By Femi Adesina
There’s a striking similitude between what happened in the gubernatorial election in Ekiti State in 2009, and Abia State in 2023. And two women were at the center of it all, talking Christianity and conscience. But the denouement of the events were in sharp contrast.
Engineer Segun Oni of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Dr Kayode Fayemi of the Action Congress (AC) were squaring up to become Governor in a keenly contested race. Only one local government area, Ido Osi, would determine the victor.
Fayemi was leading with over 10,000 votes, when suddenly the PDP manufactured about 16,000 from Ido Osi. Holy Moses! People screamed blue murder. Daylight robbery. But PDP claimed it was where their candidate hailed from, so the votes were genuine.
Then entered Madam Ayoka Adebayo, the 74-year-old Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC). Despite threats, coercion, intimidation and other sleight of hand, she said a resounding no. She stood her ground, and told the country:
“My conscience as a Christian will not allow me to further participate in this process.”
She reportedly first resigned, but was summoned to Abuja to meet the then Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Maurice Iwu. Only God knows what went down, but Madam Ayoka’s Christian conscience could no longer stand, and she returned to Ado Ekiti to announce Oni of PDP as winner of the election. She had admitted the rogue figures from Ido Osi local government area, and it took a legal battle for Fayemi of AC to regain his purloined mandate months later.
Now see what happened in Abia State at last month’s gubernatorial election. Alex Otti of Labour Party was comfortably leading Okey Ahiwe of the PDP, when final results came from Obingwa local government area. The figures brought were so outrageous that Otti of Labour Party would have been easily knocked off his perch. Jumping Jehoshaphat! Robbery at dawn.
The people said no. Labour Party cried foul. But the decision was with the REC, Prof Nnenna Oti (not a relation of the Labour Party’s candidate. She hails from Ebonyi State).
Prof Oti is Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), drafted into the election business like her counterparts round the country. What would she do? Another Christian conscience about to be torpedoed? All eyes were on Abia State and her REC. Collation was suspended, and the results were taken to Abuja for review by National office of INEC.
But Prof Oti had made her position clear in the unfolding saga. She said: “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.” Impressive. Inspiring.
Hours turned to days, as INEC in Abuja scrutinized the figures from Obingwa with a magnifying glass. At the end, rogue votes were weeded out, and genuine ones admitted. And Prof Oti declared Otti as winner. He scored 175, 467 votes, compared to 88,529 scored by Ahiwe of the PDP. And to think that truth would have been murdered on the altar of those fake votes from Obingwa. And the supposed winner and his party would have gone to church a week later for thanksgiving. Simply astounding.
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people, says the Good Book. What if Abia didn’t have a REC of sterling conviction like Prof Oti? An impostor would have been parading as Governor-elect in the State now.
During a hero’s welcome she received at FUTO on return home, Prof Oti said: “I have never in my life participated in an 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 remained 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.”
This position by the erudite professor, a First Class graduate of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, reminds me of the challenge the biblical Samuel gave to the people of Israel, as he anointed a king to rule over them: “Witness against me before the Lord, and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken; or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? Or of whom have I taken a ransom to blind my eyes? And I will restore it to you” (1 Samuel 12:3). How I wish more Nigerian public office holders can confidently say this.
President Buhari loves people like Prof Oti. That was how he found integrity in Prof Dora Akunyili (May God rest her soul), and he brought her into national limelight through the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) that he headed then. Many other people has he also appointed into positions, simply because they showed capacity, coupled with integrity. That is what he wants for our country.
Prof Oti has been applauded and appreciated for her courage, fairness and integrity. But that is just the beginning. Something tells me that she will still further be garlanded. May God give us more of her type. Amen and amen.
Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari