By Dayo Benson & Abdulwahab Abdulah
The first Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, electronic voting national election has come and gone, but the dust it raised has not settled. The election which took place last Saturday July 30 and Sunday , July 31, saw lawyers who paid their practising fees and branch dues as at March 31, 2016, voting electronically from any location they were, both within and outside the country.
Interestingly, the election was witnessed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the National Democratic Institute and Microsoft Corporation . However, other professional bodies such as estate valuers and surveyors as well as accountants have been electing their officers through the same process.
The election saw the emergence of Mr AbubakarBalarabe Mahmoud, SAN as the President polling 3055 votes to beat his opponent, Mr Joe KyariGadzama, SAN, who got 2384 votes. Other elected officers were Mr. Caleb Gal Dajan, First Vice President; Mr. Monday Ubani, Second Vice President and Mr. Benedict Oji, Third Vice President, all of whom were returned unopposed.
Mr. IsiakaOlagunju polled 2721 votes to beat Mr. Desmond Yamah who polled 2510 votes, while the post of First Assistant Secretary went to Mr. Okey Leo Ohagba who received 2402 votes to beat his closet rival, Mr. OlukunleEdun who polled 1653 votes. Mr. Enebi Mohammed Salihupolled 1067 votes to place third.
Other winners are Ugbuji Cecilia Ngede, Second Assistant Secretary; Ado Aisha Abdullahi, Treasurer; AdesinaAdegbite, Welfare Secretary; NgoziUdodi, Financial Secretary; Dorcas Ngwu, Assistant Financial Secretary; ChuwuemekaMbamala, Assistant Publicity Secretary, and OyeyemiRafiuBalogun, Legal Adviser. But a gale of reactions has continued to follow the conduct of the exercise, especially from both camps. Lawyers from both sides have traded allegations of lack of transparency and rigging.
A key supporter of Gadzama, Mr. T. T. Hyundu, in his reaction wrote: “It has been discovered that the NBA Exco fraudulently created a portal for A. B. Mahmoud where the result is collated separately from the original portal.”
Hyundu who is also the Assistant Secretary of Arewa Lawyers Forum (ALF) said: “Furthermore, there are additional names added to the branches e. g. 200 names were added to Abuja branch just to enable them have their way. I now understand the basis of our opponents (sic) boastfulness. This is indeed “promoting the rule of law.”
But the Mahmoud camp quickly fired back. Mr. Jibrin Sam Okutepa, SAN said: “Mr. Hyundu I don’t think giving (sic) your propensity to make wild and unsubstantiated allegations, I will be bothered about what you post. But having invited me and the fact that I am a stake holder in this project of the Bar I am forced to react thus:
“That your allegation of manipulation of voters Register with over 200 members to favour one candidate against your preferred candidate must be proved and you need to supply sufficient particulars. “Your assertion that NBA president allowed presidential candidates and indeed other candidates to have experts represent them at the secretariat which I confirmed to be correct is in sharp contrast with the allegation in litigations sponsored by your preferred candidate that the president did allow experts to represent candidates.
“For me giving (sic) the level of your propensity to make allegations and requesting your audience to investigate, I wouldn’t be carried away to attach any credibility to this one as the allegations are coming from a person whose interest in this election is not strictly overall interest of the Bar but personal interest. For me you are a senior member of the Bar of post call of 26 years that needs to be sure of what you said about the election.”
In a protest letter delivered by the J-K Gadzama Campaign Organisation to the Electoral Committee Chairman, Mr. Kenneth Mozia, SAN, the group recalled its earlier letters on the election, “expressing grave and growing concerns about the NBA National elections. We are constrained to write again in view of the fact that some of these concerns were either completely ignored or inadequately addressed.
“We refer specifically to our previous letters of the 24th June, 15th July and 20th July 2016. All of these letters and their various attachments were received by the Nigerian Bar Association as shown by their endorsements. Please find copies of these letters attached for ease of reference.
“he drew attention of the body to some very important concerns, noting that agents of Gadzama were in the NBA National Secretariat ‘’for over 40 hours’’, but were only able to monitor nothing, except the names of those voting and the branches from which they voted. “We do not think this is meaningful at all.”
The campaign organisation further said: “The whole point of a voting process is the outcome. It is of utmost importance therefore that the process leading to that outcome is seen by all to be clear and credible. A situation where our agents cannot see the results accruing to candidates as they come is simply wrong. Secret collation has never been healthy for any true democratic process. Yet secret collation is apparently what happened.”
Another concern of the group was that it was only around midnight of the voting day that their Agents were informed for the very first time of the total number of accredited voters. “This is in spite of the fact that the accreditation had been on for several days–yet no information was given until last night. And even then the Chairman, we understand read out the following figures to the team of Agents and ECNBA members present:
- Total number of lawyers eligible to vote. 24,305
- Total number of eligible lawyers who updated their records 11,646
- Total number of updated lawyers accredited to vote.6,932
“We wish to place on record that regardless of whatever arguments about protecting the security of the Electoral body or preventing political manoeuvring; it is not right that results are collated secretly, and agents prevented from seeing the scores of their candidates as votes are returned. This has defeated the very essence of having an agent to monitor the process.”
It also bemoaned “what appears to be wholesale disenfranchisement of branches. For instance, we gather that in Badagry and Ile-Ife Branches, a large number of updated lawyers either did not receive any email with accreditation link or the link received did not function at all and all complaints went unheeded and ultimately unresolved. We attach relevant correspondence from some affected branches.
“ We hope that you will ensure that the integrity of the entire process is not compromised as a result of the failure to resolve issues around accreditation of updated lawyers.” The campaign outfit then demanded “that the system be opened up to enable the agents of all candidates in this election (including ours) to view and monitor the votes scored by each of the candidates as they come in since this is the final collation.”
The Gadzama’s campaign team lamented that difficulties were experienced by eligible voters in the process of updating their profiles and accreditation to vote. It listed those who had issues with the electoral process to include Chief AdegboyegaAwomolo, SAN; Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN; Mrs. FunkeAdekoya, SAN and Mr. Femi Falana SAN.
In its reactions, spokesman for Mahmud’s campaign team, Mr Murray AbdulRasheed in a telephone interview debunked all the allegations, stating that all the processes adopted by the electoral body were open and transparent to both parties. Before the election, according to Abdurasheed, the electoral committee demonstrated the process of the e-voting to the agents of both candidates who expressed satisfactions about the novel idea.
“From day one, to scuttle the process, supporters of Mr Gadzama, SAN, went to court to challenge the process, through their surrogate, which did not work. Also, they addressed a press conference calling for the postponement of the election. While they were calling for the postponement, they were campaigning tenaciously on social media for their candidate.
“On Saturday when the voting commenced they raised an allegation that the electoral committee was trying to aid Mahmoud, but later in the evening they applauded the election and they went in A the social media to announce that their principal had won the election. So, why are they crying wolf where there is none. Later again, when they realised the situation was not favourable to them they went back accusing the electoral body of bias.
“This made the body to address them that it will never do anything to discredit the process. Their strategy from day one was to scandalise the process and make it appear that it is fraught with inadequacies and lack due process. They should try to be good losers rather than scandalising the process. We went to the 36 states of the federation to campaign and the Nigerian lawyers expressed their willingness to vote AbubakarBalarabe Mahmoud, SAN as their next president.