By Innocent Anaba
The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has after series of postponements, finally conducted its bi-annual general elections within two months.
But allegations of under-the-table dealings, rigging, harvesting of voters’ details using some funny email domains, massive vote buying, vote capture, deliberate shutting out of lawyers from registration and voting , have trailed the exercise.
Mr Paul Usoro, SAN, emerged President in the elections, polling 4,509.
He defeated Chief Arthur Obi Okafor, SAN, who polled 4,423 and Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN, who got 3,313 votes.
Others who emerged include 1st Vice- President, Stanley Chidozie; 2nd Vice-President, Dada Foluke Dada; 3rd Vice-President, Igba Theophilus Terhile; Secretary-General, Jonathan Gunu Taidi; 1st Assistant Sec, Ewenode
Onoriode; Financial Secretary, Anosike Emeka; Assistant Financial Sec, Ini Irene Pepple; Treasurer, Olagbegi Banke; Welfare Secretary, Joshua Usman; Publicity Secretary, Kunle Edu and Legal Adviser, Faroubi Olayinka. It was gathered that a total of 12,421 lawyers participated in the e-voting process.
Meanwhile, outgoing president of the association, Mr AbubakarMahmoud, SAN, has described the election as the fairest held so far in the history of the association.
But Chief Okafor and Prof Ojukwu disagreed, faulted the exercise and rejected the result.
Ojukwu, while rejecting the outcome of the exercise, said that the contested was against corruption, massive vote- buying, vote capture, rigging and a skewed process, adding: “Though a winner has emerged from this present contest, remember that we contested against corruption, massive vote-buying, vote capture, rigging and a skewed process. These reasons make a challenge of the result important but because of my long and selfless commitment to regenerating the Bar, and the need not to create tension in our legal profession, I shall not contest it.”
He, however, charged his supporters not to “surrender to a dirty system and fall of our profession. Continue to do your best to help clean it up and set a new bar that would be relevant to all.”
On his part, Obi Okafor, in a petition to NBA President, Mahmoud, SAN, said: “I participated in the aforesaid election to conclusion. It is in my candid view that the election was rigged by which I was denied victory. In the course of the election, my team made complaints of obvious malpractices including harvesting of voters’ details using some funny email domains; these complaints were not attended to.
“I do hereby reject the result of the elections. Whilst considering various options open to me, I call for a participatory post-election audit of both the verification process and voting.”
He also thanked his supporters, saying: “I must confess that I am deeply humbled to have worked with a high calibre of both senior and young lawyers who are totally committed to the ideals of building an all-inclusive Bar.
“Throughout the electoral process, you exhibited a high level of discipline, decency, consistency, integrity and were neither swayed by money nor other sentiments.”
Aside the two presidential candidates, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, former Council Chairman of National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, described the election as a “racket and a messed up one at that.”
He said: “It is unfortunate colleagues failed to heed the clear facts and evidence of a compromised process in #NBADecides2018.
“The contestants and their supporters mostly behaved desperate, conferring legitimacy on a process that manifestly lacked it from the get go.
“Each campaign appeared to behave in such a way as to suggest they were best placed to benefit from a system configured for pre- determined outcomes.
This was not an election. It was not even a selection. It was a racket and a messed up one at that. Now, they will ask the NBA NEC to make this messed up racket their own and ratify it at the pre-conference NEC. That will be interesting.
“This racket is a disgrace. The process was compromised and did not even pretend about it. The outcome lacks legitimacy and the declared winner has procured a compromised non-mandate. Those who hope or expect that there will be an audit should come off that kind of hallucination – you don’t ask a burglar to investigate the burglary.
“The outgoing Bar leadership is incredibly tarnished by its role in this messy racket. Yet, we are unlikely to learn. There are no plaudits to hand out, no congratulations to anyone and no one comes out of this a winner.”
Also, Chief Guy Ikokwu, a lawyer, noted that the number of lawyers disenfranchised was far greater than the merging of votes between the contestants.
He called for the cancellation of the exercise, saying: “We all know and realise that computer systems have always been faulted or manipulated if they are left unchecked.
The usual saying in reference to computers is: ‘Garbage in, Garbage out.’
“The election result of the Premier Branch of Lagos with thousands of accredited lawyers have not been subjected to any dispute in the last 10 years, because of our system of accreditation, verification and voting at the same venue, same date, and same hours with representatives of the contestants and elected experienced supervisors of the exercise.
“The system is such that eligible legal voters are not disenfranchised by any system unless the lawyer does not want to vote or is not available in person.
“The last NBA election two years ago was also fraught with e-voting problems which led to a pending High Court litigation.
This current election exercise was also fraught with problems which had not been resolved even as at the date of the voting exercise which is a real shame for the legal profession in Nigeria.
“I saw the dangers ahead in this exercise and had to post a warning that the Bar must utilise a system that is full proof no matter who the contestants are. The current failed system has to be challenged effectively so that we can have a credible system which combines electronic and manual accreditation of voting no matter whose ox is gored.
“The number of lawyers disenfranchised is far greater than the merging of votes between the contestants. It must be cancelled for a proper election machinery to be set up and salvage the reputation of Nigerian lawyers. I am not bothered about who wins but about the probity of the system, its transparency and lack of manipulation and inordinate disenfranchisement.”
Prof. Achara, also a lawyer, on his part, said: “I was alarmed that it was a young lady, “Chinwendu”, but who my TrueCaller app identified as “Judith Efobi” that called at 1:12pm for one of the candidates to tell me that my code had been sent “15 minutes ago” and that I could send it over for her to help me with the process. When I said I was sufficiently ICT savvy to take it from there if my voting code has at last been sent, she courteously requested me to vote for one of the candidates. The conversation ended when I responded that not only was I supporting a particular candidate, but that I also seconded his nomination.
“But the drama above is not the worry here. My concern is how she knew when (after hours of my repeated applications for it) my passcode was eventually sent to me, it actually arrived my email address at 12:45 hours of the last day of the election.
“Unless other candidates have similar access to such allotment and release information, this is a major cause for a post-election audit for future NBA polls, even after our candidate’s expected victory.”
There were branches that complained that their codes were used to vote without them getting the required codes to their e-mail and phone numbers.
For instance, Ahoada Branch of the association, in a petition to the President of the association and Electoral Committee, by its chairman, Mr Isaac Ogbobula, alleged that some of its members completed their registration with correct details, but for some unexplained reasons, their details were used by some persons to vote.
Some of them include, Correct details: Name: OGBOBULA Isaac Abbot, Branch: Ahoada, No. on the Branch List: 54 Batch B, Verified Reference No. CIbuzpE. Email, Phone:
- Fake details:
email@example.com 08033092131; Correct details:
Name: NWOKAEZE Lauretta U., Branch: Ahoada, No. on the Branch List: 47 Batch B, Verified Reference No. jmgzNaQ, Email:
firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: 08030502450. Fake details:
email@example.com, 08030503 826; Correct details:
Name: OKPARA Uchevenotu Ezor, Branch: Ahoada, No. on the Branch List: 55 Batch B, Verified Reference No., Email: firstname.lastname@example.org,
Phone: 07030899144: Fake details: email@example.com, 07038095632 and Correct details: Name: AGIBIA Emmanuel U.F., Branch: Ahoada, No. on the Branch List: 43 Batch B, Verified Reference No. NBA EV04573, Email:
firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: 08063574455: Fake details: email@example.com,08063794732 among many others.
On what happened, a branch executive, who followed the whole voting process, explained “Following concerns raised against Chams Plc, a meeting of critical stakeholders, was held where another tech firm, Crenet Tech Lab Limited was brought on board to do the verification, while Chams got the task of accreditation and voting. Crenet on its part device a programme that could have been rig proof but many lawyers could not access the portal, as it had challenges, following which it adopted another programme, which was similar to what Cham had proposed and we had to go along with it.
“Crenet did verification of voters and we gathered that over 16,000 lawyers did verification, this was from about the 30,000 sent by branches as lawyers who had fulfilled all necessary requirements to take part in the election.
“Even though over 16,000 did the actual verification and set to vote, only about 12,421 could do the actual voting on account of challenges faced in voting. Even at the verification level, there were complaints that some people were able to verify so many lawyers using one email address, which was clearly against the guideline as it was supposed to be one personal email account to an individual lawyer for the Verification, registration and voting. “About 3,000 lawyers who had done verification could not vote due challenges of accreditation and also the closing date. Some people were on their systems trying to vote after several days until the voting portal closed on the last voting date.”
Meanwhile, when confronted with the controversies trailing the elections, Chairman of the electoral committee, Prof. Auwalu Yadud, said: “We have conducted a free and fair election and individuals can have their opinion about it.”
Also, when Usoro was confronted with the allegations, he asked if it were any of the two candidates that had won, whether the person would have called for the cancellation of the exercise or faulted the process.
He asked his co-contestants to join hands with him to build the association, even as he promised to fulfil his electioneering promises of reforming and moving the association to the next level.
It was also not all condemnation for the election, as some lawyers hailed the emergence of Usoro. Adebayo Ojo said: “With the victory of Usoro, SAN, the real Bar is here with the return of the glorious era of Alao Aka-Basorun, Wole Olanipekun, Aketi and JB Daudu.”
Tony Igbinoba, on his part said: “Finally, we have elected a voice for both the Bar and the general public. That is Usoro, SAN, NBA President-elect.”
Ettu Fejiro said: “Despite the campaign of calumny against his person and unfounded allegations of him trying to manipulate the election process, Paul Usoro, SAN, won like a boss by beating their adopted candidate. Now, these entitled lots are crying like winning was their birthright.”
Also, Favour Hart, said: “I’ve been on a high since the result was announced. The Bar has spoken and indeed, it’s final. Thanks to everyone who believed in Paul Usoro.”