By Innocent Anaba
With the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, national election, less than two weeks away, there are fears and apprehension, over the credibility of the exercise scheduled to take place on July 29, 2020.
While the Electoral Committee of the NBA, ECNBA, charged with conducting the elections, is still battling to conclude the verification of the 39,291 eligible voters captured on its final list, several unresolved issues are threatening to scuttle the election.
As at the time of filing this report, lawyers are still battling with their verifications, which has been very problematic. Aside from verification, Vanguard Law gathered that the electoral body is yet to brief the contenders for the office of President, namely Olumide Akpata, Deacon Dele Adesina, SAN, and Chief Babatunde Ajibade, SAN, on the tech company handling the elections and modalities for the polls.
Indications that all is not well, emerged when Mr. Ade Okeaya-Inneh, SAN, Mr. Ayuli Jemide, Vice-Chairman, NBA Section on Business Law, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, Co-Convener, Open Bar Initiative, and Ms. Barbara Omosun, authored a letter to ECNBA chairman, Mr. Taiwo Taiwo, SAN, calling for the postponement of the election, listing areas that have not been satisfactorily addressed to include missing names on voters list; voters list verification; voter eligibility; verification; and transparent process for voting.
According to them, “The background upon which these concerns have arisen are as follows; that the NBA elections in 2018 were fraught with electoral glitches that raised questions for many members of the profession and interested Nigerians as to its credibility, rightly or wrongly.
“The ECNBA under your leadership must consider it a sacred duty to ensure that the 2020 elections redeem the dent on the NBA’s image arising from the questions raised about the conduct of the 2018 elections.
“This letter raises issues that are not inimical to any candidate in the 2020 elections. In fact, it is a call for the ECNBA to ensure that the playing field is level and the NBA can on the back of the 2020 elections regain its pride of place as a credible voice for governance and rule of law in Nigeria; the disenfranchisement of any voter due to technical glitches or administrative errors on the part of ECNBA cannot be excused, and a technical disenfranchisement is still a disenfranchisement.”
On the transparent process for voting
On a transparent process for voting, they said, “It is fearsome that with less than three weeks to the elections, the voters and candidates do not know how the election technology works. The ECNBA should know that any credible elections include a public briefing of candidates and the electorate on the process for voting. Questions that are being asked by members include: Is there an automatic process for the collation of votes? Is that process transparent? What are the transparency features in the server? Which systems are in place to ensure that this server cannot be hacked?
“Any election that is not transparent is subject to manipulations and consequently subject to slanders which cannot be rebutted. This is the reason why votes are counted in public at polling booths during the Nigerian general elections. All voters are involved in the counting and go home knowing the results.
“We are aware that the ECNBA has a sacred duty which may have been marred by faulty starts. We think with all sense of responsibility and to the extent that the NBA constitution allows, the ECNBA may consider requesting the NBA for a short postponement of elections to enable it to discharge its duties creditably.
“Mr Chairman, we implore you and the ECNBA to take these issues very seriously to avoid a dent on the image of the ECNBA, the NBA, and all Nigerian lawyers. We are rested in the fact that you understand that if the NBA which is a known bastion of governance fails to conduct credible elections, it will be a travesty of untold proportions unfolding under your watch.”
On the issue of list
The challenge the NBA electoral body is facing also includes the authenticity of the list so generated.
On the same issue of the list, past Publicity Secretary of Abuja Branch of the association, Mr. Joseph Silas, wondered how Abuja Branch list which was 2,700 in the second list, jumped to 5,799 in the third and final list.
In his protest letter to ECNBA chairman, Silas said, “I am not only in doubt of this astronomical rise in a number of voters from Abuja; I am in shock that it can even be imagines. There is no way the Abuja branch combines, will produce such a number of qualified voters if the branch due payment was taken into consideration. I have been here and I know how our members feel about the lingering crisis which has made many stay away from all activities and even decided not to pay their branch Dues to the branch.
“Therefore, I am exercising my rights to challenge this list and I demand that all the statements of an account belonging to all factions of the Abuja branch used in determining the qualification of voters must be made public so as to justify this miracle in Abuja branch,” he added.
ECNBA problems also seem to be growing by the day, as the Dele Adesina, SAN Group has written the Chairman, expressing its concerns on some sundry issues ahead of the forthcoming NBA national elections.
In a letter dated July 9, 2020, by the chairman of the group, Mr. Lawal Pedro, SAN and co-signed by three others and copied to NBA President, Secretary-General, past NBA Presidents and members of NBA Board of Trustees, it expressed concern over voters list released based on duplication of names, inflation, and ejection of names into the voters’ list, manipulation of Lagos Branch list, use of stamp and seal as a basis of the compilation of the list, verification of voters list, accurate numbers of eligible voters.
Non-disclosure by ECNBA of service providers
The group also expressed concern over the non-disclosure by the ECNBA of service providers and the management of the electoral process. Besides, it further said that the candidates have not been actively involved in the process.
The group similarly stated its concern over the security of the NBA website and membership portals. In addition, the group noted that the NBA Constitution has been violated as it relates to the conduct of the election amongst other issues.
Meanwhile, Ajibade, SAN, on his part, said there were areas that needed to be looked into by the electoral committee, particularly the need for a meet with the candidates and to brief them on modalities for the polls.
He said he would write the electoral body and request for clarification. He, however, said it was not right to sensationalise some of the challenges ECNBA was going through, given the challenge the legal profession had gone through in recent times.
Lack of information
Multiple sources disclosed to Vanguard Law that there is a lack of information between ECNBA and the candidates. A source, working for one of the candidates, said “On the technology, they want to deploy, we don’t know the company they are using. They want to ambush us, we were expecting people to do the right things, but it’s obvious they are not ready.
“The date for the election is not cast on iron, it’s fixed for July 29, 2020, but from the look of things, it’s not feasible. They can go to National Executive Council, NEC, to seek approval to shift the election and hold the election when they know they are ready and not hold an election when they know they are not ready and ask us to go to court. Whereas at the court, before the matter is decided, the person they imposed on us would have served out his term. It has happened before.
“We were supposed to be invited on how the election will take place, modalities for the poll, but that has not happened and they want to hasten the process so that everything is forced on us and we will be helpless and be forced to go to court, that it not acceptable.
“They rely on the fact that nobody will talk. Well, we are talking. If they can fix the problem, the elections can go on, but if not, as it is becoming obvious, they should postpone the elections.”
Alleged plot to rig the process in favour of a preferred candidate.
In a separate statement, picking holes with the works of ECNBA, Prof Odinkalu, an alleged plot to rig the process in favour of a preferred candidate.
He said, “When ECNBA issued the provisional register at the end of May 2020, it contained 21,067 names. By the time it issued what it called a final list one month later in June, it had ballooned by 186.65 percent to 39,321.
“A close reading of the list shows it contains multiple repetitions, omissions, and even figments. People who did not pay the practicing fees are there while many who paid are not.
“Many branch chairmen have no records of people whom they have put forward as having paid branch dues. There are credibly attested reports of chairmen printing receipts of payment and backdating fictional payments. One particular voter on the list goes by the incredible name of “Opening Balance”. The joke is that this voter has a twin, who also a lawyer is called “Closing”. Their Dad, Mr. Balance, must be proud.
“Portal Integrity: In 2018, the voting portal for the NBA election was from a compromised provider. In 2020 it is not clear who the provider is. The portal appears to be managed by the NBA itself. It is not clear who has built it. There is neither transparency to its provenance nor verifiability or falsifiability to its operations and computations.
“As such, its integrity can neither be investigated nor guaranteed. It should be easy to engage external monitors for this purpose or engage the leading campaigns to designate back-end agents to monitor and verify the integrity of the operations. Neither the leadership of the NBA nor the ECNBA constituted by it is willing to grant either.”
ECNBA appeared to have bowed to pressure and extended the date for verification to July 20, 2020, though many other concerns are yet to be addressed.
Meanwhile, efforts to reach ECNBA chairman for comments did not yield fruit as calls to his phone were not answered and an SMS sent to his phone was not replied.