When the history of the 2023 elections in Nigeria is chronicled, Professor Nnenna Oti will no doubt get a copious, favourable chapter for her record of integrity as the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) Returning Officer for Abia State Presidential, Governorship , Federal and State Assembly Elections.
‘Oti, from Ebonyi state and no relation of Dr. Alex Otti, the Abia state governor-elect; a professor of soil science and current vice chancellor of the Federal University of Technology Owerri, according to media report was under intense pressure from powerful forces that were not mentioned to rig the Abia governorship election in favour of the PDP but she resisted.
The background to this was that the Labour Party governorship candidate, Dr. Alex Otti was coasting home to victory, but the power that be in the state allegedly wanted the former Chief of Staff to Governor Okezia Ikpeazu of Abia, Okey Ahiwe, who was the People’s Democratic Party candidate to win. From the declared results, Otti and the LP had won 10 Local governments, and PDP APC two, with only two local governments left – Obingwa and Ososioma.
With the prospect of defeat before them, thugs invade the council collation centres and held the electoral officials hostage, insisting on imposing a bogus figure that did not come from the polls.The plan was to inflate the figures coming from Obiagwu Local Government, the LG where the governor comes from to upturn Alex Otti’s gains.
In this vortex, Nnenna Oti refused to accede to the pressure. She cried out to the public, explaining the situation, which forced INEC headquarters to order suspension of collation in the controversial Obiagwu Local Government.
On Monday, March 20,2023, while the collation of results was ongoing in Abia and Enugu, INEC spokesman, Festus Okoye announced the suspension of the process in the two South-East states with the strong presence of the Labour Party, and directed the poll materials, including the BVAS to be brought to Abuja for review.
The final collation of governorship election results later resumed on Wednesday, March 22,2023 in Umuahia, the Abia State over 48 hours after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) suspended the exercise. The Administrative Secretary of the electoral commission in the state, Clement Oha berated political parties for blackmailing the commission.
Prof. Nnenna Oti said she will do the right thing, protect the will of the people and protect democratic values, as a pastor, mother and Nigerian.
“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,” said Nnannaya-Oti, who is the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri.
Alex Otti of the Labour Party (LP), Ikechi Emenike of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Okey Ahiwe of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Enyinnaya Nwafor of the Young Peoples Party (YPP) were top contenders in the race to succeed the incumbent governor and PDP G5 member, Okezie Ikpeazu, whose two terms of eight years end on May 29, 2023.
The returning officer later declared Otti as the winner of the election. Otti trounced his opponents like Okey Ahiwe of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Enyinnaya Nwafor of the Young Peoples Party (YPP).
Otti scored 175,467, Ahiwe polled 88,529 while Nwafor got 28,972. The LP candidate also won 10 of the 17 local government areas in the state, PDP got six while the YPP got one.
Okoye said the suspension became necessary, as Obiagwu collation centre was invaded by thugs on Sunday 19th March 2023 and our officials were held hostage in relation to the collation of results from the Local Government Area.
“Consequently, the Commission hereby suspends the collation of results in Obingwa Local Government Area of Abia State and the two outstanding Local Government Areas of Enugu State which are yet to be collated. A review will be undertaken immediately before the process is concluded.”
Before the Obingwa drama began, LP candidate, Otti, had raised alarm in a television broadcast the attempts were on to subvert the outcome of the poll. Meanwhile, LP’s National Chairman, Julius Abure, in a statement, on March 19 call confirmed that there was an ongoing plot to upturn the results of the governorship elections in Abia and Enugu but the party will resist it because “enough is enough”.
Similarly, the LP presidential candidate, Peter Obi, in a statement, frowned at the “continued delay” in the release of the governorship results of Abia and Enugu states and charged INEC to “accelerate action”.
Professor Abdullahi Sarajo, a political sociologist told this medium that ” Prof. Oti is the hero of the 2023 Nigerian election. Without her stand , Alex Otti would have lost the election he won once again.”
Her courage and integrity has put her in the club of Mike Igini of INEC, former INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom”, says Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon, a political scientist.
Last year, same professor had been embroiled in a controversy over the equally contentious award of professorship to Isa Pantami, the minister for Communications and Digital Economy at the Federal University of Technology Owerri.
Whatever may have been her sin with respect to Pantami, the award may have been forgotten.
A pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church, the Afikpo born Otti is not just a run of the mill scholar, she is said to be one of the best in the country in her field.
But PRNigeria, a military consultant firm, has revealed that contrary to widespread belief in the mainstream and social media, professor Oti did not directly accuse INEC chairman of subverting wishes of Abia people.
Recall that in the heat of the Abia imbroglio: a post was widely circulated on social media that Professor Nnenna Oti, the Returning Officer for the Abia state governorship election allegedly accused the Chairman of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu of going against the wishes of the people of Abia.
According to PRNigeria “The report was also published on a Twitter handle: @RuleofLawNG, Facebook, and Perisco Penga with the headline: “How FUTO VC allegedly accused INEC Chairman of attempt to subvert wishes of Ndi Abia.”
“The report states that ‘to the shock and surprise of everyone in the hall, Professor Oti said that the INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu, personally called her and gave her directives on guidelines to follow in ensuring that Abia governorship election results were collated based on some criteria but that on her own she has decided that the will of Abia voters would not be subverted under her watch. At that point, she asked the Administrative Secretary to read the message she said that came from the INEC headquarters Abuja.”
According to the fact check platform, “A PRNigeria fact-check discovered a video where Professor Oti spoke extensively on the issues and asked the INEC Administrative Secretary to read out a message that came from the INEC headquarters in Abuja.
“PRNigeria further examined the clip which was at a briefing covered by Channels TV and other media platforms but there was nowhere in the clip that Prof. Oti accused the INEC Chairman of moving to subvert the wishes of Abia electorate.
“In the video Professor Oti instead stated thus: “the position of INEC Abuja on the case was already in the public view by a press release and a press interview by Mr. Festus Okoye.”
“She later went on to add that, “The INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, had called me and briefed me on the proper way to proceed. I shall therefore, abide by all INEC guidelines.”
“Meanwhile the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi responded in a statement that the only communication sent to the state Returning Officer was the commission’s directive suspending further collation of results.”
“The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu never called the Returning Officer to give her a directive. Rather, the Returning Officer wanted the official communication on the Commission’s decision to suspend the collation of results in Abia State.”
Professor (Mrs.) Nnenna Nnannaya Oti is from Afikpo, Ebonyi State. A seasoned, versatile and accomplished scholar, Nnenna is a Professor of Soil Science and Environmental Conservation, who was before her appointment as vice chancellor in 2014 was the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO).
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Oti made a First Class Honours Degree in Soil Science, and has an M.Sc in Soil Microbiology/Biochemistry from the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), before proceeding to the Katholieke Universitiet Leuven, Belgium, where she bagged a PGD (Distinction) in Irrigation Engineering. In 2002, Nnenna broke an unusual record when she won the NUC – Best PhD in Nigeria Award.
She transferred her services from UNN to FUTO 30 years ago. Her service in FUTO includes 3 cycles as the Head of Department of Soil Science and Technology; 4 years as Dean of Post Graduate School and Chairman, Committee of Deans. Her duties have also included membership of University Senate, joint Council/Senate Committees, Faculty and Departmental Boards and Chairmanship of several Committees.
A Fellow of the Soil Science Society of Nigeria, Prof. Nnenna Oti, is a Chartered Soil Scientist, Member Agricultural Society of Nigeria, Member Soil Science Society of America, Member Crop Science Society of America and Member Agronomy Society of America and a host of others.
With over 70 peer-reviewed national and international publications, Nnenna has also delivered over 100 invited papers at local, national and international platforms on Gender Issues, Youth Empowerment, National Development, Good Governance and Leadership. This responsible union advocate is driven by her passion to create a just and fair world for all.