A head of the February 23 governorship primary of the Labour Party (LP) in Edo State, the party seems to be facing internal crisis, with the members and supporters of the aspirants staging protests against the National Chairman of the party, Julius Abure. Some youths in the party have accused Abure of supporting a particular aspirant ahead of the aspirants. The angry youths who besieged the state party secretariat with placards bearing different inscriptions, while chanting, ‘Abure must go, Abure must go,’ were prevented from entering the building by security operatives. The protesting youths alleged that Abure has compromised his position and should not be allowed to superintend over the party primary. One of the protesters, who gave his name as Imafidon Emmanuel, said the national chairman is dragging the party’s name in the mud, wondering why he will say that the executive will not be part of the primary. “Why would a national chairman of the party say that the executive will not be part of the primary? What it means is that he already has a candidate of his choice. We want everybody to participate. We want a free and fair primary. We don’t want Abure to influence the primary, whoever emerges as the candidate of the party, should be allowed to be the candidate,” he said.
Another protester, Comrade Johnson Edobor, said: “We want peace in the Labour Party. We don’t want the national chairman again. The national chairman is giving us the problem. We don’t need him again in Edo State. We don’t want to sell the ticket. We have been losing elections in other states. We don’t want to lose Edo State too.” But the Edo State chairman of the Labour Party, Kelly Ogbaloi, confirmed that the secretariat of the party was attacked by weapon-bearing protesters, said: “People came protesting with weapons and they told the press that they were protesting because they were informed that the primary would not be free and fair; so they came to attack us. For over two hours, we were under siege but we were protected by some security operatives. That was why we were not within their reach.” Before the protest, there has been agitation in the Labour Party following the decision of the party to peg its Expression of Interest and Nomination forms for its governorship aspirants at N30 million, which many of the aspirants described as out of reach. The party’s leadership had, however, insisted that the fee would not be reviewed downwards, saying the election is for serious aspirants. It is not strange to many followers of Nigerian politics that the Labour Party would be facing infighting ahead of the governorship primary in Edo State. It is expected considering the milestone achievements recorded by the party during the 2023 general election. The milestone, no doubt is unprecedented considering that the party came from obscurity to gain popularity. This has been described by many as a revolutionary movement that captured the heart of the youths and many Nigerians yearning for a change from the present government. The party, which had existed for over 20 years as a pro-workers political organisation, drastically made inroads into mainstream politics within eight months, of the fame and acceptance of the party’s flag bearer, Peter Obi, by an overwhelming youth majority known as ‘Obidients.’ Obi changed the game and led the new third force in Nigeria’s political sphere although he lost the presidential election after having won 12 states, including Lagos and other former strongholds of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with a total of 6,101,533 votes. The party also won one governorship seat, Abia State, through Alex Otti, eight senatorial seats and 34 in the House of Representatives, making it the third most popular party in the 10th National Assembly.
Politics of protest
In the face of the growing popularity of the party, especially in Edo State, where the national chairman comes from, some leaders of the party in the state have decided to play politics with the obvious crisis in the party. Rather than addressing the concerns of the protesting youths, they are pointing accusing finger at one of the aspirants, Olumide Akpata. They alleged that Akpata is the one sponsoring protests against the national leadership of the party. They alleged that forcing and inciting the youths would not make any aspirant candidate of the party. They insisted that the candidate would be duly elected by the delegates drawn across the state. But Akpata has denied claims that he had a hand in the protest. He said he was in the party to join hands with others to build it and it was unthinkable that he would be linked with such things. He said, “It has come to my attention that there was a protest on Sunday, 4th February 2024, at the Labour Party State Secretariat in Benin City, Edo State, which allegedly turned violent. His words: “I want to clearly and unequivocally state that I do not know this protest, nor have I sanctioned or approved it in any way. The baseless rumours and insinuations that have been mischievously circulated that these protesters are carrying out my bidding are totally false, unfounded, and quite frankly ridiculous. “As a loyal, dedicated member of the Labour Party who has invested significant time, energy, and resources towards building and strengthening the Party across Edo State since I joined, it is both laughable and utterly despicable that I would be linked to any kind of violent protest at the party’s secretariat. “It is very likely that these bogus allegations and rumours are emanating from certain quarters within and even outside the Labour Party that are opposed to my emerging as the Labour Party’s gubernatorial flag bearer in the upcoming February 22, 2024, primary elections. In their desperation, they have resorted to underhanded tactics and smear campaigns to undermine my widespread credibility, acceptability, and support base within and outside the Party in Edo State and across the country. “Amusingly, this is quite similar to an earlier campaign of calumny that sought to link me to acts of violence meted out against a former National Youth Leader of the party in Benin City. This is yet another ludicrous attempt to unjustly give a dog a bad name to hang it. I want to categorically state that I, my campaign organisation, supporters, and well-wishers do not engage in, encourage, or sanction any kind of violence or unwholesome conduct. “These puerile allegations are the products of malicious minds that are aimed at unfairly and irreparably tarnishing my hardearned reputation, image, and rising popularity as a foremost gubernatorial aspirant of choice within the Labour Party in Edo State. The good and discerning people of Edo State and Nigerians at large know what I stand for. They know my antecedents and that my track record is one of integrity, maturity, and excellence. As such, these attempts to unjustly smear my character by linking me to acts I have no knowledge of or involvement in will certainly fail. “As a lawyer of more than 30 years, I fully understand that peaceful protest is the fundamental right of every Nigerian citizen, guaranteed by the constitution and upheld by the courts of the land. Law-abiding citizens have a right to freely associate and to protest, provided that this is done peacefully and legally without threatening lives or property. “However, if any person has acted unlawfully in the course of this alleged protest, I strongly urge that they be promptly reported to the appropriate law enforcement agencies for proper investigation and possible prosecution as provided by our laws. I have confidence in the discerning wisdom of members of the Labour Party, Edo people, and indeed Nigerians to reject all forms of violence, propaganda, and deceit. United in our diversity, we shall build a greater Edo State.”
Pressure mounts on state chairman
Apart from the protest against Abure, a pressure group within the party, Labour Party Integrity Group (LPIC) has asked Ogbaloi to resign as the party chairman in Edo State and handover all instruments of office to one Ehiwe Ikuoyemwen, who it said is the state acting chairman. LPIC said the request for Ogbaloi to hand over all instruments of office in his possession was contained in a letter dated January 5, 2024, claiming that he has completed his constitutional two terms of six years from 2013 to 2019. The group in a statement signed by Ikuoyenwen, Comrade Jegede Idemudia and Hon Aminu Abdullahi and copied to the Inspector General of Police, Edo State Commissioner of Police and the 2023 Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, among others, asked Ogbaloi to henceforth desist from carrying out official activities. The statement further demanded that Ogbaloi should “tender all administrative documents, hard copy and electronic, inventory of assets to date, an account of all funds, revenues and assets received in the name of, on behalf of the Labour Party. “Given your exhaustive and effusion of your maximum constitutional tenure foretasted, desist from undertaking any function, public/media statement, activity of any kind on behalf of the Labour Party at any level.” The group also presented a supporting document dated August 30, 2023 from Akingbade Oyelekan & Co chambers which claimed that the state exco had been dissolved and a caretaker appointed. But Ogbaloi denied the claims saying “he has not been removed and he will continue to operate until a competent body of the LP, the NWC and the Congress of the party call a congress and until then I remain the chairman of the Labour Party. Further to this is that the groups that may have made this are the groups that are seeking to reap where they did not sow, they are no members of the Labour Party as of today and even if any one of them remains a member, they are at best on suspension from the party.”
Party reads the riot act to aspirants
As this crisis escalates, the party on February 6, said it would not hesitate to discipline any of its governorship aspirants who would not conform to the party’s guidelines and procedures ahead of its primary. The party gave the stern warning following what it described as attempts by some of its aspirants to instigate party officials against the leadership through propaganda. It said it decided to exclude all party officials from participating in the conduct of the forthcoming primary realising that most of the Labour Party officials have been compromised with vehicles and other material gifts. The party, however, assured that it would give a free level playing field to other aspirants who didn’t have vehicles or money to share. Ogbaloi in a statement noted that the 2022 Electoral Act made it abundantly clear that statutory membership, appointees and party officials are not eligible to participate in the party’s primary. He said: “I think it has become unavoidably necessary to advise those aspiring to be governor under the platform of the party to exercise caution in the manner and way to instigate party members and engage in media propaganda against the party and its officials. His words: “We are also aware that some of these officials have also been compromised by an aspirant by inducement with material things, like vehicles and several other things and on this basis such party officials are excluded from participation to also give a level playing field to other aspirants who didn’t have vehicles, money to share to party members “We advise such aspirants to exercise decorum in their conduct and that the party will not hesitate to discipline any members who continue to cast aspersion or throw innuendoes to the leadership of the party. We expect that those who want to assume the office of the governor must exercise decorum and be able to play by the rules. If the party had come up with procedures and guidelines for primaries and congresses, we expect those who want to be governor to play by those rules. “It is pertinent to state clearly that most of these aspirants joined the party after a successful presidential outing which has attracted them to join the party to pursue their ambition and they must therefore not come and try to destroy the image of the party. This is the first time the party guidelines will be expanded and encompass the participation of all members of the party. For instance, the guideline provides that all members of the wards will come together in their wards congresses and nominate two delegates who will subsequently go to their local government and nominate five members that will go to the local government to participate in guber primaries and this will create room for wider participation of members.”
Claims of hijack of party
Despite the position of the party on the crisis, a former aspirant, Dennis Aikoriogie, who resigned his membership of LP, had a few months ago alleged that some leaders of the party were taking sides with aspirants and expressed fears that they may not be fair during the party’s primary election. He also alleged that outsiders and money bags have hijacked the party thereby relegating people like him and others who have worked to make the party what it is today to the background. Aikoriogie in the letter addressed to the LP Ward 9 chairman in Egor local government area and copied to the national chairman, state chairman and local government chairman of the party respectively, said he would pursue his political ambition elsewhere. The letter read part: “I hereby turn in my letter of resignation as a member of the Labour Party effective immediately. This is borne out of observed and perceived partisanship and bias of party executive in the build-up to the gubernatorial election in Edo State. Many party executive members have co-opted themselves and have become integral parts of aspirant campaign organisations. This act is capable of not giving other aspirants a level playing field. “I joined the Labour Party solely because of his excellency Mr Peter Obi due to his proven track record and exemplary lifestyle both in the public and private sectors. I felt the Labour Party could herald a new ideology and thinking about the way politics is played in Nigeria, this made me to become the Global Coordinator of Diaspora Strong for Peter Obi, a support group that cut across all continents, it garnered financial, human, and material support at the national and presidential elections, as well as the state and federal legislative elections. “In addition, the group provided financial support to the Lagos and Rivers governorship candidates in the persons of Mr. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour and Comrade Beatrice Itubo respectively.” Notwithstanding the position of the party, the February 23 governorship primary is expected to be interesting considering the pedigree of the aspirants involved in the exercise but as it stands, only time will tell if the national leadership of the party will allow the members to decide who flies their flag in the September 21 governorship election.