Deputy National Chairman of the Labour Party, Ayo Olorunfemi, shares his views with AYOOLA OLASUPO on the call for the resignation of the party’s National Chairman, Julius Abure, by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress, the persistent crisis in the party, among other issues

After the 2023 general elections, the Labour Party has been facing a leadership crisis to date. In your assessment, what do you think is the cause of the crisis?

I’d like you to know that the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party are not the only political parties to reckon with, and the Labour Party being very strong was being used for politics by some of the people that claim ownership. It has never been used by the platforms. It has never been supported by the platforms.

When I talk about platforms, I mean the labour movement and we have people in the labour movement who are in the APC holding very high positions. A former NLC president who happens to be the progenitor who signed to form the Labour Party was a governor on the platform of the APC; he was also the national chairman of the APC. He never believed in the Labour Party. If he believed in it, he wouldn’t have left the LP and be contesting and using the heads of Labour to fester his interest in the APC.

You will recall that Olusegun Mimiko also contested on the platform of the LP; he won the election twice and became the governor. Mimiko wasn’t a Labour person per say, aside from being a student unionist in his university and student executive union during his university days, but he used the LP and won elections on that platform. We expect that being an LP governor and Adam Oshiomole being the president of the NLC before becoming governor of Edo State, the two of them would have cooperated with the Labour governor to also possibly defect to that party so that they would have two governors, instead, he was given the Labour governor folder until he was frustrated out of the party and that marked the end of the successes recorded during the Mimiko era.

Now, we felt that the LP should not just be like this. How can Mimiko be perching with chickens and hens on the ground? So, we decided at the level of the TUC youth to form a political commission, and that came as a result of the complaint that had become the deficit of governance; I mean leadership in governance and all of those and the attendance effects on workers’ welfare.

We felt that instead of going out there all the time picketing, going on strike, demonstrating, and all of that every time, why not take the instrument of governance? Let’s take the instrument of power and I mean take over the government and provide a socialist leadership. A government that is socially oriented will provide all the needs of Nigerian workers, whether organised or unorganised. That formed the basis upon which the political commission was created and when that happened, I was the chairman of that political commission.

Are you talking about the Nigerian Labour Congress Political Commission?

I’m talking about the Trade Union Congress. That was under Quadri Olaleye, and we decided and set out our plan, which was fully supported by the TUC under Olaleye at that time. It was fully supported, and we were able to organise programmes aimed at sensitising Nigerian workers and the crisis between the LP and the NLC. We went into it and of course, because the NLC saw that we were serious about it, they allowed reconciliation to take place and that also brought succour to the crisis that was on the ground, and we went into the 2023 election with one force even though our presidential candidate was not fully supported by the NLC because the Adam Oshiomole factor in the NLC is very strong.

As of that time, the chairman of the NLC Political Commission was a member of the APC and is still a member as we speak. Of course, he was a member of the campaign committee. Isa Aremu is also a very strong person in the NLC even though he claimed to be an LP member until his name was conspicuously written in the campaign committee of Bola Tinubu. So, the support was not coming but Nigerians did their best considering the integrity of the candidates that the LP brought, and we shook the system as a matter of fact, we believed we won that election, but the judiciary stole it from us. We want to believe that corruption stole that election from us.

So, why are these things happening?

On why these things are happening, they never believed LP could move the way it moved. They never believed in the strength of LP. The people who believe and have been claiming that they held the power of the LP seem to have lost it. The NLC seems to have lost that power, and for the very first time, we give the ruling party a run for their money. So, you will not expect the ruling party to keep quiet. They are the ones behind all of this animosity going on in the party.

Why did you say the APC is behind the crisis in your party?

All the cases against Abure, all the allegations, none of them can be substantiated. We got information that before 2027, there’ll be no more Labour Party. So, we are prepared. That is why we will be challenging all those things headlong to ensure that the LP remains one formidable political party.

Considering what is happening in the party, how can the issue be resolved?

Well, the structure of the party is intact. The National Working Committee is fully on the ground. The NEC, that’s the chairman, and the state secretaries of the 36 states of the federation are also on the ground. We are together. All of us are together and we are in this together. Some people call themselves the ‘Obidient’ group, who are also fighting to get the soul of the party, and we are not against them. It is a democratic system. We are not opposed to people coming in and showing ambition that they want to be the chairman, or they want to be anything in the political party, but you have to start from where you are supposed to start.

You can’t just come into the party and want to take the soul of the party at the national level. We have local governments, and you have to be known in your ward. If you are not known in your ward, how do you want to become a national figure in the political party? As I speak to you, I represent the TUC in the political party. I’m fully known in my ward, from my unit to my ward to the local government and the state.

So, if anybody wants to be anything in the party, you first need to be known as a politician. Of course, politics is local, and we can’t just make you anything if you are useless at your local government level or your ward. You won’t be able to win your unit. All of those things are coming, and we have been explaining to them, and some of them are showing understanding while those who have a different agenda are not showing understanding.

There is a suggestion that the judiciary shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions in post-election matters and that it has become a general profile of the judiciary to avert the course of justice. How will you react to that as regards the 2023 general election?

From what we saw at the Presidential Tribunal up to the Supreme Court where vital issues were not even mentioned in the judgment, it is just more or less like sweeping them under the carpet. I don’t think we should be talking about the judgment that was there long ago, but the fact remains that the confidence of the public on the judiciary is gradually or vastly eroded. I think the judiciary would have to rebuild the confidence in such a manner that they will now have to regain the confidence of the people otherwise they won’t trust them because, in a situation whereby the judiciary cannot have a say in an electoral process, it is unacceptable. I don’t think it is okay.

Maybe what we should be talking about is reform, looking at the recruitment process of the judiciary. Should the President have an approving authority on the appointment of the Chief Justice of the Federation? Should it not be the Senate that should approve such an appointment? Once you say the President should approve, then it means the President has an overriding power over another arm of government, which should not be. Where then lies the separation of power? So, the President should not be the one to approve who becomes the Senate President, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. That is the legislative arm.

Why should he (President) be the one to approve the appointment of a judge? I mean the Chief Justice of the Federation or any appointment for that matter in the judiciary; he shouldn’t be the one. Apart from appointing a Minister for Justice, the Attorney General of the Federation should be appointed differently. So, these are my simple ways of introducing reforms into the judiciary so that whoever is the Chief Judge will not depend on the President.

Of course, if the President approves their appointments, the current Chief Justice or the previous Chief Justice will have to be loyal to the President because he’s the one who appointed them. If he is the one who will approve the appointment, he is the one who has appointed them. Others conducted the interview, so to speak and the Managing Director approved the appointment, and the letter was issued. So, the Managing Director is the superior here and you owe allegiance to your Managing Director. If the President will continue to be the one to approve the appointment of a CJN, then we have not started. Our democratic system is still very sick.

Do you also subscribe to the claim that the entire disagreement in LP is being sponsored by some people to cause trouble?

Of course, that’s obvious. But we heard the information that some powerful people within the ruling government have vowed that the Labour Party must be scattered. We have that information, and we are prepared for it. We are truly prepared for this and that is why we are still on our feet as we speak.

From the information you got, do you suspect anybody?

Of course, we do suspect the APC. They are the ones behind all of this. We suspect that they are the one. Who has been challenging the APC? Is it not the LP? We have the arbitral threat. From the last election, ,but they fear the LP’s popularity. Now is the beginning of wisdom for the APC. So, they will do everything possible. We know their profile; we know their antecedents. They don’t believe in due process and orderliness; they don’t believe in morality and the fear of God. They don’t believe in all of those.

They got to where they are now by all the available crooked means, including unnecessary protests in Lagos State whereby they were killing cows every day to feed people to protest against the removal of subsidy, but they were the first to remove the subsidy. That was the first agenda. They removed the subsidy. So, who was gaining from the payment of subsidy before now? Who has been the gainer? And why is it (subsidy) now being removed after you protested so vehemently and deceived Nigerian workers into protesting? All of them now are speaking in tongues. They can no longer talk. We know their stock in trade. We understand their antecedents. We know they are the ones that are doing all of these things.

But the LP’s presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi, also said if he emerged the president, he was going to remove the fuel subsidy.

You didn’t get him well. He said the fraud in the subsidy will be removed. How can you say because some people are stealing your subsidy and that subsidy is the one that is giving life to Nigerian people, and you know some people are stealing it, instead of catching the thief, you are removing the subsidy so that Nigerians can die the way they are dying now. Does it make any logical sense? In any case, why should you have plenty of cassava on your farm and you go and sell the cassava to somebody who will produce the cassava and begin to sell it to you at an exorbitant rate? Why should we have plenty of crude in Nigeria, but we don’t have the finished product? And yet some guys will go to the creeks and set up local refineries and produce petrol or diesel and waste the rest. If those guys can do it up to that point, why not encourage them, organise them, regulate their activities, and let them continue to produce AGO in surplus?

If AGO now begins to sell for N30 per litre, what will it cost me to go and change my engine to an AGO-compliant engine? Therefore, the cost of energy will be reduced locally. Then you can sell your crude to the international community. Must you sell your crude and buy it back by way of refining? It doesn’t make any economic sense. If it’s making economic sense at all, it is to the wicked people. The people who want to make money from the blood of Nigerians and that is exactly what is happening. So, to say there is no solution to this issue is to lie because there is a solution. What does it take to refine? Now, all the refineries are not working, and an individual can construct a refinery. He has built the refinery in Lagos, and the government cannot maintain its own.

There were allegations of corruption and mismanagement of party funds by the National Chairman of the party, Julius Abure. What can you say about this?

You know that those allegations have been there for more than six months. So, why is it that they have not been able to take very serious action? Why is it that the matter is not before any court? Why is the matter not before the EFCC? That is to tell you that they are just using the same plan, and strategy to de-market the party by blackmailing the leadership in such a manner that Nigerians will feel this party that we believe is the solution to the problem of Nigeria cannot be trusted. That is all they are doing. Where is the money that Abure has embezzled? Where is the money?

One of the leaders said N3.5bn. We never saw that money for the campaign. The total money that we saw in the party account was N2.1bn or thereabout and you don’t expect that money to be in Abure’s pocket. They used it for the campaign and Abure was not the chairman of the presidential campaign committee. He’s only a member of the presidential advisory committee just as I am and there’s no fund for that particular committee. No vote for that particular committee. So, I don’t know where they got this money from.

Peter Obi has also asked the national chairman, Julius Abure, to do the statement of account. Has that been done?

That has long been done and it is in the public domain. The audited account is there. The party has the audited account. The INEC, which is the regulator, has come to check our books, and they have discovered that we are in order. So, where all of these things are coming from, I don’t know. They are the only ones that can explain.

Many have also called for Abure’s resignation amidst the ongoing crisis. Why did you say he will not resign?

You are on a battlefield and your enemy is telling you to come and hide somewhere. Will you hide there? That is the answer to that. We will not listen to those saying he should resign because we don’t know what the agenda could be.

Is it true that Abure sidelined the National Treasurer, Oluchi Opara, from the financial activities of the party and that she hasn’t been handling the party’s cheque for the past seven months?

If there is any issue around the matter, to me, it is a family matter, and we are tackling it. It has gone viral, but you can see that nothing is being said about it again. If there is any issue around the matter, you will have seen actions around it, but I should not be talking about her.

But Mrs Opara said that for the past seven or eight months, she had not been handling the party’s cheque. What can you say to that?

Yes, it is because there have been some little misunderstandings. Secondly, when you look at the constitution, there are three signatories to the account, and you know the chairman, secretary, and treasurer usually will sign. Any two can sign. So, the chairman and secretary, who also have the authority to sign, have been the ones signing. If there are issues, we will sit down and resolve them. It’s not as if anybody has done anything illegal. She also has issues and as a result of that, she begins to protest and all of that. I’m looking forward to using what we have but we have also advised her to calm down so that she doesn’t pull down the structure that we all live up to. She should not allow anybody to deceive her.

What you are saying now is that it is the National Chairman and the Secretary that have been signing without the national treasurer.

Don’t forget that we have an Accounts Department. The department prepares the voucher and usually gives it to the treasurer. They will write the cheque. The cheque is in the custody of the staff, not with anybody. So, they will prepare the voucher issue the cheque, and take the cheque to the available signatory. So, if an Oluchi Opara was not available at some point, and the secretary and the chairman have been signing, then all you need to do is to make yourself available at another point so that you can continue to do your job of signing. Of course, the secretary can also complain that they didn’t allow him or her to sign. So, the three of them are the ones to sign. Any two of the three of them can sign. That’s what the constitution says.

Is it true that after the elections, the party was unable to pay the salaries of its staff despite the money generated during the elections?

Has any employee complained? If workers have not been paid, I am the deputy national chairman of the party, and no employee has come to me to say their salaries have not been paid. So, if nobody complains, why raise it? Is it to put those guys in the eye of the storm? I don’t see any employee complaining. Come to the secretariat and see whether the workers are crying. When you come, they will welcome you, they will receive you very well. Some of them are even using cars; they are married and are looking okay.

Despite the alleged excesses of Julius Abure, why has the National Working Committee not been able to confront him directly?

The National Working Committee knows what is going on and knows that all these allegations are not true. I’ve just explained to you the nature of the allegations. If somebody is telling you what you know and you know that this thing is not true and it is right before you, and somebody is making noise outside, what will you do as an individual? You just abandon them and focus on what you are doing. You know that they don’t want you to be focused, and you have also decided not to be focused. Just continue to do what you are doing.

Is it that they are scared to do so or does Abure already have a dominating control over them?

I don’t understand. I am representing TUC. The person I should fear is the TUC, who sent me here and not Abure. So, you can see that there is no business in that.

People have started accusing Peter Obi of not intervening in the crisis in the party before it escalated. Is it true that Obi has been silent about it all along?

Well, he has been appealing to everybody so that there won’t be trouble. That is what he’s doing. He’s appealing to everybody because he has some of the facts, but you won’t say because somebody has goofed, you will remove that person. This one has messed up, you will remove that person. It’s not a way of bringing everybody together. The whole situation is complex, and you need people to manage the destructive system to be able to manage what we are going through, and that is what we are doing. So, don’t blame Obi for that. He is also complying with the destructive nature of the global leadership challenge. We don’t just take action just because you have claimed that somebody has done this and that. There is a procedure for that. So far, so good, he has done his best by appealing to all to sheathe the sword and allow peace to reign. That is what a leader should do in this circumstance.

What can you say to the rumour that Abure was planning to suspend Peter Obi from the party?

Well, it is part of the lies from the wicked ones. Why would he plan or even contemplate suspending Peter Obi from the party? It’s an unfounded and wicked one, and it is part of the plot by the established political party that has brought us to our knees in this country. Come 2027, it won’t work.

A few days ago, the NLC stormed the national secretariat of the Labour Party in Abuja to protest the party’s planned national convention and accused Abure of planning to hold a secret convention without the consent of stakeholders. What are your thoughts on these issues?

Can a convention be a secret? Is it a secret? They accused some people who claimed to be in the LP without being able to control their wards. Do you control the party from the top? You control the party from the bottom. If you want to become anything in the Labour Party, you start from your wards. So, when it comes to decision-making, those who are in Abuja will not be able to take any decision for the people at the various state levels. Secondly, picketing, which is one of the functions or the rights of the labour union, does not include the non-employer of labour. You cannot picket a non-employer of labour.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here