BY AUGUSTINE AVWODE
Last Wednesday’s declaration of Alex Otti, the Labour Party’s governorship candidate in Abia State as winner of the governorship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission was the climax of a dogged and persistent search by the acclaimed banker and administrator to serve his people. It had taken him more than eight years in the trenches. Even at that, it did not come on a platter.
The Saturday, March 18, election in the state invariably became the talk of town following allegations of strong arm tactic by the powers that be to subvert and deny the people of the state a clear mandate given to the LP candidate. The final declaration of the result and return of Otti as elected governor marked the end of four days of vote collation laced with intrigues, suspense and controversies.
The INEC’s State Returning Officer for the Abia governorship election, Professor Nnenna Oti, who is the Vice-chancellor of the Federal University of Technology Owerri, pronounced Otti the Abia governor- elect. In the final tally, she said that the LP governorship flag bearer scored 175, 467 votes to coast home to victory, dusting to the second position with an intimidating margin the candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, Okey Ahiwe, who received 88,529 votes.
The candidate of Young People’s Party, Enyinnaya Nwafor, came a distant third with 28,972 votes while the All Progressives Congress candidate, Ikechi Emenike, polled a paltry 24,091 votes to place fourth. After the final declaration of the result, 11 party agents that were present signed and collected the result sheet.
However the PDP state collation agent stayed away from participating in the resumed collation apparently in protest of the way Obingwa local government area issue was resolved in favour of LP. The final declaration of the 2023 Abia governorship poll was held following the controversy generated by the result from Obingwa local government area. The LP had alleged that PDP, being the ruling party, was trying to impose on INEC outrageous vote scores outside the number recorded by the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System. By then, results from 16 of the 17 Abia local governments had been collated and declared at the state collation centre located within the INEC State Office, Ogurube Layout, Umuahia, with the LP candidate leading with an unassailable margin.
To resolve the impasse, the national headquarters of INEC in Abuja weighed in and directed the State Returning Officer to suspend collation of Obingwa votes and promised to send a team to Abia to review the case. However, the INEC leadership in Abuja changed its mind and halted the earlier plan to send an investigative team to Abia on Tuesday. Instead, the electoral umpire opted to carry out the Obingwa vote review at Abuja, citing the tense situation in Abia.
At the resumed collation on Wednesday, the Administrative Secretary of Abia INEC, Clement Oha, said that BVAS and Form EC8 were relied upon to resolve the Obingwa logjam at Abuja. Abia was really tensed up as the contending parties engaged in allegations of poll rigging with LP supporters stoking apprehension by alleging that INEC was being pressured to subvert the poll results. Abia was practically sitting on a tinderbox as hundreds of youths from the opposing LP and PDP gathered close to INEC headquarters on a daily basis singing and taunting the opposing party as they waited for the final result. For Otti, it was a triumph of resilience and strategic political move after two previous failed attempts to become the governor of Abia.
“OTTI, BY HIS LAST WEEK SUCCESS, HAS PROVEN THE VIRTUE OF PERSISTENCE AND KEEPING ONE’S EYES CONSTANTLY ON THE BALL. HOWEVER, EVERY SUCCESS COMES WITH ITS PECULIAR CHALLENGES AND IN THIS PARTICULAR CASE; OTTI HAS HIS JOB CLEARLY CUT OUT FOR HIM”
The former bank chief started his quest for the governorship seat in 2015 when as the governorship candidate, he led the All Progressives Grand Alliance to a stunning outing, winning 11 state assembly seats out of 24. Otti and his supporters still hold to the belief that he came short of winning the governorship seat in 2015 because “the mandate was stolen” and in 2019 his second effort in the governorship race also fell through. In the course of searching for a vantage position to take a leap into Abia State Government House, Otti has since 2015 changed party membership four times.
The Abia governor-elect was among the governorship aspirants on the platform of APC before he withdrew, dumped the party and defected to LP on May 28, 2022. The following month he became the governorship flag bearer for his new party in the state and it became a jolly ride on the wave of the political tsunami called “Obidients” that is loyal to Peter Obi. Otti, a first-class economist, resigned his job as the Managing Director of the then Diamond Bank to seek an opportunity to lead the charge of redefining Abia developmental trajectory in 2015.
Even though he was adjudged to have won that governorship 2015 election by a wide margin, INEC announced the incumbent, Okezie Ikpeazu, then candidate of the ruling PDP in the state as the winner. Otti challenged the declaration in the court and the matter became a ding dong affair until he lost at the Supreme Court, when the learned judges declared that the card reader was not backed by law. Smarting from the controversial loss of the 2015 election, Otti again contested the 2019 governorship election whereby the same situation that happened in 2015 repeated itself.
Otti, by his last week success, has proven the virtue of persistence and keeping one’s eyes constantly on the ball. However, every success comes with its peculiar challenges and in this particular case, Otti has his job clearly cut out for him.
Jones Ike, a former chairman of Arochukwu Local Government Area and a member of Alex Otti Campaign Council, succinctly espoused the challenges that Otti would have to grapple with post Governor Okezie Ikpeazu era come May 29.
He recently claimed that “In the South East region, Abia State is adjudged as having the worst indices of development as indicated by figures from the Federal Bureau of Statistics. For instance, while the National Unemployment Rate is 33% Abia’s own is 51%, its poverty rate is 31%. The state has the worst network of roads in the South East.
Aba, its main commercial city and the honey pot of the state has the worst network of roads amongst all the cities in Nigeria. “There is no functional public water supply system anywher e in the state, just as there is no airport.
Most of its local Government Headquarters are in varying forms of dilapidation, its only tertiary health institution, the Abia State University Teaching Hospital, has lost its accreditation, just the same way, the Abia Polytechnic lost theirs. Most of its workers and pensioners are being owed arrears of salaries.
The list indicating its decline could go on and on,” he claimed in an essay he titled ‘Alex Otti and the Abia State Challenge’ Ike only stated the obvious as every discerning observer has for long attributed the state of affairs in Abia to the bad governance structure that exists in the state. These underdevelopment indices that are very well known to many Nigerians constitute the Abia challenge now staring the Governor-elect in the face. Otti has an enormous task at hand.
From establishing a result oriented governance structure in the state, to ensuring the security of lives and property, engaging the gear of industrialisation in the state, restoring governance at the local government level, developing the health system and building modern infrastructure and many more.
From far away South West, the Lagos State LP flag bearer, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, has while congratulating Otti, challenged him not to waste any time in rolling up his sleeves to rescue the state from the shackles of underdevelopment and poor standard of living, which has been a big albatross for the people over the years.
Speaking through his media aide, Judith Akatugba last Thursday, Rhodes-Vivour said he had no doubt in his mind that the people of Abia State have made the best choice and assured them that they will never regret pitching their tent with the Labour Party’s candidate.
“I am confident that Alex Otti will not waste time to prove to Nigerians through Abia State that indeed our great party, the Labour Party, is an idea whose time has come,” Rhodes-Vivour said. He added that “I believe he will approach governance from the people-first perspectives, which the LP repre sents. “The people of Abia State have spoken and we have heard them loud and clear. They are obviously tired of leaders whose lives get better every day while the people suffer under-development amidst poverty.
They have chosen to end the long years of deceit and corruption which have characterised governance in the state, despite the huge resources at the beck and call of Abia State. We appreciate their trust in the Labour Party and we assure them they will never regret this. “To my brother, the governor-elect, this is the time to get to work without delay. The job starts now and not until after the inauguration.
There is a need to prove to other states and Nigerians as a whole that the Labour Party is in a class of its own, and through you, we (will) strengthen the movement of retiring those who have hoodwinked many Nigerians into believing that they are the best the nation can produce. “Once again, I congratulate you and wish you a development-filled administration in Abia state,” Rhodes-Vivour said. Of course, as the only state so far won by the LP that alone imposes on Otti an obligation to do everything possible to re-write the history of the state that has been ruled since 1999 by the PDP.
The need to make a difference should naturally push him to excel. Already, Otti has declared that he would use the Peter Obi model in Anambra State when he was governor to cut cost of governance in Abia Otti stated this while speaking on national television on Thursday, a day after he was declared the winner of the election. He said: “My presidential candidate did very well in Anambra State because he reined in the cost of governance. “And it’s the same kind of model that we are going to run in Abia. There are so many jobs you can create in the public sector.”
Otti declared that appointing 12,000 personal assistants and special assistants who “basically don’t have an office” creates a problem for oneself.
SUPPORT FROM UNLIKELY QUARTERS
Meanwhile, support for Otti within the state political circle has come from the most unlikely quarters. The State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, very unexpectedly was among the very first to throw his weight behind his victory. The incumbent, in a statement shortly after INEC declared Otti as the winner of the poll, said the Labour Party candidate fought a long battle over a very long period of time and should be commended for his staying power and resilience.
A chieftain of the PDP, Governor Ikpeazu urged all Otti’s opponents including his party’s candidate, Okey Ahiwe, said to be his godson, not to distract the incoming governor with court cases. Ikpeazu, in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Onyebuchi Ememanka, said the governorelect must see his victory as a higher call to service to the people of Abia State.