then urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “call his party, the APC to order and also rein them in from using unorthodox means to suffocate political structures in Nigeria.
“We advise the Police, APC, and their sponsors to play by the rules. We will no longer tolerate the often intimidation and deployment of brute forces against the party and its personnel,” he added.

“We demand they put a stop to the abuse of power and respect the rights and privileges of other political parties, particularly, the Labour Party to contest for power.”

The Nigeria Labour Congress quickly jumped into the fray, declaring Abure as the authentic LP national chairman.

NLC President, Joe Ajaero, said, “We are alarmed by the decision of Justice Hamza Muazu of the High Court in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja via exparte to suspend from office the National Chairman, the National Secretary, National Treasurer and the Publicity Secretary of the Labour Party, Messrs Julius Abure, Alhaji Farouk Ibrahim, Clement Ojukwu and Opara respectively on unfounded/unproven and highly speculative and malicious allegations of corruption, perjury and forgery by elements whose interest in the party could best be described as doubtful or dubious.

“We view the decapitation of the leadership of the party with great suspicion which cannot be far from the intent to weaken the party from within or distract it from its fight to reclaim its victories at the polls.

“In light of this, we urge the courts to exercise utmost caution in entertaining frivolous suits and spurious prayers from mercenary party members as they are capable of compromising the integrity of the courts.”

Last week, the National Executive Committee met in Asaba and announced the suspension of the Acting National Chairman, Lamidi Apapa and five others for anti-party activities.

Those suspended included Saleh Lawal – Deputy National Secretary; Rowland Daramola- National Financial Secretary; Reuben Favour – National Vice – Chairman, South-South; Secretary; Samuel Akingbade, National Legal Adviser and Mohammed Akali, National Vice – Chairman, North-East.

NEC also reaffirmed and upheld the decision of the Akure convention which expelled the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Arabambi Abayomi.

The NEC meeting was attended by members of the National Working Committee; State Chairmen; State Secretaries; the presidential candidate of the party, Peter Obi; National Assembly members-elect; Independent National Electoral Commission, Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress. The NEC also extended the tenure of the present National Working Committee of the party by one year.

Following criticism against him and allegations that he was planted in the party by the ruling APC as a mole, Apapa recently said if the party’s supporters, known as ‘Obidients,’ understand what was going on in the party, they would realise how ignorant they had been.

“If you continue this way, we will go after your fathers. We leave it here until we finish our private discussion. Let it be known to the whole world that the NLC fathered LP and we will not abandon our child”

THINGS FALL APART

Responding to the Asaba meeting of the NEC and its decision, Apapa went straight for Obi, the presidential candidate of the party, describing him as unqualified and unfit to rule Nigeria.

He premised his claim on alleged improper nomination as LP presidential candidate and his being present at the Asaba NEC meeting. Apapa argued that a man who could not obey simple court orders was not fit to rule Nigeria. He then declared the Asaba NEC meeting illegal and dissolved the Labour Party Presidential Campaign Council.

Apapa’s faction of the party declared in a statement that “Following the anti-party activities and disobedience to court order of the FCT High Court through the illegal suspension and expulsion of national working committee members under the leadership of Alh. Bashiru Lamidi Apapa, the NWC members met this afternoon, after receiving information and a letter by the restrained former national chairman Julius Abure and former National Secretary inviting elected members of national assembly to observe their illegal NEC meeting of our party.

“By this rascality exhibited by these miscreants, the national working committee of our party led by Alhaji Lamidi Apapa hereby, suspend the following officers with immediate effects: Ladi Iliya Deputy National Chairman NLC, Ayo Olorunfemi, Deputy National Chairman TUC, Kennedy Chigozie Ahanotu, Deputy National Secretary, Dudu Manuga, National Women Leader and Innocent Okeke. National Vice Chairman South East.

The statement signed by Arabambi stated that “The party also frowns at the gross misconduct of Mr Peter Obi who is vigorously pursuing ethnic cleansing. Peter Obi’s mission was to amputate the Labour party structure so that he and his gang of ethnic bigots would take over the party and fix his wife as the new national women leader of the party to continue his trade.

“We want the world to know that Peter Obi was not properly nominated as our party flag bearer which we pointed out to him and the reason he wanted all of us oppose to his illegal candidacy out by all means.

“Peter Obi is not fit to govern Nigeria for his involvement in the gross disobedience to the FCT high court order as this is evidence that he will cause civil unrest, turn Nigeria to banana republic and lawlessness where rule of law will be a thing of the past.

“Finally the national working committee of our party hereby dissolved the presidential campaign council with immediate effects,” Arabambi stated.

NLC VOWS TO RESIST INTRUDERS

In the face of what seems to be a complete breakdown of orderliness in the party, the NLC said it won’t allow intruders to throw the LP into chaos. This was the position of the Labour movement as its officials stormed the national secretariat of the LP in Abuja in solidarity with the embattled national chairman, Abure.

Speaking to newsmen, NLC president, Joe Ajaero, said “Today, we say enough is enough. Never again will any human being enter here under any guise, under any order. Even if we lose our leadership, we have to meet as trustees of this party to decide the next line of action,” he said.

“For anybody to illegally declare himself either as chairman, secretary or anything, we urge all workers anywhere in the country, where you see such people, arrest them and bring them to us.

“The hour has come. The Bible says, ‘From the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of God suffereth violence. And violence taketh it by force. Now we have come to take our party, we have come to establish our party. As the fastest-growing party, you can see that envy and jealousy are creeping in. The people that are pioneering this to sabotage us let’s announce here that we know your fathers.

“If you continue this way, we will go after your fathers. We leave it here until we finish our private discussion. Let it be known to the whole world that the NLC fathered LP and we will not abandon our child”.

Ajero’s speech highlighted the fear among many that the party might have fallen interminably from the Olympian height of being The Third Force and the Beautiful Bride loved by many and anchored on unity and hope for a new Nigeria to a party ravaged by discordant tunes and unfathomable intrigues gnawing at its soul. Whether the ‘Papa, Mama and Pikin’ party would survive the present travail buffeting it, only time will tell.

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