Labour Party: Going…going…

The national convention held by a faction of the Labour Party (LP), led by its embattled national chairman, Julius Abure, has further widened the scope of its internal crisis. With aggrieved major stakeholders now threatening pull-out and erstwhile goodwill of the party tanking, the future appears bleak, LAWRENCE NJOKU reports.

Which direction is the Labour Party (LP) heading after the national convention of a faction at Nnewi, Anambra State that returned embattled Julius Abure as its national chairman for a second term?

It was one gathering whose mission was already known before it started – to return the Abure-led executive.  Therefore, nothing on the contrary was entertained. Aside from barring certain interests into the venue, at least five persons who reportedly sneaked into the arena to distribute inciting leaflets said to be critical to the leadership of the party, were arrested and handed over to the police.

The convention had been visited by opposition, arising from various tendencies and factions in the party. Many of the stakeholders had wanted the exercise to be put on hold to make room for wider consultations, as well as broker peace among the contending interests.

However, irrespective of the views of the wider spectrum of the members of the party loyal to Abure gathered in Nnewi, where they returned him and other members of his working committee. This was in the absence of the only governor produced by the party, Alex Otti of Abia State; the 2023 presidential candidate of the party, Peter Obi, members of the National Assembly elected on the party platform.

Most chairmen of the party across the states of the federation were also absent at the event. But Abia Deputy Governor Ikechukwu Emetu, who chaired the convention planning committee, announced the re-election of Abure, which came by the unanimous endorsement of those gathered at the hotel venue.

Except positions for Deputy National Chairmen to be produced by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), all other positions were filled as the officials were returned with Abure.

Rising from the convention, however, the members had offered Obi and his running mate, Datti Ahmed, automatic tickets to re-contest on the party platform in 2027. They also gave their tickets to Alex Otti to re-contest in 2027.

The communiqué, which was jointly signed by Abure and national secretary, Umar Farouk Ibrahim, approved the audited financial report of the party for the period 2022 to 2023 financial year, while calling on all warring groups to collapse their structures at the ward, local and national levels into the already existing structure of the party. It empowered the National Working Committee (NWC) to fill existing vacancies in the NWC and National Executive Council (NEC).

But no sooner had the meeting ended than several groups condemned it. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) through its National Chairman’s Chief Press Secretary, Rotimi Oyekanmi, stated that the conduct of the convention was not monitored by INEC, even as he declined further comments on why the commission failed to appear at the venue.

Section 82 (1) of the Electoral Act states that political parties shall give INEC at least 21 days’ notice of convention, congress and conference or meeting.

National Legal Adviser of the party, Kehinde Edun, however, clarified that the commission was informed about the venue and date. Recall that Umuahia had earlier been mooted as the venue of the convention.

In the same vein, the leadership of the NLC has vowed not to accord Abure any form of recognition following his re-election.

Obi had at the weekend said if the crisis in the party continued, he and his supporters may have a rethink about staying in that party despite offering him 2027 presidential ticket.

Obi in his X while engaging his supporters said, “Our engagement is about Nigeria, they are trying to change our focus what we want to do is not about LP it is about what the Obidients want to do about Nigeria.

“We are thinking about water, we are thinking about power, we are thinking about employment, thinking about security that should be our focus. The other matter we will deal with. We were somewhere, we didn’t start with Labour.

“I’m a Christian. Jesus said, when you go into a city try to change them, live with them, fast with them. If in the end they don’t change you come out and even wash the sand that is on your shoes.

“He didn’t say go there and die with them. I tell you, I’m making spirited efforts to change them (LP) but I’m not going to die with them.

“That will not stop what we set out to do. We will try to change them (LP), if we can’t, we will leave them, we will not die with them.”

NLC spokesperson, Benson Upah, said: “It is an illegality, a nullity. The whole exercise was a charade. Nothing can legitimise such brazen impunity”, asking the public to await the line of action from the Congress.

On the other hand, the Lamidi Apampa faction, who claimed it was in court with the Abure executive over some anomalies in the party, stated that the convention was a sham.

Apampa’s faction chairman in Anambra State, Peter Okoye, said: “This is not a convention. We are on top of the matter. There was no ward congress, no local government congress, and no state congress and now, who elected the delegates that went to Nnewi?

“The NLC was not there, TUC was absent and these are the owners of the party. We were not there either; not to talk about the INEC and BoT members. We already have a matter in court coming up on April 4. That’s all I can say for now.”

Apparently perturbed by the dimension the party was taking, its Board of Trustees (BOT), on Thursday announced that it had taken control of the party, saying it was doing so following the end of Abure’s tenure in office.

A statement by the party’s BOT chairman, Sylvester Ejiofor, stated that it was taken over to avoid any leadership vacuum.

Ejiofor said the BOT in consultation with major stakeholders, will soon communicate the processes for the conduct of an all-inclusive and expansive national convention of the party to chart the way forward.

“This is in line with the March 20, 2018, federal high court consent judgment delivered by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, which recognised NLC as the owners of LP and mandated that an all-inclusive and expansive national convention of LP be held.

“Following the expiration of the tenure in office of the immediate past NWC of the LP headed by Julius Abure, the BoT, in line with the party’s constitution, has stepped in to steer the affairs of the LP. This step is to avoid any leadership vacuum in the party.

“The decision of the BoT is also in furtherance of the agreement signed between the former national chairman of LP, Julius Abure, and the NLC and TUC on June 27, 2022, which was mediated by INEC.

He said in tandem with the principles of popular democracy, the convention will start with grassroots congresses at ward, local government, state and ultimately at the national level.

“This process will not leave any genuine member of the LP out and will be held in the full view of the INEC, media, civil society, security agents and the general public.”

Will the intervention of the BoT and rejection of Abure’s convention by NLC, TUC and INEC save the LP from further implosion?

The internal wrangling in the party has started taking a toll on the party as six members of the Enugu State House of Assembly on Thursday defected to PDP, blaming it on, “irreconcilable differences in the party.”

The members include the Chief Whip, Ejike Eze; House leader, Johnson Ugwu and member representing Enugu South Rural, Princess Ugwu. Others are Pius Ezeugwu (Nsukka West), Amuka Williams (Igbo-etiti), and Osita Eze (Oji River).

They hinged their reasons on the “existence of irreconcilable division, incessant crisis with the LP at the national level and across all state chapters.”

They cited the cases of Abure and Apampa factions, as well as the national treasurer and their parent body, NLC as some of the divisions within the party, regretting that LP, which was once a beacon of hope for progressives ideas have become synonymous with internal squabbles, thereby reducing its capacity to fulfil the aspirations of the electorate.

One of the state chairmen of the party, who was in Nnewi for the convention, stated that the exercise had been done and concluded; stressing that opposition against it was not unexpected.

He told The Guardian on condition of anonymity that, “what happened at Nnewi was in line with the constitution of the party”, adding that, “those we re-elected have an opportunity for a second term in office. There has not been a time when anybody can say there is peace in political parties. But what we have tried to maintain in LP is peace. We have done our best to do things orderly, irrespective of pressures from here and there. Those who are criticising and calling out the convention should go and look at the constitution. If they are not satisfied, they can leave the party. All of us came from somewhere to become members of LP.”

Reminded that the BoT of the party has taken over the affairs, he stated that, “there is nothing like BoT. We don’t have anything like BoT, for you to have BoT, there must be former governors, former elective office holders and what have you. So, anybody can wake up and issue statements as they like. We are not afraid of statements. We have done what is right that should bind other members of the party.”

Another member of the party, Jerry Nwankwo, however, told The Guardian that the way the party was moving, it would be difficult for members to come together again, adding that the in-fighting would erode the gains made in the 2023 general elections.

“What we are supposed to be talking about is how to deepen the party based on the gains we made in that election. Every other political party that participated in that election has gone back to the drawing board to strategise on how to confront the 2027 general elections, but that is not our case. The way we are going, I am afraid it will be difficult to bring members back together again.

“Some people are in court against the party at the moment. The executive led by Abure was recently accused of mismanaging several millions of naira. Rather than investigate the case, the national treasurer was suspended. Now they have rushed into holding a national convention to return themselves to office.”

Another member of the party, Adio Oluwole, said the Abure faction went ahead with the convention because of the confusion in the party, hoping that at the end of the day, it is the court that would determine who and who are the authentic leaders of the party.

He said: “To Abure, we will execute our plan and whoever is not satisfied should leave the party or go to court.”

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