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Ownership crisis tears Labour Party’s stakeholders apart

Following a series of crises that have bedevilled the Labour Party (LP) since the 2023 general elections, the recent fight over the ownership of the…

Following a series of crises that have bedevilled the Labour Party (LP) since the 2023 general elections, the recent fight over the ownership of the party has further divided stakeholders and dampened the morale of many who had expected it to build on its successes, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.

Pundits observe that the end seems not to be in sight for the leadership and other perennial crises rocking the Labour Party. The crises include a leadership tussle, allegation of financial impropriety, suspension of national and state stalwarts, and picketing of the party’s national headquarters in Abuja by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).

The latest of some of the unresolved crises is the unanswered question of the ownership of the party, which pundits said was at the core of its continued existence as it is known.

Recall that following the controversial national convention of the party, where its national chairman, Julius Abure and the majority of the National Working Committee (NWC) members were re-elected, the NLC Political Commission held a stakeholders’ meeting in Abuja, where it passed votes of no confidence on the convention and the leadership that emerged from it.

In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, signed by Prof Theophilus Ndubuaku, the chairman, NLC Political Commission; Abdulwahed Omar, former president, NLC; and S.O.Z Ejiofor, chairman, Board of Trustees, Labour Party, among others, the NLC also approved the constitution of a transition committee under the leadership of the NLC Political Commission to manage the affairs of the party in the interim, invariably announcing its formal takeover of the structure of the party.

However, the Abure-led NWC expressed dismay at what it described as the attempt of the NLC to arrogate to itself powers it does not possess.

But the skirmishes gravitated towards an all-out war between the two sides on Monday when the NLC announced the sack of Abure and the entire National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.

Before then, the LP had sent a petition against the Joe Ajaero-led NLC to relevant government institutions, requesting that an urgent intervention be taken to protect the party and that disciplinary action be taken against the NLC president and other leaders of the union.

In separate letters to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Minister of Labour and Employment, as well as the registrar of the Trade Unions, the LP, through its chairman, Abure, and the national secretary, Umar Farouk Ibrahim, said Ajaero had overreached himself by using workers’ funds to picket and sponsor insurrection in the party’s headquarters, an action that amounts to an abuse of office and should therefore be called to order and properly sanctioned.

“Section 77 of the Electoral Act 2022 provides that a political party, once registered, has a life of its own and is only regulated by its constitution. It is imperative to note that with the import of the above provision, whoever plays any role whatsoever in the registration of the party becomes immaterial. The party will thereafter be regulated by its constitution.

It should be noted that section 221 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) prohibits any association from contributing to the funds of any political party. It is a criminal offence under section 15 of the Trade Union Act to use trade union funds, whether directly or indirectly, to fund a political party,” the petition reads in parts.

Historical background of the current tussle

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that this is not the first time the issue of the ownership of the LP is being discussed, as documents seen by our reporter indicated that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had earlier waded into a similar face-off between the NLC and the LP.

According to a 2015 document by INEC, the NLC does not have any status conferred by the statute over the LP; instead, it enjoys the status of any member of the party.

The 2015 letter, signed by Mrs Augusta C. Ogakwu, the then secretary to INEC, and addressed to the former president of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, reads: “With reference to your letter on the above subject, dated August 5, 2015, I am directed to inform you that the commission has reviewed relevant documents and records in its possession in respect of the Labour Party and has established the following: Membership of the party as provided in articles 1 and 9 of the Labour Party’s constitution, 2009, does not confer any special or superior status on the Nigeria Labour Congress.”

The letter, INEC/DEPMI/LP/16/T/68, is entitled: Re: Request for INEC’s Urgent Intervention to Arrest the Activities of an Imposter Group in the Labour Party.

The letter further stated, “In accordance with Article 15(7) of the Labour Party constitution, 2009, the elected National Executive Committee (NEC) has a tenure of four years.”

Speaking on the 2015 incident, the national publicity secretary of the party, Obiorah Ifoh, said that labour leaders should acquaint themselves with history to avoid unnecessary conflict.

“If people refuse to learn from history, it will continue to repeat itself. When the NLC attempted to crookedly take over the leadership of the LP in 2015 and wrote INEC, the commission replied that they had no locus standi to interfere or change the leadership of the party.

“They have failed to learn from that trajectory, and it is surprising that Joe Ajaero’s NLC is also taking the same line of action and trajectory and they are expecting a different result,” Ifoh said.

INEC clarifies positions

Rotimi Oyekanmi, the Chief Press Secretary to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, told Daily Trust on Sunday that the commission does not interfere in the affairs of political parties other than to exercise the statutory supervisory roles assigned to it by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Electoral Act, 2022.

He said that in that regard, every political party must have the names and addresses of its national officers and a copy of its constitution registered with the commission.

Lawyer, TMG weigh in

Speaking with Daily Trust on Sunday on the matter, Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer and human rights lawyer, activist and social commentator, said he knew the Labour Party was formed by the leaders of the NLC, and there is no dispute about that. He, however, noted that upon registration, the political party becomes a juristic person.

“Political parties are constitutional creations; they are not creations of private organisations, labour unions or social groups. Even at the formative stage, it is required that people come together and form a party. But once that party is registered and a certificate of registration is issued by INEC, it assumes a life of its own and has its own statutory organ. The highest being the national convention.

“The highest organ of a political party is the convention, followed by the National Executive Committee (NEC), then the National Working Committee (NWC),” Effiong said.

He added that on the question of the leadership of a party, the Supreme Court had said this is governed by the constitution of the party.

“But I do understand the sentiments of the NLC, and they cannot be dismissed. However, for the purpose of determining leadership or tenure of leadership, the constitution of the Labour Party must be adhered to. So, the NLC cannot unilaterally assume or take over the leadership of the party. But they have the right to demand a change in that leadership,” Effiong added.

On his part, Dr Yunusa Tanko, the chief spokesperson of the Obi-Datti Campaign Committee and a chieftain of the LP, said what they were concerned about is for the crisis to be resolved peacefully.

“Our position is very clear. Let the warring factions put down their swords. Let us build a political party from the ward to the national level. That is the only way you can hope to win elections,” Tanko said.

Also sharing his thoughts on the controversy, the chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said he believed it was a matter of time for such face-off between the NLC and the Labour Party, given that the two don’t share any common political interests or principles but only serve as a political platform for elections, with the party not even sharing the political ideology or agenda of the NLC.

Rafsanjani, who is also the executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Transparency International in Nigeria (TI-Nigeria), said that looking at how the Labour Party’s leadership and its primary election and subsequent candidates in the last elections emerged, it was clear that there was no much link between the two, and that is why the NLC and its members were largely not at the centre of the campaigns.

“There was also an allegation that the process that led to the emergence of the party’s presidential candidate was not different from the usual use of money or influence to become a candidate of a political party, especially knowing that the candidate is not a product of labour activism or even a member of the party before the 2023 elections. But he came in, took over the party and helped to build its profile, making it to win several seats. And really, his being a presidential candidate made the party more popular and successful in the general elections.”

Rafsanjani said that to address the crises in LP, there was a need to revive it in labour activism.

“If that is not done, the party would continue to be hijacked by moneybags, while active members would not be at its centre. It is important that Nigerian workers own the party for their ideology and distinguish it from other political parties,” Rafsanjani added.