By Chukwudi Nweje
For followers of recent political events in the country, no matter how much some people deny it and no matter how vehemently they dismiss the Labour Party (LP) and its presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi as a storm in a teacup, they know the political landscape in 2023 will be different from what Nigeria had known since the return to democracy in 1999.
The lawsuit filed at the Federal High Court to stop LP, Obi and supporters from conducting a rally tagged ‘#Obidatti23 Forward Ever Rally’ on October 1, 2022, or any other date, in Lagos State testifies that political actors and Nigerians, in general, know that LP is a force and that the 2023 presidential election will not be a two-horse race the country had been used to since the birth of the Fourth republic.
Since 1999, Nigerians have had a limited option from which to choose their leaders. The first election of the Fourth republic in 1999 was a choice between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Peoples Party (APP)/ Alliance for Democracy (AD) alliance. In 2023, it was between PDP and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) despite the fact that about 20 political parties were on the ballot. Also in 2007, Nigerians had to choose between PDP and ANPP out of 20 parties; in 2011, the choice was between PDP and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) from among about 20 parties on the ballot and in 2015, no less than 14 parties were on the ballot but the contest was clearly between the PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC). The same scenario played out in 2019. Indications are that 2023 will be different; 18 parties will be on the ballot paper during the polls but unlike in previous elections, analysts expect at least a four-horse race as opposed to the two-horse race arrangement in past polls. LP and the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) are emerging as strong forces ahead of the polls.
Why the change
To many critical observers, there is hardly any difference between the APC and the PDP. This explains why politicians crisscross from one to the other with ease. The National Chairman of the APC, Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu for instance, is a foundation member of the PDP, and so is the National Secretary, Iyiola Omisore. The PDP also has its fair share of ex-APC stalwarts who are in charge of the party. Apart from that, Nigerians see both of them as the ‘establishment political parties’ with both equally perceived guilty for the present rot in the country. In fact, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Abba, Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003 experienced both parties and what he said about them is “I left the PDP and joined the APC, and I have tasted both parties. I now know that the difference between the PDP and the APC is that one is more evil than the other.”
LP back from the dead
LP started in 2002 but the party did not make a significant political impact on the elections. It however received a fresh breath of life on May 22, 2022, when Prof Pat Utomi-led National Consultative Front (NCFront) adopted it as a preferred platform from which to challenge the APC and the PDP’s hold on political power in Nigeria. The prospects of the party being a force to reckon with in 2023 got brighter when Obi, a two-term governor of Anambra State joined its fold on May 27, 2022, and he won the presidential ticket of the party three days later on May 30. Since Obi emerged as the presidential candidate of the party, he has become a household name. Analysts attribute the surge in the number of intending voters during the continuous voters’ registration (CVR) by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to the number of previously nonchalant eligible voters that now want to obtain their permanent voter cards (PVC) because Obi will be on the ballot. But critics dismiss LP and Obi as “structureless” and describe the supporters as “social media supporters.”
Who is afraid of structureless storm in teacup?
Ahead of the commencement of electioneering campaigns on September 28, 10 plaintiffs including nine lawyers have gone to court to stop the LP, Obi, and his supporters from conducting any form of rally anywhere in Lagos on October 1, 2022, or any other date.
In the suit FHC/L/CS/1720/22, which has been adjourned to September 23, 2022, for further hearing, the plaintiffs asked the court to restrain the LP, its presidential candidate, Peter Obi, his vice, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, the National Chairman of LP, Julius Abure, and their loyalists from holding the rally, until the hearing and determination of their Motion-On-Notice.
The plaintiffs include Adedotun Ajulo, Salamatu Suleiman Lewi, Hakeem Ijaduola, Ogunbona Akinpelu, Owolabi K. Oluwasegun, and Mogbojuri Kayode. Others are Wuyep Mantim Nadom, Dimimu Mabel, Kolawole Salami, and Wale Abe Lawrence.
Those joined in the suit as defendants include: the National Chairman of LP, Julius Abure; the Inspector-General of Police; Commissioner of Police (Lagos State Command); Director General, (Department of State Services); Lekki Concession Company Limited; Attorney-General of Lagos State and The governor of Lagos State.
The plaintiffs raised ten questions for the court to determine in granting the order. Among the questions raised are “whether having regard to the true construction and intent of Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and the resultant effect of the EndSARS Protest of 2020 to the destruction of lives and property, the 1, 2, 3 and 4 Defendants can hide under the guise of Right to peaceful assembly to endorse the Scheduled EndSARS Anniversary, Protest, Rally tagged “#Obidatti23 Forward Ever Rally” being organised by their agents, privies, assigns, members or associates or howsoever described to come up on October 1, 2022.”
The plaintiffs seek reliefs in the event that their questions were resolved in the positive; “a declaration of the court that having regard to the true constructive and intent of Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), and the resultant effect of the EndSARS Protest of 2020 destruction of lives and property, the 1, 2, 3 and 4 Defendants cannot hide under the guise of Right to peaceful assembly to endorse the Scheduled EndSARS Anniversary.”
The plaintiffs also sought: “A declaration of the court that the 1, 2, 3 and 4 Defendants are under Statutory obligations as citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in view of Section 24 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) to exercise caution, restraint on their allies, privies, assigns and associates not to carry out the EndSARS Anniversary, Protest, Rally tagged “#Obidatti23 Forward Ever.
“A declaration of the court that, having regard to the statutory requirements as enshrined in Section 45 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the 1, 2, 3 and 4 Defendants are under a legal obligation to forthwith stop organizing or disassociate themselves from the organizers of the END SARS Protest to come up on October 1, 2022, as well as to issue public statements to halt the said protest as already scheduled for the interest of public safety and order.
“A declaration of the court that the 9 Defendant is under a legal duty, having regard to Section 15 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and the relevant provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act setting out its corporate functions, to not open its space at the Lekki Toll Gate for the purposes of aiding and allowing the 1, 2, 3 and 4 Defendants as well as their agents, privies, assigns, allies and servants, the organizers of the END SARS anniversary protest/rally tagged “#Obidatti23 Forward Ever Rally” to assemble on October 1, 2022, for the purpose of celebrating the END SARS Protest Anniversary,” among others.
A democratic revolution
Analysts believe the suit before the Federal High Court aims at thwarting what they call a ‘coming democratic revolution.’ But the question is who is afraid of the ‘structureless’ ‘storm in a teacup’ and ‘social media followers?’
Dr. Yunusa Tanko, spokesperson of the NCFront says the attempt to link the LP proposed rally to #EndSARS protest is unfortunate and geared towards giving the party and its presidential candidate a bad name.
“There are attempts to give LP a bad name in order to hang it. LP is associated with the Nigerian people, especially the youths. The attempt to associate the LP rally to #EndSARS is invalid. This is cheap extortion and I hope our youths will not fall for it; we will encourage our youths to do a peaceful rally which is their right as Nigerians. It is unfair, and we call on those who went to court to intimidate Nigerians who identify with LP and our principal to have a rethink. The movement we are on also includes them. We call on our youths to continue what they are doing within the ambits of the law.”
A lawyer, Goddy Uwazurike, former president of Aka Ikenga and chairperson of Cultural Credibility Development Initiative (CCDI), described the legal suit as an attempt to deny the LP supporters their “fundamental human rights to hold a political view, the right to assemble and the right to express their views.”
He said, “I can only describe the nine lawyers and one non-lawyer as the real enemies of the country. I can freely and without any qualms call them meddlesome interlopers. These 10 people went to court without any evidence to urge the court to stop a proposed rally by a group of citizens. The infamous 10 applied for an exparte order at the back or without the knowledge of the other party. Wisely, the court declined this exparte application. One of the Cardinal Objectives and Provisions is the fundamental human rights of the citizens. So, to deprive the citizens of the right to hold a political view, the right to assemble and the right to express their views is to damage our democracy irretrievably. The infamous 10 can hold their own rally but quixotically want to stop others from holding theirs. Common sense dictates that the clandestine court action must cease and desist forthwith.”
Okechukwu Nwanguma, Executive Director, Rule of Law Accountability and Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), said the plaintiffs in the suit are cowards, even as their action poses a threat to genuine democracy.
He said, “This is absolute political intolerance and rascality arising from cowardice and fear of competition. If we are truly in genuine democracy and those behind this strange court action are democratic-minded and confident of their acceptability by the people, why are they trying to stop a political contender to hold a political rally anywhere in the country? Election entails peaceful political competition. Competitors should enjoy equal space and opportunity to highlight themselves and their programmes to the people and seek support.”
He noted that the plaintiffs are clearly not acting alone but that they are playing out the script of a set of politicians.
He added, “When one competitor either directly or through proxies attempts to use the court of law or any other device to stop other contenders or their promoters to hold a peaceful rally in any location, it can only arise from fear, lack of confidence and intolerance. The courts are there to uphold human rights and rule of law. Holding rallies are within the political rights of any political contender or groups supporting them to peacefully assemble and express themselves, and I believe that the courts will uphold these rights and freedoms rather than undermine them.”