The leadership tussle rocking the Labour Party if not well managed and quickly nipped in the bud, may deal a major blow to the fortune of the party, as a house divided against itself cannot stand, writes Alex Enumah.
he second week of pre-hearing of petitions against INEC’s declaration of All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as winner of the February 25, presidential election would have gone unnoticed but for the unsolicited and unwarranted display of love for power or office by the Labour Party’s leadership.
The signs that the week’s sittings in the pre-hearing session would be intriguing emanated the previous week, when the Acting National Chairman of the party, Mr. Lamidi Apapa directed the legal team handling the petition of the party and its candidate in the February 25 presidential election, Mr. Peter Obi, to furnish him with situation report at the Presidential Election Petition Court (PREPEC).
Obi and LP’s petition is one of the three petitions presently at the PREPEC; the other two are that of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the Allied Peoples Movement (APM).
Although, five political parties had filed petition at the court, the Action Alliance (AA) and the Action Peoples Party (APP) had withdrew their petition during the inaugural sitting of the court two weeks ago.
At the inaugural sitting and subsequently after, Obi had been representing himself while one Obiora Ifoh, who identified himself as LP’s National Publicity Secretary, had represented the party, who is the second petitioner.
Although, the suspended National Chairman, Julius Abure, has always been in court but has never announced appearance on behalf of the LP.
However, at the resumption of proceedings last Wednesday, a mild drama began to play out as the Acting National Chairman, Mr Lamidi Apapa, who has not been in court since the commencement of the pre-hearing session showed up for the first time, in company of some of his supporters.
Act one, Scene one witnessed a shouting match between the Lamidi Apapa-led faction and the Julius Abure-led faction.
Recall that a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had last month ordered the suspension of Abure over alleged corruption charges.
Upon Abure’s suspension, Apapa had assumed office as acting national chairman, although his office is in controversy, following his suspension by the Abure-led faction.
Following the known response by the legal team representing Obi and the Labour Party to his request, Apapa on the next adjourned date, May 17, 2023, stormed the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, venue of the PREPEC.
On getting there, Apapa and his group went to where the Julius Abure-led faction were already seated and asked the Director General of Obi campaign, Mr Akin Oshuntokun, to vacate his seat for him.
According to Apapa, Abure and his group have no business in court because he is the authentic leader of the party for the time being. This statement resulted to exchange of unpleasant words between the two factions to the disappointment of court staff and other litigants in court, including other observers and journalists.
However, since the Abure faction refused to vacate their seat, Apapa and his entourage moved to seat among the crowd.
Clash over representation.
Shortly after the court convened, another commotion arose as to the authentic representative for the Labour Party.
While Obi introduced himself as the first petitioner, one Dudu Manuga, who claimed to be the Labour Party’s Women Leader stood up to announce representation for the party. But before the court could record her, Apapa stood up to introduce himself as National Chairman of the party and the rightful representative of the Labour Party. Responding, Justice Tsammani who observed that “there is a little disagreement about who is representing the Labour Party”, held that, “we are not recognizing anybody as representative of the party “.
The court subsequently went ahead to take the appearances of other parties in the petition without recording any entry for LP except that of Obi who is the first petitioner.
Confrontation between Apapa and Obi’s supporters.
But for the timely intervention of police officers, angry supporters of Peter Obi, suspected to be sympathetic to the Julius Abure-led faction of the Labour Party, would have lynched the Acting National Chairman, Mr Lamidi Apapa, last Wednesday afternoon.
Shortly after the adjournment of the pre-hearing to Friday, May 19, Apapa had wanted to speak with journalists covering the proceedings outside the courtroom but was prevented by the aggrieved supporters who stood in front of television cameras, shoving Apapa aside and calling him all kinds of names. While some were shouting “ole, ole”, which in Yoruba language means “thief”, others called him a betrayal and a saboteur, accusing him of working against the interest of the Labour Party and its presidential candidate, Mr Obi.
According to the angry supporters, Apapa was alleged to have collected the sum of N500m to sabotage the petition of the party and Obi. So, they began to boo and shove Apapa from one point to another thereby preventing him from speaking with the press outside the courtroom.
At a point, the angry supporters rough-handled the acting chairman and started pushing him out of the court premises towards the gate. Probably, if not for the timely intervention of some police officers, Apapa would have been seriously dealt with outside the court premises, even like he himself stated that “they would have killed me if…..”.
After escaping death by the whiskers, Apapa later met with journalists where he shared his pains and frustration over the inability of the party to resolve its internal wranglings. While describing the incidents both in the courtroom and outside the courtroom as “disgraceful”, Apapa urged Obi to wade into the dispute objectively with a view to amicably resolving the lingering crisis.
The acting chairman claimed that the leadership crisis would have been put behind the party if the presidential candidate had respected the order of the FCT High court which ordered Julius Abure and three others from parading themselves as national officers of the party over their indictment for forgery and perjury.
Tracing the genesis of the leadership crisis, Apapa said immediately the order of court was served on the party, he was unanimously selected in acting capacity as the National Chairman of the party.
According to him, it was wrong of Obi to be according respect to Abure inspite of the order of the Court and as a presidential candidate seeking justice from the same court of law.
On the alleged receipt of 500 million Naira from external forces to destabilize the party, Apapa vehemently denied receiving any money or being influenced by anybody or group to work against the party.
He also said it was wrong for Peter Obi to have claimed not knowing him adding that he worked closely and even travelled in the same flights with Peter Obi throughout his presidential electioneering campaign.
He therefore appealed to Obi to be open minded, neutral and objective so as to be able to end the crisis.
Also speaking at the briefing, the Deputy National Chairman of the Party in the North, Mike Ayuba Auta, denied the allegation that the All Progressive Congress (APC) was behind the crisis adding that the allegation was baseless and unfounded.
Auta apologized to Nigerians, who he said, gave Labour Party over six million votes during the last presidential poll adding that they should not be discouraged by the current leadership crisis and assured that the dispute will soon be resolved.
Parallel legal team
Although, Apapa had vowed to continue to attend proceedings of the Labour Party despite perceived threats to his life.
However, while his presence at Friday’s proceedings was not unexpected or unusual, very few people had expected him to come with a legal team to take over from the current team handling the party’s petition. Owing to the confusion that arose over the representation of the LP at the previous sitting, Obi had announced representation for himself, who is the first petitioner as well as for the Labour Party, who is the second petitioner.
But, shortly after Chief Awa Kalu, SAN announced appearance for the petitioners and listed other members of the legal team in court, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Oba Maduabuchi stood up to announce representation for same LP.
Luckily for Obi, the court shut him down. The panel of Justices while refusing to acknowledge his presence, berated the senior lawyer for attempting to stir up confusion adding that, “as a Learned Silk, you should know better and you should have told whoever that briefed you that there is another lawyer handling the matter”.
The senior lawyer had informed the court that, “he was given a brief”, by the other faction “to appear” in court in respect of the Labour Party and Obi’s petition.
While the court should be commended for not allowing the issue of representation and appearances truncate the proceedings of last week, Obi and the Labour Party may not be that lucky in the future. It is therefore imperative that Obi provides true leadership at this point in time, by engaging all warring parties in a roundtable, with a view to resolving all lingering disagreement festering discord and disunity in the party’s move at reclaiming electoral victory through the court.