By Ejiofor Alike
Edited by Ononye VC
If all the permanent and ad hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were like the returning officer in the just concluded governorship and state House of Assembly elections in Abia State, Prof. Nnenna Oti, who is also the vice chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, the 2023 general elections would have been more credible.
Oti, a professor of soil science, is not new when it comes to earning accolades. She made a first class at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) and also became the first female substantive vice chancellor of FUTO.
But these accomplishments did not bring her to the national limelight until she served as the returning officer of INEC in Abia State in the March 18 governorship and state House of Assembly elections.
As the collation of the results of the governorship election in the state was ongoing, there were reports that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state was attempting to rewrite the results for Obingwa Local Government Area to overturn the original results as already collated by INEC.
Oti became a hero of the election when she refused to declare the false results, despite all the alleged pressure on her.
The FUTO vice chancellor insisted that the votes of the people of Abia State must count even when her fellow academics, politicians, security agents and officials of INEC had tainted the credibility of the general elections.
Narrating her experience, Oti told the members of staff and students of FUTO who gave her a hero’s welcome after the elections: “I have never in my life participated in any election. But duty came calling. I made enquiries from Abuja and I said, ‘If I perish, I perish.’
“They came with their threats; they came with their money; they came with their intimidation. I am unshakable.”
“I didn’t start today. I stand here before God and Jesus Christ. I have never defrauded anyone. Under me, votes must count; under me, the people’s mandate must be upheld…” she explained.
Oti’s refusal to announce the fraudulent results forced the electoral commission to suspend the collation of the governorship election results in the state.
Before the ruling PDP in the state allegedly attempted to rewrite the results in Obingwa LGA, the collation of results from 16 out of the 17 councils of the state had been concluded.
Following the allegation that the ruling PDP in the state attempted to induce her financially and through intimidation to announce the falsified results for Obingwa, which she resisted, INEC suspended the collation on Monday, March 20.
With the suspension of the collation, the battle shifted to Abuja where INEC was said to be reviewing the results.
Apparently frustrated by Oti’s refusal to accept the manipulated results from Obingwa LGA, the Abia State government called for her immediate sack.
In the false allegation by the state government, the commissioner for information and strategy, Eze Chikamnayo, in a statement issued on March 21, alleged that she has family ties with the LP candidate.
But Oti is from Ebonyi State and has no blood ties with Otti, who is from Abia State.
As the review of the results was ongoing in Abuja, the Labour Party candidate, Otti, had declared that no amount of manipulation would alter the party’s victory in the state.
The LP governorship candidate, in a press conference in Abuja, said the use of BVAS had exposed the fraud perpetrated in Obingwa LGA over the years by the ruling party in the state.
Otti said: “What has happened this time around is that the BVAS has demystified Obingwa Local Government in Abia State.
“You recalled that in 2015, when I contested for the first time, the PDP produced 82,000 votes from Obingwa and overturned the victory that Abia people gave us. This time around, they want to do the same thing but the BVAS proved that there are no more than 30,000 votes in Obingwa.
“16 local government areas have been collated out of 17 and the total votes that [the] Labour Party scored out of the 16 local government areas is about 172,000 and that of the PDP is less than 80,000. So, anyhow you flip and dice it with the numbers they have written, it still doesn’t have the support that would upturn our victory.”
However, the final collation of the governorship election results resumed on Wednesday, March 22, in Umuahia, Abia State.
During the resumption of the collation exercise, Oti vowed that she would protect the rights of the people and democratic values.
“I shall stand squarely and unapologetically on these principles. The people’s votes and mandate shall stand.
“The pastor and the mother in me will not permit me to do anything that will adversely affect the future of our children,” she vowed.
She later declared Otti as the winner of the election. Otti trounced his opponents like Mr Okey Ahiwe of the PDP and Enyinnaya Nwafor of the Young Peoples Party (YPP).
Otti scored 175,467, Ahiwe polled 88,529 while Nwafor got 28,972.
Few hours after the returning officer declared Otti as the winner, the governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu, made a U-turn after the state government’s earlier false accusation against the returning officer.
In what many described as a confirmation of the unblemished reputation of the returning officer, Ikpeazu congratulated Otti on his victory at the poll.
According to a statement released by the chief press secretary to the governor, Onyebuchi Ememanka, the governor also advised other contestants not to distract Otti with election petitions.
Since the declaration of the governorship results, the returning officer has received a lot of accolades for her exemplary integrity.
While an Abuja-based businessman, Steven Ukpabi, has reportedly given her an exotic Toyota Prado SUV for her exemplary courage and integrity, an appreciative Otti has praised her for standing firm and refusing to be compromised to work against the will of the people.
Speaking on Thursday when he received his certificate of return, the governor-elect said: “Let me put it on record, my thanks to the returning officer, Prof. Nnenna Oti, who by no means is related to me. I’ve read a few things, saying that she is my sister. I’ve never met her. From available records, she is from Ebonyi State.
“Be that as it may, we must put on record her forthrightness. She has shown that with people like her there’s a lot of hope for Nigeria,” Otti added.
On their part, the staff and students of FUTO also gave Oti a hero’s welcome back to the institution.
In a video that has since gone viral, the students and members of staff of the university were seen dancing and chanting songs with a banner with the inscription, “Welcome back, Nnenna Oti, Heroine of Nigeria Democracy.”
If all other officials that participated in the elections were like Oti, the 2023 general election would have been more credible.