Embattled National Chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure, shares his views with The PUNCH’s ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCIS on the lingering feud in the party, Peter Obi’s candidacy and other issues
Why is it difficult to resolve the issue of the Labour Party chairmanship tussle between you and the factional leader, Callistus Okafor?
It is only in Nigeria here you find that somebody can just wake up and say he is a party national chairman. Callistus Okafor is just somebody who wanted attention, and unfortunately, he is getting it. Was there an election or convention that produced him as the national chairman?
But Okafor said the constitution states that when a party chairman dies or gives up his position, the deputy immediately assumes the post.
Which constitution is he talking about? Somebody can wake up and say anything. It is left for us to find out from INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) and other bodies. People who are hungry shouldn’t just wake up to present another presidential candidate because an election is coming and claim that he is the chairman of the party. Since he said the issue is in court, there is no problem. There are several cases in court; how many do you see being advertised on the pages of newspapers? When we had our presidential primary, it wasn’t hidden; it was clear. Pat Utomi and others were there. You saw what played out before we arrived at the decision we took.
The factional chairman (Okafor) also warned that Peter Obi was sitting on a keg of gun powder by accepting to be your presidential candidate. What is your reaction?
If we are sitting on a keg of gun powder as he claimed, why can’t he just wait for it to explode? The truth is that Okafor just wants food to eat. His case is not a threat to us at all. We will meet in court as he said. It is not a difficult task for anyone to find out who the chairman of the Labour Party is from the Independent National Electoral Commission. I don’t think that at this time of our development, when we want to get it right politically that we should be promoting what will bring down the momentum of the people. This country is dying and it is on the brink of collapse. I think we need to show enough patriotism to prevent it from collapsing.
Recently, Peter Obi has come under fire for travelling to Egypt when he ought to be campaigning for your Ekiti governorship candidate. How do you react to that?
It is a normal thing for people in opposition to find something negative to talk about a candidate or party. What’s their business with him travelling to Egypt? It is because they are already afraid of Peter Obi. That’s why they are always looking for excuses to attack him. Is it a few days before the election that electioneering campaigns are done? People who want to win an election already know how to go about it. The truth is that there is no amount of negative report that will bring down Peter Obi’s presidential train. It is clear that he is ahead of other candidates. His track record is clear.
When you put him on a scale with other presidential candidates, it is very obvious that he stands out. Compare him with Atiku (Abubakar), and the difference is clear. That is because we knew Atiku when he was in Customs and later became the Vice President. When Peter Obi was also governor of Anambra State, we knew what happened. We know what both of them did in their private lives and in public offices. Is it (Bola) Tinubu that we want to talk about? It is clear Obi is way ahead. If he is going to Egypt for a meeting and that is his priority, what’s their problem?
Don’t you think Obi’s presence in Ekiti State would have boosted the chances of your candidate in the state?
Not really. Even the President cannot be expected to do everything on his own. There should be division of labour. There are leaders in Ekiti State who have been working hard. The people already know their candidates and where they are heading. Nigerians are suffering and they are tired. The people have made up their minds as to where they want to go. If they like, let them bring 100 bullion vans of money. The popular reggae icon, Bob Marley, said ‘you can fool some people sometimes but you can’t fool all the people all the time.’
What is the Labour Party doing differently to ensure Obi wins the 2023 presidential election?
Obviously, everybody has come to a realisation that our party is not the Labour Party of yesterday. We’re building on that momentum and expanding our horizons. You know people have been clamouring for an alternative to the APC and the PDP over the years and that is the opportunity we have provided for Nigeria. That was also why we sought the best candidate. By the time we come up with our vice presidential candidate, it will shock Nigerians because we are going to get somebody with the same credentials as Peter Obi. That will put an end to the whole of the APC and PDP. Quite frankly, we need to change those who have mismanaged this economy.
Nigeria just finished celebrating June 12 Democracy Day. In all honesty, has the country fared well?
I gave a historical perspective of June 12 and what it symbolises during the last commemoration. I said that was an election that brought all Nigerians together because it gave hope and became a symbol of the democratic struggle of the country. It has become a symbol of good governance in Nigeria. But unfortunately, the Moshood Abiola family ended up paying the ultimate price. Abiola died in the struggle, and his wife, Kudirat was also killed in the process. Their businesses, including newspapers like Concord and Abiola Group of Companies went down the drain as a result of that struggle. While we can say that Nigeria has attained democracy and people now enjoy the freedom of speech, all these are dividends of June 12. The 1999 Constitution is clear that the principal purpose of government is to provide security and welfare for the citizens. Section 2 harps on the fact that the national resources of the country must be managed in such a way that it gives maximum welfare to the people of Nigeria.
As we speak, Nigerians are not even asking for welfare. All they are asking is for the Federal Government to secure their lives. This is because people are killed on a daily basis in this country. The government has failed us. Over 100 million Nigerians are living below the poverty line. Inflation is in double digit; people’s salaries cannot take them home. Poor people have no food, no shelter and no water. So, yes, we have to have democracy but it is not yet Uhuru for Nigeria; there is more to be done. Those who have not yet taken their PVCs are urged to do so.
There is a perceived assumption that Peter Obi is a social media president who may lose at the poll when the actual voting process begins. What’s your take on this perception?
If you look at the EndSARS protest, you cannot underestimate what the social media can do, especially with the younger generation. It is very clear that the people of Nigeria are tired. The truth is that a mind that is equipped is one that will be able to effect changes. Our youths have taken the election and collection of PVCs up as a challenge to actualise the changes. My party office here is already filled up with people registering for PVCs. The same thing is also evident across the federation. It is a very powerful movement that is good for us. It is even good that the opponents are underrating us and they will see the result in February 2023.
This movement is more than EndSARS, I can assure you. You can see how people are moving around, struggling to get their PVCs. If you visit INEC office in Abuja, the unprecedented crowd there now will send a signal. Go to Lagos, Warri, Imo and even Sokoto in the North, you will be shocked to see the crowd. But it is always good for your opponents to believe you are not on the ground. Technology has broken all barriers. What we actually need now to mobilise Nigerians are smartphones and social media. In the past, these were absent. People had to be in different wards to canvass for votes. Now, you can canvass on your phones. Was the success of the EndSARS process not attributed to the social media? They had to bring in the military to kill people before they could have their way. If not for the use of brute force by the military to break up that movement, you can be sure that something would have come out of it. This is why it is good for us to be underrated over our presence on social media at this moment.
Is Peter Obi not feeling threatened by the incursion of Atiku and Tinubu in the North and South-West zones where they rely heavily for votes?
If you look at the mood of the people, you will discover that it has ruled out the option of APC and PDP, irrespective of whoever they feature as their presidential candidates or running mates. The people, especially from the South-East, South-South and even the South-West, have made up their minds to do away with them. I don’t think they are a serious threat to us. I must admit that we may have one or two challenges in the North. However, from the statistics and polling that we have done, we don’t see it as a threat. We have had a president from the North for eight years, how has he impacted on the region?
What exactly do you mean by impact on the region?
Check the statistics, you will discover that the number of out-of-school children is even higher now. Even the Almajiri children that you see protesting in Kaduna, Kano and Sokoto states, who have carried arms against the country were given birth to when Buhari was just made president. Today, they are on the streets fighting for justice. Of course, they are children that were not trained by the system and those the states have abandoned. Today, they have taken up arms against the country. It is not about where the president is coming from. The northerners have seen it. Giving a northerner the president or vice president position doesn’t mean it may impact the lives of the people. The 2023 election is all about who has the capacity, character, antecedent and competence to drive the process of development in the country. The northern region has huge natural resources that can even pay the country more than oil.
What sort of natural resources are we looking at?
I don’t want to go into details or enumerate what we have in the North. As we speak, I am aware that some of these resources are being exploited by private individuals. Those resources exploited by these individuals with the active collaboration of the government would have gone a long way in providing education, healthcare and other welfare arrangements for people in the North. It is not about whether Atiku’s people are from the North or Tinubu has a stronghold in the West. We have had the PDP for close to 20 years and we have had APC for eight years. We know their results. Obviously, the people are tired and are ready to do away with the two. And that’s the mood of the country. I am confident that Labour Party will do very well in the 2023 elections. I have no doubt about it.
You seem so confident about the chances of Obi even in the South-West. Do you think Labour Party can defeat Tinubu in his stronghold?
If you study the situation very well, you will discover that the youths are actually in the majority. Although it is not in my place to comment on aspirants’ age or health status, people generally believe that a younger person should rule as president. Definitely, we cannot be talking about somebody like Asiwaju, who is old and may not be able to cope with the challenges of governance. There is no sentiment about it. This is all about the lives of the people. It is obvious that Asiwaju can’t cope. The mood of the people even in the South-West is not different. We need a younger and more vibrant person to do the job. My advice to him would have been to support a younger person and occupy a seat in the background. He needs to emulate people like ex-President (Olusegun) Obasanjo and Abdulsalaam (Abubakar) by having some rest while playing with his grandchildren. Even people like the late Nelson Mandela had the opportunity for a second term but he concluded that age was not on his side and he needed to rest. The people respected his decision. We must learn to quit at the stage when the ovation is loudest.
Many APC supporters believe Nigeria stands to benefit more from Tinubu’s brain based on his wealth of experience, not his physical attributes. Do you have a contrary opinion?
The truth is that the brain cannot function without the body. There is no way a brain in a weak body can function effectively unless we want to deceive ourselves. The country is facing a lot of challenges; we cannot afford to have a sleeping president who will be moving from one hospital to another. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to comment on this because it is sensitive and touches on the life of somebody but the truth has to be told. The country is full of so many challenges. People get kidnapped every day, some die in road accidents, and others are killed. Nothing is done about it and we want to bring a president who will be running from one hospital to the other. I think this nation has gone beyond that. We cannot put the burden of over 200 million Nigerians on the shoulder of somebody who is already weak. This is about our lives and the future of this country. I want to assure you that we will win in Lagos and other states in South-West clearly. The Yoruba will not go with Asiwaju.
People from the South-East have intensified efforts towards getting their PVCs. What could be the reason for the current rush to get the voter cards?
The answer is clear. People are fed up and seriously planning to vote out the APC and PDP from governments at all levels. You are aware that we once had voter apathy at a stage. People were not interested in even going to pick up their PVCs because they saw no difference between Tinubu and Atiku. So, they concluded that it is better to stay back in their homes. Now that Labour Party has come on board and also has Peter Obi as its presidential candidate, the rush you are seeing now is because of the Labour Party resurgence and Obi. I can assure you that there won’t be voter apathy in 2023 as people will come out and vote massively for Labour Party.
Don’t you think issues like monetising of the process or vote-buying as witnessed in the past can edge out the likes of the Labour Party?
Nigerians have since realised that the money they are sharing with them was stolen. It is our common patrimony taken from the government purse for themselves and their children. That’s the same money they bring to buy votes. I can assure you that Nigerians will collect the money and do the right thing this time. We have seen that done in Edo. I have had the privilege of campaigning during the time of (Adams) Oshiomhole. I have seen people collect money from the PDP and voted against them in Edo. The same thing will play out in the 2023 general elections. The reason people collected money and do whatever they like is that they may not have seen any difference between Buhari and Atiku in 2019. Therefore, they will just take the money when given as if there is no difference. But those who see that Peter Obi is better and may change their lives will collect the money and still vote against them. Some may not even collect and do the right thing. Buying of votes will definitely end in the 2023 elections.
Are you sure that some Labour Party aspirants are not involved in vote-buying?
Nigerians have witnessed our party primaries. They can use that to benchmark this assumption. We have seen how money was spent in the PDP primary. We also saw a similar thing play out at the APC national conference. I am sure nobody saw that at the LP convention that produced Peter Obi. That should tell you that vote-buying is not part of our agenda. The people have decided and I am sure they will do the right thing. The people have seen bad governance over these few years and learnt some lessons. At least, we have seen that Nigerians rushing to get their PVCs are not induced or given money. Immediately after LP announced Peter Obi as its presidential candidate, there was a rush for the collection of PVCs by a massive crowd. It is an indicator of the fact that the Labour Party won’t buy votes but Nigerians will do the right thing.
Will Peter Obi’s emergence somehow put an end to secessionist tension by IPOB in the South-East?
In a way, it will. It is not the first time we are seeing an uprising. You will recall that in the South-West, there was a similar thing when the people felt marginalised. Groups like OPC and others sprang up and agitated for rights to secede from Nigeria over the rising case of insecurity in the South-West. When Olusegun Obasanjo became the President, he almost ended it. In the Niger Delta, we had the Avengers also threatening to cause tension over secession. But when Goodluck Jonathan became President, it was also doused. I am sure if Obi becomes president, the agitation from the South-East will resolve itself. This is because part of the agitation was because they were denied the chance of producing a president and given no sense of belonging. If such an opportunity is eventually given, I am sure that they will gladly support one of their own and allow peace to return to the country.
But we must also note that the issue of insecurity is not limited to the South-East alone. There is Boko Haram, ISWAP, unknown gunmen and violence all over the country. I think all these are down to the problem of bad governance. If people are poor, have no jobs and are hungry, the obvious thing to do is to go into crime. That is what Peter Obi is out to correct. If you are to provide jobs, create an enabling environment, and take care of the vulnerable in society, I am sure this problem of insecurity will die naturally. Sadly, we have repeatedly endured a government that has no passion for its people. Otherwise, what is happening in this country can’t happen elsewhere, and the people will still remain together as one. Nigerians are just very peaceful and loving people.