LP crisis: Case of party divided against itself?

The conclusion of the 2023 general elections appears to be the beginning of intra-party crisis in the Labour Party (LP) as many members have been laying claim to the national chairmanship of the party and causing unprecedented political upheavals; PAUL OKAH reports.

“A house divided against itself shall not stand” is a common quote traceable to Matthew 12:25, which is presently the case of the Labour Party in Nigeria as members of the party are enmeshed in leadership crisis.

Just as the country was beginning to regard the LP as a breath of fresh air from traditional political parties like the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), hopes of many have been dashed by the leadership tussle in the LP that succeeded the conclusion of the 2023 general elections.

While the presidential candidate of the LP in the 2023 general elections, Mr Peter Obi, is squaring up to prove allegations of electoral manipulations in court, members of his party appear to be preparing banana peels for him as a result of claims over LP leadership.

How it all started

On March 31, factional members of the LP in Ward 3, Uromi, Esan East local government area of Edo state, suspended the national chairman of the party, Barrister Julius Abure, over alleged anti-party activities.

At a press conference in Abuja, the chairman of the ward, Martins Osigbemhe, said Abure was suspended by the executive, pending the determination of numerous petitions and cases against him in courts.

However, in a swift reaction, the national secretary of the party, Malam Farouk Umar, dismissed the suspension as illegal, saying the LP constitution is clear on who can suspend and who cannot suspend the national chairman.

He said: “They also made some spurious allegations against him, which is 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 the visuals are apparently not anybody from LP in Edo state as claimed. The executives of the party in the state, local government and my 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. 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.”

Court’s intervention

Nevertheless, on April 6, following an application brought by aggrieved LP members, including Martins Esikpali John O., Lucky Shaibu, Isah Zekeri, Omogbai Frank, Abkhaiu Aliu, Ayohkaire Lateef, Job Elomah and Dr Abayomi Arabambi, through their lawyer, James Onoja (SAN), Justice Hamza Muazu of the FCT High Court prevented Julius Abure from parading himself as the National Chairman of the LP.

Abure was barred alongside the National Secretary, Umar Farouk Ibrahim; the National Treasurer, Oluchi Opara; and the National Organising Secretary, Clement Ojukwu, over alleged forgery, with the also ordering that the originating processes of the court be served on Abure and others.

However, the judge held that the ex parte application for an interim injunction restraining the four officials by aggrieved members of the LP before the court had merit and granted the same, pending the determination of the Motion on Notice.”

New national chair emerges

Just a few hours after the court judgement on April 6, some members of the National Working Committee (NWC), led by the deputy national chairman (South), Bashiru Lamidi Apapa, took over the party Secretariat in Abuja, during an emergency meeting of the NWC.

Apapa declared himself the acting national chairman of the party and Saleh Lawan, the acting national secretary, ordering 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, Rivers and Gombe states, while Apapa also reversed the suspension of Eragbe Anslem as the National Youth Leader and Yomi Arabambi as the national publicity secretary.

NLC backs Abure

However, as a result of the leadership tussle, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) chairman, Joe Ajaero, in a statement on the same April 6, maintained that Abure remains the LP national chairman.

He 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 and others 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.

“The court order according to Justice Hamza Muazu is to subsist ‘pending the hearing and determination of a motion on notice for interlocutory injunction. The ruling was sequel to a motion ex parte filed along the substantive suit by eight so-called aggrieved members of the party including the Chairman of the party in Abure’s ward.

“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.”

Leadership tussle gets messier

Interestingly, there was a new twist to the crisis rocking the LP on April 7 as a former Deputy National Chairman of the party (South), Callistus Okafor, declared that both Abure and Apapa are illegal occupants of the seat.

Speaking with journalists in Abuja, Okafor said he remained the authentic national chairman of the party by virtue of his position as Deputy National Chairman of the party when the late national chairman, Alhaji Abdulkadir Abdulsalam, was in office.

He claimed that Abure was Acting National Secretary when Abdulsalam died in 2020 and that he, Abure, announced himself as the National Chairman of the party without recourse to the provisions of the party’s constitution, after Abdulsalam’s demise.

“Both Abure and Apapa are all illegal occupants of the seat. Abure as acting national secretary can never be a national chairman of the party unless there is a dissolution and a new convention takes place. Apapa that took over can also not preside over any meeting because he is illegal,” he said.

Okafor also blamed Peter Obi for allowing the crisis in the party to fester for long, warning that the crisis could undermine the credibility of the party, even as he urged the former Anambra governor to take swift action to resolve the crisis and prevent it from escalating.

State chairs back Abure

Comfortingly, on April 8, LP state chairmen, who took back the party secretariat in Abuja from Apapa and others, said they did not sack Abure, insisting that he (Abure) remains the recognised national chairman of LP.

The chairman, Edo state LP, Mr. Ogbaloi Kelly, said the NWC is a subordinate organ to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party, adding that even the NLC affirmed Abure as the chairman in their communique.

He said: “When a faction of NEC comes to take laws into its hands, it becomes a total nullity. Those who are taking this action are members of the party who have since been suspended and as at the time they took this action, their suspension had not been lifted.

“Therefore, we are saying here that the 36 state chairmen have come to retake their possession. These miscreants, who took over the office, do not have the authority to control this matter, but we here have the authority and law to be in charge of the party and we affirm Abure as the national chairman.”

Also, the chairman, Enugu state LP, Mr. Cashmir Agbo, said there was the need for party members to be guided by the rules and laws of the constitutional provisions and the laws of the land and the party.

“The position of the party and the mechanism in the resolution of crises is very clear. In the constitution, you have to exhaust that mechanism in court. You go to court and obtain a court order and you want to enforce that order by yourself. What I am saying in effect is that they mixed criminality with civil process and the court that gave them that order endangered the law,” he said.

As the leadership tussle festers, many political analysts are of the opinion that the LP should put its house in order; otherwise it will die off, instead of offering a breath of fresh air from traditional political parties.