By John Alechenu
In this interview, National Chairman of Labour Party (LP), Mr Julius Abure, speaks on the party’s campaign and funding challenges. Abure also responds to the criticism of the party’s presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi, by Governor Charles Soludo of Anambra State, who is now under attack over his comment, and other issues of national interest. Excerpts:
The Labour Party has undoubtedly made inroads in some hitherto difficult terrains. You’ve been on the campaign trail of your party. What can you say is responsible for this?
Well, I want to say I’m highly impressed with the turnout of party supporters and citizens for the rallies. Obviously, democracy is defined as government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Labour Party, a party that wants to form a government – when you enjoy such massive support – is very obvious as National Chairman of a party that enjoys such massive support, that I’m obviously happy.
It is very clear that the people are tired of the big political parties; it is very obvious that the people are desirous of change. People are tired of the APC; they are tired of the PDP.
Like I said before, if you have a product and that product is not meeting your demands, you do away with that product. Therefore, the upsurge of the people you see supporting the Labour Party today is because they want change.
Obviously we have the best of the presidential candidates; the party is also one of the best in town apparently because of our ideology, because of our manifesto and because of our programme.
Our Presidential candidate is the only one among all the presidential candidates that has the competence, character and the capacity to drive the process of the development for the country; apparently that is why he enjoys the support from our people.
I’m happy; in the next few weeks we are going to visit more states. We are going to visit all the states of the federation; like you saw in Edo, we went to the three senatorial districts in Edo.
We intend to meet with workers; we intend to hold town hall meetings. In fact, we are just beginning. We are going to hold road shows, seminars, campus visitations; we are going to visit higher institutions.
In fact, we are going to generally mobilize Nigerians in order to vote for the party next year. We believe that we have the programme, we have the idea, and we have the solution and answers to the numerous challenges facing the country and, with these beautiful ideas, we intend to move round the nooks and crannies of this country and let people see that we have the best of programme, we have the best of candidates, the best of ideas that can reshape the economy of our nation, the health care sector, the education and, generally, reposition the country for effective service delivery for our people.
What is your response to what appears to be attempts by incumbent governors in some states to stifle opposition parties especially on the issue of campaign venues? It happened to your party in Nasarawa, Ebonyi and Edo states just to mention a few?
We are, generally, having these attacks more against Labour Party. It’s not just an attack on political parties, it is, generally, an attack on democracy because democracy, ordinarily, guarantees freedom to assemble, freedom to associate, freedom to sell your manifesto, freedom to canvas alternative government.
These are all the tenets of democracy and so it is not just an attack on opposition political parties, it is, generally, an attack on democracy and the attack is more on us in Labour Party because the attack didn’t start today. I must recall the incident in Ebonyi State where our party members were attacked.
In Akwa Ibom also, our members were attacked; in Lagos, they have also been attacking our members in some instances, shops belonging to our members were shut down. In Kogi, we saw a very serious attack on our members while they were on campaign. Some of our members were injured.
This can be traced to the activities of the ruling APC in most of the affected states. Only recently, we saw a massive attack on our campaign train.
In Edo, my home state, you saw how they denied us the use of four venues. The governor denied us the use of Ogbe Stadium, he denied us the use of the Museum Ground, he stopped us from using the UBTH Ground, he blocked us from using the Sports Complex.
Thanks to the Baptist Convention that eventually allowed us the use of their Convention Ground which we eventually used for that programme. But I believe that that tactic will fail.
In Edo for instance, people came out in their numbers and barricaded the streets. Edo was locked down, the truth is no man; no amount of harassment, no amount of attack can stop an idea whose time has come.
I believe that the time to change PDP and APC is now. No matter what they do, even if they deny us the use of venues, people will converge on the streets to listen to us.
Your party has been trending on Twitter over comments attributed to Governor Chukwuma Soludo against the aspirations of your presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi…
The governor of Anambra State, you could see that his comment was borne out of selfishness. His comment was borne out of self-centeredness; it was borne out of desperation.
It was borne out of envy and jealousy. I mean for somebody who was the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, who should know the importance of investment which has been acclaimed by other governors to be one of the best that he has done in Anambra State; I mean for such a man to demean such an investment, will tell you that he is acting from a selfish point of view.
But Soludo does not control the majority of the people of Anambra. He does not have control over what plays out in Anambra State. I want to also say clearly that even Soludo rose on the legacies of Peter Obi.
He came to power through the platform of APGA and Peter Obi built the party, consolidated it, worked for the people of Anambra, which gave confidence to the people to continually vote for APGA.
And, therefore, one can say clearly, without any fear of contradiction, that Soludo is riding on the legacies of Peter Obi because, if not that Peter Obi built APGA with his performance, by instilling confidence in the people to have confidence in the party, Soludo would not have had the platform to become governor.
Therefore, I see Soludo’s comments as a distraction, and I urge the people of Anambra to treat it with a pinch of salt, discountenance it, disregard it. By the time we take our campaigns to Anambra, we will test and see who is popular in Anambra.
Like Sonny Okoson sang, we will know who owns the land. We will know who owns the land by the time we take our campaigns to Awka, to Onitsha, to Nnewi, we will know who owns the land and, by the grace of God, next year, we will see who will control and win Anambra State.
The opinion of Soludo is a minority opinion and should be treated with a pinch of salt. It’s very clear that he’s not speaking the mind of Anambra.
It is a minority and myopic point of view, and the people of Anambra, even without consulting them, I can say it clearly that it is not a popular opinion.
Because of his comment, Anambra will be the state that we will take our campaigns to very soon so that we can test our popularity and test to see who owns the land. My candid advice to him is that he should tone down his comments because he would be destroying his future, destroying himself if he continues along these lines.
The political oligarchy in Nigeria, the political class has been using ethnicity and religion to create a divide for them to remain in office and that is coming to an end in 2023.
These are the issues we have canvassed, that the 2023 elections are not about where you are from, it is about your character, it is about your pedigree, it’s about your competence, it’s about your age; all of these will play a role in who will emerge as President next year.
Oftentimes, before an election, political parties and their candidates make promises. Over the last couple of years, we’ve witnessed situations where elected officials dissociate himself from promises made by the party. Has your party been able to harmonize its policy position with that of the presidential candidate?
We have convergence between the party and our candidate concerning the issues we are canvassing for the votes of Nigerians.
I mean, on the issue of security, we have an agreement, on the issue of the unity of the country, the economy you name it. We have streamlined our position. If you see the spokesperson for the party and that of the Campaign Council, we speak with the same voice on issues.
I agree with you that in the past people have made several promises, that is why we have continued to say for the 2023 general elections that it is not about the promises you make, it should also be about the antecedents, character of those who have made promises in the past.
The issue of funding has become a recurring decimal in your party. Some have said the party is broke, you have said it’s not, what is the true position?
The account number of our party has been made public for members of the public to make donations and from time to time we have always published the statement of account.
As of today, what we’ve got in that account is ten point something (N10…) million Naira, nothing more, nothing less, the statement of account is available. We give updates on Twitter every two weeks.
We really have not received the kind of response that we expect from Nigerians but we believe the response will improve in the coming weeks. We need to appeal to people more, organize more fund raising activities to let more Nigerians key into this project.
The reason the PDP and the APC have continued to fail Nigerians is that moneybags sit in the background and pump money into their campaigns and their loyalties remain with these moneybags, that is why we want to do things differently.
We urge Nigerians to support us. We need vehicles, we need T-shirts, we need caps, campaign materials, we need volunteers; those who can’t give us money can volunteer themselves as party agents. We want Nigerians to own this process.