Is Nigeria’s Labour Party also mad?

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Tonnie Iredia

​​​​Exactly 20 years ago, I had the privilege of delivering the 18th Convocation Lecture of the University of Maiduguri. The assigned topic was: ‘The place of Nigeria in the global village.’ Big pity, I was unable to point at the exact location of Nigeria in international politics because of my finding that the country’s political class was “behaving like a child born drunk.”

To many people in government at the time, it was almost a criminal offence for me to have couched such a ‘damning’ finding while in office as the Director General of the federal government owned public broadcaster- the Nigerian Television Authority NTA. Indeed, the lecture was transmitted LIVE by the NTA. Should such an official remain in office for speaking truth to power? Apart from the relevance of the relationship between drunkenness and Nigeria’s type of politics to today’s article, it no doubt makes ample sense to reserve details of the Maiduguri subject for my memoirs.

But then, the lecture has remained memorable to me for the simple reason that my finding has also remained impeccable. Nothing has changed or about to change the posture of the typical Nigerian politician who seeks office for personal gains without passing through a credible process. For 16 years, the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party PDP ran the federal government using unwholesome electioneering campaigns, rancorous party primaries, grabbing votes in several polling centres where elections did not even hold and at the end corrupting service delivery while leaving society worse than before. By the time the PDP left office in 2015, everybody including many of its members were frustrated enough to warmly embrace the party’s defeat. Interestingly, almost everything the party did wrong from 1999 to 2015 has become worse since the coming-in of the successor All Progressives Congress APC. In fairness to the latter, many of its members came from the PDP making it easy for the sub- sisting political vices to be further compounded.

How best can the nation reduce the strangle-hold of the PDP/APC which were clearly two sides of the same coin? Whereas the PDP tried to pre tend that some of the things it did wrong were inadvertent, the APC was brazen. The latter went beyond picking up votes from locations where voting did not hold to scoring more votes than the number of voters available. It was against this backdrop that some patriots looked forward to a neutral third force from wherever in 2023 to rescue the nation. The Labour Party LP was able to present the picture of a redeeming new team. But apart from its presidential candidate, Peter Obi, many of its members were virtually unknown just as it was unable to point to any visible structure anywhere. In place of structure, it had people, many young and frustrated. In the end, the party performed well in many locations and till today many of its adherents firmly believe it was simply rigged out by incumbents.

From its emergence in 2023 till today, intra-party squabbles have rendered the party impotent. If the operations of the Lamidi Apapa led faction which appeared sponsored threw the party off-balance, more worrisome was the unexpected posture of the few elected members of the party. Perhaps the public had mistakenly assumed that leaders of a workers’ party would lead by example and openly reject convoluted arrangements by opportunists to further exploit the public. That has not been so. LP legislators neither spoke against the anti-people policy of purchasing exceedingly expensive luxury vehicles for lawmakers/other elite groups nor did any of them even betray the inclination to at least pretend to reject the vehicles. The argument in certain circles that the hawks in the system would have just confiscated the vehicles of those reluctant to accept theirs is puerile because it is such sacrifices that underline the traits of men.

Of course in looking for- ward to egalitarianism from Labour leaders, people were not asking for too much be- cause everywhere, they are known for a number of qualities- empathy, pro-activity, altruism and people-oriented. It is therefore obvious that today’s office holders spon- sored by the LP have nothing to do with the philosophy of the party. In fact, many of them did not become flag- bearers by virtue of being workers or long time members of the party, instead they became flagbearers of the party by accident. It is thus quite possible that like most other politicians, many LP office holders were probably born drunk which seems to explain the prevalence of their delinquent and irrational behaviours. Just as the APC assimilated many PDP dissidents, many aspirants strolled into the LP from other groups in search of an alternative platform to qualify to contest elections.

In my part of Nigeria, our people say if a man is mad, his entire family ought not to also be mad at the same time, so there will be one family member who is sane enough to restrain his unstable relation from damaging the image of the family. Why have the few respected members of the LP particularly, their subsisting presidential candidate stayed aloof? The party probably got it right when it ignored the tantrums of the self-acclaimed factional leader, Lamidi Apapa that was struggling to pull down his own house during the election petition era. But does it also make sense to ignore the national treasurer of the party, Oluchi Oparah who at a press conference asked Julius Abure in his capacity as chairman to account for billions of naira raised from the sale of nomination forms etc. Is a call for accountability a crime? Bearing in mind that the person raising the allegation was the official custodian of party funds, can the public perception of the party remain positive without an official probe?

At other levels, it is quite difficult to see any official that is truly committed to the survival of the party. Only last week, 6 legislators of the Enugu State House of Assembly reportedly decamped from the party to the PDP without telling the nation the role they ever played as leaders to resolve the crisis they are supposedly escaping from. Knowing how materialistic Nigerian politicians are, it will not be irrational to imagine that the 6 legislators merely decamped to the ruling party of their state to maximize gains as ruling party legislators. Otherwise, is the crisis in the LP from which they are running greater than that of the PDP where many anti-party activities have become entrenched? How does one explain the involvement of the government of Abia State in the transparently indiscrete national convention of the LP in Nnewi? It is true that Governor Alex Otti was himself absent, but did his deputy and entire executive go there without his consent to guide the convention that even INEC saw to be fishy?

History has always made it easy to identify those who teleguide events. Many years ago a former governor of Edo State, announced at the eve of an election that some criminals were using his name to buy voter’s cards. In the twinkle of an eye, some vigilant police personnel arrested no less than 5 such buyers but they never arrested any seller. At Nnewi last week, the police reportedly arrested 5 persons who were distributing pamphlets at the venue of the contentious national convention. What was the content of the pamphlets and why was it the distributors that deserved arrest and not those who were too drunk to listen to persistent wise counsel from some of their leaders against the hurried national convention? It is in fact clear that only the drunk would organize a national convention whose delegates at the ward, local government and state delegates that were to vote at the convention had not been elected.

We hear the BOT of the LP has at last taken over the running of the party until everyone becomes sane. While wishing them luck, the point must be made that Nigerians have relied on political parties for too long. It is time to focus on outstanding individuals irrespective of their political parties. Put differently, we should from now on give our mandate to persons of integrity with a track record of excellent performance instead of looking up to persons rooted in transactional politics.