Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, a senior wig, will bow out today as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), two years after his professional colleagues elected him to lead the lawyers’ umbrella body. Mahmoud will formally hand over the mantle of leadership to his successor, Mr. Paul Usoro, whose election is being challenged on alleged malpractices. FOLUSO OGUNMODEDE writes
After two years of stewardship, Mr. Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria will formally hand over the mantle of leadership of the Bar to Mr. Paul Usoro, who was last week elected as the new President of the lawyers’ umbrella body, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
The process of hand over to the new president will commence in Abuja at the NBA weeklong Annual General conference which commences today through Friday 30th August, 2018 as some 50, 000 members of the wig and gown profession will converge for the 28th conference. Usoro, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria emerged winner as the 29th President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) last week through universal suffrage via electronic voting introduced by Austin Alegeh 2014 NBA leadership.
Usoro 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. But Usoro’s emergence is already causing stir among lawyers as it was believed that an election which produced him last week cannot stand the test of time.
Prominent lawyers including Usoro’s co-contestants, Okafor and Ojukwu described the NBA 2018 election as the worst ever conducted since 1991. For instance, Ojukwu said the 2018 NBA election was the worst ever, saying “candidates corrupted the system, bribed voters with money, practice fee, and then ultimately stole people’s data and used it to vote. Quote me hundred per cent.” Ojukwu went on: “I am the only person who didn’t try to rig the election. They were competing with each other on who will rig better.
“The election was rigged 100 per cent. The candidates hijacked the process from the time members were asked to verify; that’s when they hijacked the system and stole people’s data. From the ones they paid their practice fee and the others stolen during the verification exercise. And many people couldn’t vote because of that.
Once that was done, they were competing with each other as to who will out-vote each other with stolen data.” Already, some members under the aegis of Concerned Lawyers being led by Ashimole Felix, has unveiled plans for a peaceful protest in Abuja against the alleged electoral malpractice which marred the NBA 2018 election.
In a letter to Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, the Concerned Lawyer asked the police chief to provide security for its members as they were set to embark on a peaceful protest today in Abuja. The letter is titled, “notification of our intent to peacefully protest at the forthcoming NBA conference at the International Conference Centre, Abuja on 26 – 30 August 2018, need for your men to protect the protesters.” In it, the lawyer said, “we are a coalition of concerned lawyers, financially up to date members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), who were gravely affected by the just concluded NBA election.
“We were disenfranchised and repeated complaints to the NBA Electoral Committee were unattended to. Non-lawyers used Supreme Court Enrollment Numbers of our members to vote. Email and phone numbers of our members were hacked and altered and used to vote. “Against this backdrop, we wish to protest our exclusion from participating in the election. We are also protesting, to draw the attention of NBA, the general public and donors to NBA that the NBA election did not meet basic electioneering and democratic standards.
“We are peacefully demonstrating to urge the public, lawyers and well-meaning Nigerians to pressurize the NBA to carry out the auditing of the votes cast at its just concluded election. The President of NBA, A. B. Mahmoud (SAN), had assured lawyers and the general public, that there shall be an audit of the votes after election.
“We are merely assisting him to with this protest have the courage to do that which he had promised Nigerians and lawyers. “There are serious allegations against NBA’s elections that non-lawyers voted and that fake emails were used to vote for lawyers. This is a criminal offence that should have your good offices interested.
“We urge you to commandeer your officers and men to maintain the peace and order, as we peacefully carry out our democratic right to protest. “We assured you that the protest shall be a peaceful procession from Radio House to Safari Hotel/Defense College Junction for three days; Sunday, Wednesday and the day of the Annual General Meeting.”
The Bar had after a series of postponements, finally conducted and concluded its bi-annual general elections on August 19 and subsequently announced the winners. However, allegations of under-thetable dealings, rigging, harvesting of voters’ details using some funny email domains, massive vote buying, vote cap-ture, deliberate shutting out lawyers from registration and voting, had continued to trail the exercise.
But according to NBA electoral body’s declaration and announcement, Usoro was victorious at the polls. Others were 1st Vice-President, Stanley Chidozie; 2nd Vice-President, Dada Foluke Dada; 3rd Vice-President, Igba Theophilus Terhile; Secretary-General, Jonathan Gunu Taidi; 1st Assistant Secretary, 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.
A total of 17,000 lawyers participated in the e-voting process. There were also allegations of discrepancies in the voters’ list with about 4,000 alleged fake emails. ECNBA Secretary, Bolaji Agoro, had in a statement said the verified list would be handed over to the ICT provider for evoting.
The election held for over two days from noon of Saturday, August 18, to midnight of Sunday 19, was conducted by e-voting after the abrogation of the delegates’ voting system. The screening, accreditation and verification of lawyers for the election was a knotty issue since the commencement of the electoral process with the disqualification of several candidates, including presidential candidate, Mazi Afam Osigwe, who has since gone to court.
But the ECNBA explained that the screening of candidates and accreditation and verification of voters followed the requirement of the law, especially lists submitted by various branches, the enrolment list for lawyers at the Supreme Court and criteria set out for eligibility to vote.
The initial ICT company appointed to handle the election, Charms Plc, attracted protests from candidates leading to the appointment of Crenet Techlabs Ltd, which initially accredited 32,000 lawyers, which is higher than the 28,000 for the previous election. However, for the first time, the election which was postponed three times, held outside the month of July as provided in Article 2.3(a) of the Second Schedule of the NBA Constitution, 2015.
The three candidates contested for the presidential position which was zoned to the Eastern Zone in line with the zoning arrangement of the association. 30 other cleared candidates vied for the remaining 13 national offices of the NBA: First, Second and Third Vice Presidents, Secretary General, Treasurer, Financial Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Second Assistant Secretary, Assistant Financial Secretary, Publicity Secretary, Assistant Publicity Secretary, Welfare Officer and Legal Adviser.
The winner will be inaugurated today at the Annual General Conference (AGC), replacing Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), who defeated Joe Kyari-Gadzama (SAN) in the 2016 election zoned to the North. The NBA, which has over 100,000 members and at least 45,000 practicing members in 125 branches, is the largest professional association in Nigeria.
This explains why its election had over the years the most keenly contested among professional elections. With its 16 committees and partnerships with international NGOs, the NBA is expected to contribute to the conduct of the 2019 general election as well as continued to ensure the enthronement of sustainable democracy in Nigeria Notwithstanding allegations of malpractices trailing the election, outgoing president of the association, Mahmoud, described the election as the fairest held so far in the history of the association. But Okafor and Ojukwu disagreed, faulted the exercise and rejected the result. Ojukwu, while rejecting the outcome of the exercise, said that the contest was corrupt, characterized by massive vote- buying, vote capture, rigging and a skewed process.
He said: “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.” But Obi Okafor, in a petition to NBA, Mahmoud, 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. “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.” Also, a former Council Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, 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 desperately, 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 outcome. 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.” Another lawyer, Joyce Okechukwu noted that the number of lawyers disenfranchised was far greater than the margin of votes between the contestants. She called for the cancellation of the exercise, saying “we all know and realize 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 has 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 utilize 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.”
An Abuja based lawyer, who claimed to have followed the elections proceedings but begged for anonymity noted that 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”, he added. He further explained that, “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.” Speaking on the controversies trailing the elections, Chairman of the electoral committee, Prof. Auwalu Yadudu was reported to have said: “We have conducted a free and fair election and individuals can have their opinion about it.” Also, the President-elect, Usoro, while reacting to the several allegations 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 fulfill his electioneering promises of reforming and moving the association to the next level.
However, it was 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.” 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.”
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