Ajaero vs Abure Who blinks first?

Ajaero vs Abure: Who blinks first?

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As the leadership crisis in the Labour Party (LP) deepens, KUNLE ODEREMI writes on the undercurrents and if the scenario that decapitated the once Alliance for Democracy (AD) is about to repeat itself.

Since its inception, the Labour Party (LP) in Nigeria made its most remarkable impression at the poll in the 2023 general election. By the time the results of all the elections were concluded, the party was shown to have serious made incursions into the strongholds of the ruling PDP and the APC as it secured considerable seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The LP won six senatorial seats and 34 in the house, making it the third ranked party in the 10th National Assembly. According to chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, at a meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in Abuja, the All Progressives Congress (APC) won 57 Senate seats; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) 29; Labour Party (LP) six; Social Democratic Party (SDP) two; New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), two; Young Progressives Party (YPP), one and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), one. For the House, Yakubu said the APC had 162 seats; PDP (102); LP (34); NNPP (18); APGA, four; ADC, two; SDP, two, while the YPP got one seat.

The feat of the Labour Party bolstered the thinking that perhaps, the much-trumpeted Third Force had arrived that could pose a realistic challenge to the bigger PDP and the APC which had monopolised power at various levels of government since Nigeria returned to civil rule in May 1999. After the 2003 general election, the hitherto Party for Social Democracy (PSD) had transformed into the LP based on what the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the chief promoter, described as the ideology of social democracy. The success of Dr Olusegun Mimiko in the 2007 governorship poll in Ondo State boasted the standing of the party having contested on its platform. From then, however, the influence of the LP almost paled into insignificance until some powerful forces coalesced in May 2022, to ‘’railroad’ former Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi, as its presidential candidate in the 2023 election. Whereas the party failed in the bid to produce president, it nonetheless again won a governorship seat in the person of Governor Otti of Abia State. But in another feat of irony, the party is enmeshed in a festering leadership feud. It will be recalled that a lawyer, Dan Nwanyanwu was  the national chairman of the LP from 2004. He left office after being in the saddle for 10 years and became Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT).  But Nwanyawu eventually quit the party in 2015 in controversial circumstances, including schism against a top official of the LP, which he adequately addrressed in his resignation letter.  Part of the letter read: “I regret to observe that events in the Labour Party, especially with regard to the handling of the recently concluded nomination of candidates on the platform of the party for the 2015 general elections, are not in consonance with the integrity, transparency and accountability for which the Labour party had achieved reputation over the years.” He added: “I am unable to continue to hold the office of the chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party or continue to associate with the party as a member. Consequently, I hereby tender my resignation both as chairman of Board of Trustees of Labour Party and member of the party. I have already taken steps to effect my resignation as member of the party at my ward as required by the party constitution.”

Almost 10 years again, the LP is embroiled in another major power struggle after a general election. The crisis is also coming in the midst of a protracted feud between two tendencies in the party that has shuttled between the court room and parallel structures (party offices) over legitimacy, as well as the rash of litigation arising from the results declared by INEC. Last week, the crisis further deepened as the NLC leadership declared no confidence in the national chairman of the party, Mr Julius Abure. The camp of the latter is fighting back, even as the caucus of the LP in the House of Representatives took a swipe at the LP leadership of the party for allegedly flouting the constitution of LP planning to hold a national conference without due process.

According to some party faithful, there are four underlining issues in the current intra party feud. One of them is said to be about the leadership style of Abure, which some party buffs claimed has failed to encourage a collective spirit. This is said to be responsible for the protest by some power centres within the party against the plan by Abure to conduct a national convention of the LP. To them, the action undermines the provisions of the LP constitution. Another issue of contention is about the supposed ambition of the major actors to have an absolute authority and control over the main structure of the party, just as the chieftains are divided on the scale of accountability and transparency in the running of the Labour Party.  These have polarized the LP into the pro-NLC camp and the anti-Abure camp, bringing back the memories of the dirge of the once vibrant Alliance for Democracy (AD), which formed the tripod that governed the country at the inception of the Fourth Republic. The problem of factions in the AD almost left the party prostrate before the party was further atrophied by the Obasanjo presidency.  The main promoters of AD included Chief Bola Ige, Chief Abraham Adesanya, Chief Olu Falae, Alhaji Mamman Yusuf (1st chairman of the party), Alhaji Ahmed Abdulkadir (2nd chairman), Bola Tinubu, and Chief Bisi Akande; Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife; Dr Arthur Nwankwo. The AD won the governorship seats in all thee six states in the South-West: Lagos, Ondo, Oyo, Osun, Ogun and Ekiti states. It retained only Lagos State in the 2003 elections. The party also secured 17 senatorial seats, but managed to retain only seven in the 2003 elections. The AD controlled all the Houses of Assembly in the states where it won the gubernatorial elections in 1999 and 2003 respectively. However, factionalisation became a major problem of the AD and the PDP under Obasanjo government lashed on the crevices to ‘capture’ five of the states from the AD. Completely orphaned and beheaded politically, the AD soon fizzled out in the competition for power at all levels as its hitherto main gladiators came up with new political groupings. Is the LP walking through a similar path that consigned AD to history?

LP and 2023 elections

The LP, judging from its antecedents in the past, did well in the 2023 presidential poll across the six political zones. Its electoral feat in Lagos and Nasarawa states was instructive as Lagos has consistently been controlled by one political dynasty since 1999, coupled with the fact that the presidential candidate of the ruling APC, Bola Tinubu is from there. The near upset the LP caused in Nasarawa, where the then incumbent national chairman of the APC, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, comes from, took many by surprise. Adamu is among the closest allies of President Muhammad Buhari, the then president of the country. However, the most political upset created by the Labour Party was against the PDP in the South-East. The latter had controlled the substantial political space of the zone. Neither the PDP nor the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) formed by the late idol of the Igbo stock, Chief Chukwuemeka Ojukwu could withstand the hurricane LP and the aura of its candidate, Peter Obi as the party recorded its majority votes to displace PDP to a distant second. The electoral feat of the Labour Party was hinged on certain factors, among them, the open backing by some influential persons for the candidate of the party for the presidential poll. The reasons many of them adduced for supporting him was the need that power rotates to the Igbo ethnic nationality after other major ethnic groups have had their turns. The seeming popularity of the Labour Party was also due to the sympathy it enjoyed from the youths who saw it as a window of opportunity to herald a positive change. So, the spirit behind #Endsars protest led by the youths resonated among the youths in the buildup to the general election. There was equally the support of the organised labour movement, which is the alter ego of the LP. The NLC and most of its affiliates mobilised necessary resources and other logistics for the political wing ahead of the poll.


Battle line

Since the suspension of the national treasurer, Ms Oluchi Opara, by the NWC of LP, the crisis has manifested in different shades and forms. She had raised various allegations against the national chairman, which Julius Abure has vehemently denied. She has gone further by suing Abure and seeking that the EFCC probe into the finances of the LP based on her allegations.  She also called on Abure to step aside to allow for a transparent investigation of the allegations. She also claimed that her suspension did not follow due process, while some state chairmen demanded that Abure resign.

The NLC has drawn the battle line against the LP national chairman. It has passed a vote of no confidence in his leadership of the party and called for the constitution of a caretaker transition committee to organise a legitimate and all-inclusive National Convention of the LP  as opposed to the one being planned by the Abure-led executive. The Political Commission of the NLC, in a statement signed by Comrades Titus Amba and Chris Uyot, Chairperson and Secretary, respectively, said it was in full support of Peter Obi on his call for the forensic audit of the party expenses during the election. It accused Abure of running the LP in the manner of a sole administrator. “Mr Julius Abure, contrary to the solidarity spirit and camaraderie ethos of the Labour Party, has decided to run the party as a sole administrator, the same allegations that have been hurled at him by the numerous persons he is fighting in the party. We affirm that Abure does not have the sole proprietorship of the processes for a national convention,” the NLC claimed. The NLC recalled that on March 20, 2018, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court gave a consent judgment that mandated the party to hold an all-inclusive national convention, adding that consequent on the judgment, the leadership of the NLC and the Labour Party, in a process mediated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), signed an agreement mandating the Julius Abure-led leadership of the Labour Party to implement the undertakings reached.

There was fit of anger in the reply from the camp of Abure to the NLC tirade as Abure said his leadership of the LP worked hard to unite all the past leader of the affiliated unions and work in harmony. He said that in spite of this the success,  “Unfortunately, the rascality of the current president of the NLC, Joe Ajero, has destroyed the successes already recorded.”  He said the NLC and its political commission had become a bundle of contradiction and paradox. He said agitation for the national convention was fully backed by Article 14:4b of the party Constitution,

“We must note that undue interference by the Nigeria Labour Congress on the affairs of the party has become worrisome and it has become needful to emphasise here the distinction that the Labour Party has a life of its own different from that of the Nigeria Labour Congress. We therefore want to advise the NLC and its commission that it should focus only on its statutory responsibilities of defending the workers and the workers’ rights. In conclusion, we note that the Labour Party will be going ahead with our party programmes and our convention will be held. We have consulted with our stakeholders and the consultation is ongoing and we will continue to consult until March 27 when the new leadership of the party will emerge,” he stated.     He warned: “If the NLC president and his loyalists are not contented with the provision, Ajaero should be advised to quit his position and officially join the race to wrest power from Abure.

“At this point, the leadership of the party wants to ask the NLC, what exactly do they want? If Joe Ajero is interested in the leadership of the party, he is therefore advised to resign as the President of the NLC and join in the contest for the National Chairmanship of the party that is scheduled for the convention on the 27th of March, 2024. We have advised the NLC before now that party politics is played at the ward level and not at the national level. If NLC is interested in taking the leadership of the party, it should go and engage in the mass mobilisation of its members to join the party at the grassroots. It will shock Nigerians to know that members and officials of the NLC are not even card-carrying members of the Labour Party. All over the country, NLC members are supporting either the APC or the PDP.

In his capacity as LP national leader, Peter Obi, has intervened in the bid to stabilise the party with a promise that a reputable audit firm to deal with the corruption charge raised   by the national treasurer, Opara. Obi, while giving account of the 2023 Obi-Datti Presidential campaign organisation funding, said the allegations and counter-allegations must be thoroughly investigated. Obi said: “For the party, I am a member of the party and they have chosen to say that I am the leader. What we need to do in the party and I have discussed it with the leadership is that we must now appoint a reputable audit firm to audit and be able to deal with the account of the part.When I am involved in money, it must be transparent. So, the allegations and counter allegations now must be thoroughly investigated and verified and we would reconcile it and know what exactly to do.”

The diverse interests are already weighing several options, following the festering crisis. While some have headed for courts, others are in dilemma over which camp to back in the power struggle for the soul of the LP. There are others who are still in shock over what they described as the macabre dance by the leading stakeholders in the LP.

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