Convention, others: Will the Labour Party survive the acid test?

While the Labour Party (LP) is still recuperating from a legal brawl that broke its ranks, the NLC, LP tussle reared its head and now Julius Abure has just been re-elected as the party’s national chair. KEHINDE OSASOND in this report asks if the end has come for LP?

LP on the brink?

Prior to its controversial Convention, some trade union veterans accused the national chairman of the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Julius Abure, of involvement in acts that dented the image of the party, and had subsequently asked him to resign.

Their position was contained in a statement issued recently by Comrade Lawson E. Osagie.

The pioneer president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Hassan Sunmonu; the 2nd president of the NLC, Comrade Ali Chiroma; the 2nd national treasurer of the NLC; Comrade S. O. Oshidipe; Comrade S. O. Z Ejiofoh; the Board of Trustees chairman and pioneer chairman of the party, Comrade Lawson Osagie, and Comrade Salisu Mohammed were all involved in the new quest.

Justifying their positions, the veterans, all of whom were said to be among the main actors in the formation and registration of the Labour Party, regretted that the noble ideals that made them to form the party to free Nigerian people from decades of bad governance were being desecrated by Abure.

They said further that, “We cannot sit down and continue to watch as the ideals, principles, and ethical values of the Labour Party we toiled so much to build over the decades are being rubbished by one man.

“Consequently, we urge Barrister Abure to step aside now as the national chairman of the Labour Party and in his place, the Board of Trustees should appoint a Caretaker national chairman that will organise Congresses in the states before the National Convention can be convened.”

They stressed the need for the Board of Trustees under the chairmanship of Comrade Ejiofoh to be enlarged to accommodate representatives of the new stakeholders namely Mr. Peter Obi, Governor Alex Otti and the Labour Party Legislative Caucus.

While also reacting to an assertion by the deputy national chair of the Labour Party (LP), Ayo Olorunfemi, calling it an absurd for the NLC to claim ownership of the LP, the veterans noted that the Supreme Court under Justice Uwais ruled a long time ago that workers had the right to form a political party to defend and promote their interest.

Olorunfemi had in an interview said: “The Labour Party belongs to Nigerian workers, not NLC. The earlier we understand this, the better.”

But in their reaction, the veteran replied, saying; “How then can any well-read and informed lawyer say that NLC has no business in politics or is a meddlesome interloper in the affairs of the Labour Party formed by the Trade Unions themselves?” 

Beginning of the end

As the move to claim back what it described as its party back from Abure-led executive thickens, the NLC, Blueprint Weekend’s findings revealed wrote the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), urging the body to halt any support for the just concluded national convention of the party.

In a letter addressed to the chairman of INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, the union described the convention as “illegal” and in defiance of court orders.

In the letter dated March 22, 2024 and signed by Marshal Abubakar, its solicitors, at Falana and Falana’s Chambers, the union highlighted the illegality of such a gathering, citing previous court rulings that declared the Labour Party’s status and ordered inclusive conventions.

Consequently, it threatened legal action if INEC failed to comply with the demand to prevent what they deemed a breach of justice and the rule of law.

Not done, the party led by its chairman of the Political Commission, Theophilus Ndubuaku, reportedly picketed the national headquarters of the Labour Party (LP) in Abuja, calling for the resignation of Abure, who they claimed was not properly elected.

The protest came less than one week after Abure was accused by the union of acting and running the party as a ‘sole administrator.’

In response to the letter, the LP on its part it would be recalled also accused the National President of Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero, of desperately seeking to replace its national chairman, Julius Abure, asking Ajaero to vacate his position and contest for LP chairmanship if he so desired.

Joining the Abure-must-go campaign, the Lagos state chapter of the party has also called on the national chairman, Julius Abure, to prioritise  party interest by resigning.

Speaking through its chairman, Rasheed Bamishe, the party suggested that a caretaker national chairman should be appointed to organise State Congresses before convening the National Convention.

Bamishe, who was speaking at the party secretariat, pleaded with the National Working Committee, members of the party Board of Trustees and other relevant stakeholders to stop Abure from holding the National Convention on March 27, 2024.

He said: “We urge Barrister Abure to leave the Party now because the litany of corrupt cases against him has done collateral damage to the image of the Labour Party.

“The Labour Party which was formed by the founding fathers to be a beacon of hope for millions of Nigerians is gradually being destroyed by Barrister Abure and this should not be allowed to continue.

“Even if all these allegations are not true, the reasonable option open to the embattled Labour Party national chairman is to step aside to pave the way for thorough investigations into the cases of alleged fraud against him.

“Barrister Abure should tell the world where the National Convention of the Labour Party in which he emerged as national chairman was held.

“Barrister Abure is plotting to install himself again as the national chairman of the Labour Party through another illegal Convention and this should not be allowed to happen.”

Sometime in February, the national treasurer of the party, Oluchi Oprah, had accused Abure of misappropriating over N3 billion out of the N3.5 billion raised for the 2023 election campaigns.

The treasurer, who made this public at a press conference in Abuja, insisted that under Abure’s watch, over N3.5 billion was realised from the sale of nomination forms for the 2023 general elections.

She alleged further that apart from the proceeds of the sale of forms from his home state of Edo – which was diverted to Abure’s private accounts, she said Abure only declared N55 million to her as treasurer, of the over N3.5 billion raised, pocketing the rest for himself.

She was quoted further: “During off-cycle elections in several states last year, the party raised around N958 million from nomination forms and donations.

“These funds have completely vanished under Abure’s oversight with zero paper trail. While on a fundraising tour in the United States in August 2023, Mr. Abure and his cronies raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from the party’s diaspora community.

“To date, he has not declared a single dollar to me or the NWC, essentially stealing donations meant for the party’s development. Indeed, not a single cent from donations received was ever paid into any of the party’s accounts,” she said. 

But reacting to the allegations, Abure denied the corruption allegations levelled against him by the party’s suspended national treasurer, Oluchi Oparah, saying she should produce concrete evidence to back up her claim.

He said, “I have never stopped Oluchi Oparah from carrying out her duties including receiving money and signing of cheques. The electronic payment funds meant for the party are automatically transferred.

“Total sum of the money that entered into the party was N1.3 billion. We also got N800m for the campaign. I want to challenge her to make the records available where she got the sum of N3.5 billion.”

The showdown begins

But as the union was still trying to get over Abure’s emergence against all odds, fresh rumble is on the verge of bringing the party to its knees as the Lamidi Apapa faction of the party has described the just concluded national convention held in Nnewi, Anambra state, as “a total sham.”

The state factional chairman of the party, Peter Okoye, was quoted as saying, “This is not a Convention, okay. We are on top of the matter. It’s purely illegal.

He said, “There was no Ward Congress, no Local Government Congresses, no State Congress, and now who and who elected the delegates that are electing the NWC members?

“The NLC is not there, TUC is not there, the owners of the party and members of the NEC and BoT members are not there too,” the state factional chairman said.

A suit in respect of Abure’s action has been slated for hearing on April 4, 2024, in court.

Delegates from across the country gathered in Nnewi to elect Abure for a second term by a unanimous affirmation.

The Convention chairman and the deputy governor of Abia state, Ikechukwu Emetu, announced Abure as the winner.