Labour Party, Obi and Hope of a Future

Emameh Gabriel looks at the prospect of Labour Party that seems to have earned its place in the nation’s political mainstream

he much anticipated presidential elections have come and gone and winners have been declared and some losers frowning at the outcome.

The elections will go down in history as the most keenly contested in the country as no less than four major candidates across party lines flexed muscles at the polls.

It was the first time since 2007 that the country had more than two major candidates in a presidential election and the first time since 1983 with four major candidates in a presidential race.

The outcome compared closely with the 1979 presidential election that saw ShehuShagari winning with 34%, ObafemiAwolowo who came close to him with 29%, NnamdiAzikiwe 16%, Aminu Kano 10.28% and Waziri Ibrahim who came last with 10% gave an almost similar picture.

In this year’s election, the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) with its presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was given a run for its money and federal might by former vice president AtikuAbubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, Peter Obi of the new national movement on the platform of Labour Party and RabiuKwankwaso of the New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP) all of whom registered their strengths.

But one thing has stood this year’s election out; the emergence of a Third Force with Labour Party making a surprise inroad in less than ten months to challenge the status quo.

Peter Obi, former Anambra State governor came into the race to change the game and leading the new Third Force in Nigeria’s political sphere after he successfully galvanised the support of millions of youths, especially in southern Nigeria after dumping his former party, the main opposition PDP for the LP.

Obi, 61, was adjudged by INEC to have lost the presidential election after winning 12 states, including Lagos and other former strongholds of the two previously dominant parties.

Though the Labour Party has for sometime been one of the parties in the Nigerian multi-party democracy albeit as a fringe party initially called Party for Social Democrats (PSD), even though every now and then it comes to the fore depending on the interest and whims of political actors, like the case of former Ondo state governor, OlusegunMimiko, who rode on its back to power and governed on the platform between 2009 and 2017.

However, it assumed a new status when on 30th May, 2022, former Anambra state governor and 2019 vice presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) emerged as the party’s presidential candidate for the 2023 general elections found the party as a fertile ground to sow on.

In the build up to the February 25, 2023 election, the party galvanized huge sections of the Nigerian public, particularly the youths and the working class, who seem to have been disenchanted with the main political parties, just as it gained inroads with the support of the christian community across the country.

The outcome of the presidential election results saw the party coming third with a total of 6, 101, 533 votes after the ruling All Progressives Congress Bola Tinubu which won the day with 8, 794, 726 and the PDP’s AtikuAbubakar 6, 984, 520 votes.

The party succeeded in winning a total of 11 states and the Federal Capital Territory (F.C.T). States such as Lagos, Nassarawa, Plateau, Cross Rivers voted massively for Peter Obi, with the Labour Party securing six senate and 34 House of Assembly seats.

From the voting pattern, it was clear that most urban and forward looking states and constituencies of the country rallied to the clarion call of the party for a New Nigeria, including Lagos, which is the country’s center of commerce, and Abuja, as the seat of the nation, both comprising of Nigerians of all tribes and shades.

In heterogeneous megacities where the party performed spectacularly well, it witnessed non indigenes riding to power on the wave of the Obi – Datti movement. The likes of HajiaIretiKingibe displacing high ranking member of the national assembly, Senator Philip Aduda in the Abuja senate race, Thaddeus Atta beating BabajideObanikoro in Lagos and a host of many others.

Peter Obi has vowed to challenge the results of the election in court but what does the future holds for him and the Labour Party even as AtikuAbubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party is also laying claim to the throne?

An Uncertain Future?

In Nigerian politics, four years is a very long time in the ever dynamic inter – play of centripetal and centrifugal forces, with new alignments and realignments every now and then. While the Labour party was largely taunted as having no structures and unlikely to make significant showing, it has proven its detractors wrong, in a way by showing that all structure is based and built on popular support.

By winning through the ballot new legislative positions, it no doubt will now have the capacity to erect new bases and bastions of support and more effectively structure its party organization.

While some analysts believe the possibility of these new legislators or other members of the Labour party being porched or joining more larger parties, this is no doubt the fate of the party when it was complacently at the fringes and even in the preparations for the general elections.

There have been cases of internal plots and inter – party power struggles, one of the most exceptional cases being the alleged collapsing of the entire L.P structure in the South West into the APC.

While other factions in the region and the national body went on to denounce and dissociate itself from the group, the party did not make any significant headway in the South West.

Recently, the Rivers State chapter of the party defied an order from the national headquarters to adopt the PDP governorship candidate in the state. The same scenario is playing out in most states in the south without the knowledge of the leadership of the party at the national level- a situation observers believe will affect the party chances in the March 18 polls.

While it is also not certain that Peter Obi, who has oscillated between APGA, PDP and now LabourParty would remain with his latest party till the 2027 general election, he is no doubt the new messiah of the downtrodden masses with the Labour Party’s Papa, Mama and Picking agenda.

But if the word of the party’s Vice Presidential candidate, Datti Baba Ahmed is anything to go by, then 2027 may meet the Labour Party under the firm grip of Peter Obi and Datti Baba Ahmed.

Speaking at a press conference recently Datti Ahmed disclosed that he remained optimistic of a great outing come March 18 when the guber and house of assembly exercise will take place.

He implored the party’s supporters to remain peaceful and calm as “the fight on determination for a new Nigeria is just beginning.

“We equally encourage you all to continue with the campaigns and vote massively for Labour Party in the forthcoming governorship and state House of Assembly elections on much 18, 2023”, he appealed to them.

On his part, Obi has alleged that the presidential election did not meet the minimum standard and that he would prove to the world that Labour Party won the election.

Obi stated this during the interface with local and international journalists in Abuja last week saying  “the election was conducted and results announced as programmed” by INEC.

He said: “It’s a clear variance of the electoral rules and guidelines as we were promised. This election, as you know, did not meet the minimum standard which was expected to be free, fair and credible. It is now the most controversial elections ever conducted in Nigeria.

“The good and hardworking people of Nigeria have again been robbed by our supposed leaders who we trusted.

“However let me appeal to all Nigerians to remain peaceful and be law abiding and conduct themselves in the most responsible manner. Please be assure that Datti and I, and  indeed all of us that this is not the end but the beginning of journey to the birth of a better Nigeria.

“The process through which you go into office is far more fundamental. Is my believe that, if you want to bear your Excellency, the process at which to arrive at it must be excellent. It must now require that we do the right thing in order to generate the right confidence and moral authority.

“I assure you the good people of Nigeria that we would explore all legal and peaceful options to regain our mandate. We won the election and I will prove it to Nigerians”.

Asked if the if there was enough evidence to back his claims, he said: “We are not yet in court. That is why they persist and they asked me to go to court. I don’t want to answer questions. I am on my way to court.

“If I tell you all these I don’t know what I will be telling the court. We have passed that stage because we were asked to go to court. So let’s go there. Remember that I am obidient. I am going to go to where I am directed to go to”.

On how voters’ register was tampered with, Obi gave a breakdown of the number of registered voters and votes cast by Nigerians since 2015 according to INEC reports.

He vowed therefore that he would dismantle the rascality as exhibited by “those in authority”.

His words: “In 2015, the number of registered voters was about 67 million  and 29.4 million voted. In 2019, the figures increased to about 84 million and about 28.4 million voted. And then we were told that about 11 million registered in 2022 which brought the registration to about 95 million and 87 collected their PVCs but only 23.3 million voted.

“You can see how Nigeria works. We had increase of 11 million but the voters dropped by over 20%. The reason was due to manipulation and deduction of votes. The number was supposed to increase but it didn’t increase because people were busy doing what is wrong.

 “I will challenge this rascality for the future of the country. Nigeria cannot conduct election 63 years after independence”.

Obi  expressed confidence in the judiciary and has boasted that he has never failed in all his bid to get redress from the court.

 “I am going to get justice. All these while they tell me about the integrity of the judiciary. From 2003, I have always been to court. I was there three years to redeem my mandate. I was to come back from impeachment and in all, I was successful. Without them in anyway compromising, I have never in anyway knowingly compromised any officer or any process because I believe they are doing their job. So I must go there with the right thing”, Obi told journalists when asked of his next line of action if his petition failed.

Obi’s popularity and electoral outcome has brought the South East region which has long complained of marginalization in the political/ presidential game closer to the ultimate prize.

Obi knows he has started a movement and any shrewd political player can see that it is leading somewhere, especially if today’s winners and the dominant parties take their mandates for granted.

Many believe that Obi is not a party man, especially within the Labour Party where it’s often alleged that he continues to show indifference about the internal crisis in the party.

They believe that if he loses at the tribunal, he will not stay to build the party the way he left APGA, a party he once swore to protect with his life.

But from his assurance speech to his supporters, the Third Force Movement and the Labour Party which is its home has come to stay, and would witnessed greater momentum as the years goes by and as it strives to build a formidable network and structures in the far North and South West.

With Peter Obi and Datti Baba Ahmed being the arrow heads, some analysts even postulate that depending on the dynamic of Nigeria’s ethno-religious politics, Datti and Obi could switch roles in some eventuality, that is Datti Baba Ahmed being the Presidential candidate and Peter Obi being the Vice Presidential candidate.

Perhaps to win the North over, while still deftly maintain the movement and the momentum, hence the greater visibility for Datti Ahmed.

But for now, the Labour Party seems pregnant with so much possibilities if it can weather the ploys and expected antagonism of the established powers who have always sensed danger since its advent.

In less than three months, Obi has achieved what many of his contemporary politicians  in the country cannot achieve without a viable platform. However, it remains to be seen how he can sustain the tempo against a well structured party like the ruling APC with Bola Ahmed Tinubu as leader of the party and president of the country at the same time.

Before the elections, supporters of Obi have vowed to match the likes of Tinubu and Atiku at the polls with every resources at their disposal to retire them from politics for good so as to pave ways for fresh breeds of politicians to take over the country’s political space.

They have to some extent matched their words with actions and the outcome of the elections says it all. The fact that Obi’s unprecedented rise to fame extended longer than expected, is somewhat surprising to the leading political parties in the country.

Regardless of the outcome of the elections, most Nigerians, even within the APC believe that the

Obidients are the biggest winners in this election. They are now a mighty political force in the land.

As it was asked about Obi, will the Obidients stay around and build on what they have achieved so far or wait around for another spontaneity around another messiah?

We shall see what happens in the nearest future, but I can tell you this: what has just happened is effervescence, you’ll see that all these youth will crawl back into their shells after the elections

Obi may not win the presidency through a court process with INEC already insisting that the election was one of the best conducted in recent times but Obi’s sagacity of less than a year has made history in the nation’s political turf and tend to reshape politics of southern Nigeria.

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