CHUKS NWEZE from Enugu writes that as the 2023 general elections gather momentum, the drumbeat of war rumbles unabated, creating a dissonance of who flies the flag of the major credible opposition party in Enugu state, the Labour Party (LP)
The Labour Party, a hitherto moribund party which eventually rose to vibrancy and became the rallying point of the Obidients, the followers of the presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi, is however, enmeshed in the controversy and uncertainty of who would eventually flies the governorship flag of the party for 2023 in Enugu state.
The anxiety and confusion among the party faithful and the electorate created by the jugdement of the court in favour of one Captain Evarestus Nnaji, known as Odengene, is raging and has become cause for concern in political and social circles in Enugu state.
Evarestus Nnaji, had obtained a judgment from a Federal High Court in Abuja which nullified the primary election of the Labour Party in Enugu state and ordered for another to be conducted within 14 days.
He claimed that he was originally not allowed to participate in the LP’s primary that produced Barrister Chijoke Edeoga, whose name is shortlisted by INEC as one of the rightful governorship candidates to contest the 2023 governorship election.
The court ruling which came like a bolt from the blues has since left tongues wagging and political pundits now wonder what would become the fate of Labour Party in Coal City as it leaves its participation in forthcoming governorship race hanging.
A re-enactment of history?
What gave vent to the anxiety is fear that history was about to repeat itself.
Prior to the 2019 governorship election, the main opposition party then, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had trouble fielding a candidate for the election few weeks away from the election when the then APC guber candidate, Senator Ayogu Eze, was cleared to run but then it was too late because he did not have sufficient time to campaign after he successfully fought to reclaim his mandate very close to election date.
It was believed then that it was the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that planted Barr. George Ogara, now the deputy governorship candidate of APC, to destabilize Ayogu Eze so that the PDP candidate then and incumbent governor, Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, would have no credible opposition.
Senator Eze was then believed to have the clout and popularity in the state to dislodge Ugwuanyi and stop his chances of a second term in office.
Back to 2022
When Odengene got the court judgment that directed the Labour Party to conduct a fresh guber primary, the speculation has filled the air that PDP might be at it again to forestall the chances of Edeoga from going to the Lion Building Government House and this has raised fresh concerns in many circles.
LP appeals court judgement
But determined to have Edeoga as the LP governorship candidate for the forthcoming election, the party has appealed the Federal High Court’s judgment in order to restore the status quo ante.
Factional party spokesmen speak
The Enugu state LP publicity secretary, Barr. Titus Odo recently confirmed that the party did not have any factions and that Odengene is not known to them, neither is he their party member but a mole planted by PDP to checkmate Edeoga from giving the the PDP flagbearer, Barrister Peter Ndubuisi Mbah, a good run for his money in the governorship election next year.
The party spokesman who issued a statement to that effect was prompted by the billboards which Odengenge has started mounting at strategic positions, projecting himself as the LP governorship candidate.
So, stung by the supposed bravado and effrontery exhibited by Odengenge, the state publicity secretary wrote denouncing him as their party member. In short, Odo described Odengenge as an impostor and a mole.
The Enugu state publicity secretary said, “The attention of the leadership of Enugu state Labour Party has been attracted to a billboard conspicuously mounted along Airport Road, Emene bearing our logo and insignia.
“Recall that Justice Nkonye Evelyn Maha of the Federal High Court, Abuja had ordered the leadership of Enugu state Labour Party to conduct fresh guber primary for the party within 14 days. It is pertinent to note that the 14 days ordered by the Court had elapsed and no fresh primary election was conducted, the party having appealed the said judgment and rightly so.
“This being the position, we were surprised to see a billboard bearing Labour Party logo and insignia presumably mounted by the said Odengenge along Airport Road, Emene, Enugu.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we want to completely distance and dissociate our party from this macabre dance of shame as it is the handiwork of desperados, impostors and mercenary politician.
“The antics of those behind Odengene are well known and documented. The usual practice of the Enugu State PDP-led government of planting moles in opposition parties who will pose as candidates to cause distraction is well known and we are ever ready to stoutly resist in this time around. People are wiser now and gone are those days.
Barr. Titus Odo emphatically stated: “In view of the foregoing, the general public are advised to disregard Odengene as he is poised to reap where he didn’t sow. For the records, Mr. Evarestus Nnaji is not a member of our great party.
“It is an established fact that Enugu state Labour Party has no factional leadership. It’s really funny when someone who is not a registered member of the party will be laying claims to the guber ticket because he thinks he has a large financial war chest.
“As it stands, our guber candidate is Hon. Barr. Jonathan Chijoke Edeoga. We have implicit and unwavering confidence in his capacity, competence, character and credibility. He is prepared to take Enugu state out of the woods when sworn in, come 2023.
The LP chairman in Enugu state, Barrister Casmir Agbo, said he would not talk on the issue because the judgment was appealed against.
He, however, said that he was sure that Odengene was not heading anywhere.
“The matter is at Appeal Court and I am not part of the legal team. All I know is that Odengene has and will not get any good justice from Court of Appeal. It is now subjudice and can’t be commented upon,” Agbo said.
While the publicity secretary, Odo spoke angrily against the billboards being mounted by Odengenge when Court did not name him as Enugu LP candidate but ordered for a fresh primary, a factional publicity secretary of the Labour Party in Enugu state, Comrade Ibuchukwu Ezike, in a statement told the general public to disregard Odo who claims that Odengene is not LP member.
Ezike pointed out that Odengene is a bonafide member of the party and has every right to aspire to be the party’s governorship flagbearer.
He warned people not to cause disaffection in the party and also not to pitch the party in Enugu state against the national leadership of the party or to get the ire of the Federal High Court that ruled that there should be a repeat of the primary to determine the true governorship candidate of the party for the forthcoming polls, come 2023.
Ezike, in the statement entitled, “Re-Enugu 2023: Nothing like factional candidate, Odengene is not an impostor,” pointed out that “Odengene is full fledged and respected member of our party with all the right to aspire to become our party’s governorship candidate like any other qualified party member.
The factional publicity secretary admonished the party members not to allow “unqualified people” speak for them because to do so could cause problem capable of undermining their success at the polls.
He assured that the national office of the party was making efforts to resolve all issues and arrive at a legitimate option or process that would guarantee peace, unity and victory for the party at last.
Ezike who was jolted by Odo’s remark that Odengene was not a member of Labour Party in Enugu state, said that the national secretariat of the party has made its position known over the controversy in Enugu state and stated that at the moment, LP does not have any guber candidate, hence it would be foolhardy for any individual or group to claim otherwise.
Position of LP headquarters
According to the national secretary of LP, Alhaji Umar Farouk Ibrahim, the LP has no legal right at this juncture to regard anyone as the guber candidate of the party in the state pending when someone emerges through the right process.
“Our party operates on well guided rules and we won’t want to to go against the Federal High Court judgment by still regarding Chijoke Edeoga as a guber candidate in Enugu state,” Farouk was quoted as saying.
Ezike, the spokesman of the factional LP in Enugu state made the position of the party known on who actually flies the flag of the party in the forthcoming polls.
“The position of the party on Enugu guber controversy is firm and unambiguous. However, we are shocked that after the national leadership of our party had held as mentioned above, anyone else is irresponsibly holding a contrary view against the party.
“This is to mislead the public and cause friction in our party. It is mischievous effort to bring Enugu Labour Party in confrontation with the party’s national leadership and show the Court’s as a disobedient and contemptuous state party chapter. This should not be tolerated.
“It is rascality and sounds absolutely retrogressive and misleading to regard a man who has gone to court to seek redress against perceived injustice and infringement of his rights as a party member and won as not a member of the Labour Party.
He continued, “For the avoidance of doubt, therefore, Captain Evarestus Nnaji, Odengene is a full-fledged and respected member of our party with all the right to aspire to become our party’s governorship candidate like any other qualified party member,” Ezike emphasised and urged all and sundry to allow the matter to sort itself out at the appropriate time.
What Enugu residents say
In spite of the fireworks by the party hierarchy, the public is at a loss as to who would eventually be the LP governorship candidate for Enugu state since other candidates have been campaigning vigorously as the 2023 general elections continue draw nearer.
A political analyst, Chike Nwaizugbe, said that if Edeoga believed that he had the clout to win, he should have gone for a repeat primary.
“Why didn’t Edeoga go for a fresh primary if he was sure of winning”, he queried.
Concerned members of the party in the state are worried that Enugu people had hoped that Edeoga, would liberate them from the stranglehold of PDP that has been in power since 1999, but the crisis of who should be the authentic guber candidate of LP in Enugu state has left the hope hanging in the balance.
James Ezeugwu, a member of LP and Enugu resident said, “There is a firm belief in the state that if Edeoga is allowed to contest, PDP would not smell the Lion Building in 2023. That is why PDP is doing everything possible, even planting crisis in Labour Party to stop Edeoga from leading Enugu forward.”