Wednesday, 5 August, 2020

CHAMSGATE: What NBA Can Learn from ICAN

By Our Correspondent

The Nigerian Bar Association is set to hold its National Officers election on July 27 and 28, 2018. Controversies have however trailed preparations for the election, not least being the functionality and fidelity of the electronic voting system slated for the election.

It is recalled that the NBA introduced the electronic voting system in its 2016 National Officers Election in line with its 2015 amended constitution. The model however came with several teething challenges.

Although there were strong indications that the system was flawless on paper, some stakeholders argued that the political will towards a seamless process was not apparent. This led to charges of bias and electoral crises.

On the other hand, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) has had a longer history of flirting with the electronic voting system. The model was introduced by the accountants’ body in 2011, with CHAMS Plc as the ICT Partner. CHAMS has also been selected by the Electoral Committee of the NBA to midwife its election.

The system ran seamlessly – or so it seemed – until 2014 when it ran into troubled waters. Not only were some members unable to access the electronic platform, those who eventually did discovered to their chagrin that some proxies had cast the ballot for them. For a body whose motto is integrity and accuracy, this was unacceptable. Thus began an epic enquiry to unravel the source of the malaise.

The ICAN leadership set up an Electoral Matters Special Investigation Panel (EMSIP) to unearth the culprits. Chaired by its past president, Mr. Ayo Oni, the panel was given two weeks to deliver its report. Its preliminary report showed that the electoral system was grossly corrupted by fiddling with the membership list for the 2014 Council Election. The forged list contained fictitious names and details of alleged members of the institute. The panel identified about 575 fraudulent votes. Records of eligible voters were updated with wrong email addresses and phone numbers, while PIN numbers belonging to ICAN members were diverted to fraudulent phone numbers and subsequently used to vote for preferred candidates.

Following the expansion of the panel to include a forensic expert among others, the panel submitted its report on December 1, 2014. Both the majority and minority reports concluded that there was a massive identity theft originating from the institute’s Information Technology Department.

On their part, the forensic experts discovered over 1, 191 fake votes which cast about 10,719 votes representing 21.84% of the total 49,068 votes cast in the election. The report also showed that there were two fake voters list sent to CHAMS Plc for the conduct of the election. It also discovered that of the 1,358 fake voters, 1, 191 actually voted. Due to the institute’s “block voting” system which compels voters to tick off their preferred candidates for all the posts without exception, it was difficult to identify the candidates who engineered the electronic rigging.

The panel recommended that the INFOTECH Department should be sanitized or outsourced to a credible private sector operator, even as the minority report indicted CHAMS for a less than satisfactory performance. According to Dr. Catherine Okpareke, an ICAN past president who authored the report: “The majority report failed and or ignored to put the searchlight on CHAMS Plc, the IT firm that hosted the voting platform. They received an authentic voters list from ICAN; I cannot understand why their system could not screen out fake voters that permitted the level of fraud being alleged in the report. As per the report, they supplied the forensic auditor with ‘suspicious list’ containing 630 names which are begging so many questions. It is therefore not possible to rule out compromise and or incompetence on their part. I therefore recommend that they be sanctioned and they should no longer be engaged for future exercise.”

Following this electoral fiasco, the institute immediately took measures to reassure its members. In a notice http://icanig.org/ican/article.php?id=106 issued by its Registrar/Chief Executive, ICAN stated as follows:
ENHANCEMENTS TO ICAN’s E-VOTING
“In view of the complaints received on the conduct of the 2014 Council Election, the Council of the Institute has introduced reforms to ICAN’s e-voting platform with the Introduction of ‘Pre’ and ‘Post’ Election Forensic support.

“Two Accounting firms, KPMG Professional Services and Akintola Williams Deloitte have been appointed to assist the Institute to conduct free, fair and credible elections. KPMG Professional Services will provide the following preventive pre-election forensic support services:

•Review members profile and validate financial standing.
•Review I.T Processes and related controls.
•Review Voting Portal and Database.
•Review Information Security Policies and Procedures
•Collate Validated Voters list and Communicate with the Institute.
•Collate and Report on all exceptions and control gaps identified.
•Develop a Roadmap for Remediation of Identified Gaps.

“Akintola Williams Deloitte on the other hand will provide detective post-election forensic support detailed below:

•Obtain the List of Published, Post-election eligible voters
•Perform Data Integrity tests to ascertain the completeness of data sets.
•Compare Eligible Voters list to the Actual Voters list, identifying any Gaps.
•Provide Detailed Report and Executive Summary on the work done.

“Members of the Institute are hereby assured of the Institute’s commitment to its age-long ideals of Accuracy and Integrity at all times. The procedures for conducting Council elections are transparently displayed on the Institute’s website at www.ican.org.ng.”

According to CITY LAWYER investigations, the reforms came on the heels of a lawsuit by some aggrieved members who sought to stall the 2014 Council Election pending the determination of the suit.

In the suit before Justice A. M. Lawal, the plaintiffs – Mr. Olusola Oyetayo, Mr. Solomon Adeleke, Mrs. Oluseyi Williams and Mrs. Gbemi Soyemi Beecroft – prayed for an order setting aside ICAN’s elections of May 15 to May 29, 2014 on account of unprecedented fraud and abuse of internal electoral processes as well as identity theft and falsification of members’ records. The defendants were past president Chief Chidi Onyeukwu Ajaegbu and ICAN.

Other prayers include:
“A declaration that ICAN’s system of ‘Group Voting’, whereby each voter must cast vote on all the vacancies or otherwise be disqualified from voting, is unconstitutional and in contravention of members’ right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression as safeguarded under sections 38 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended);

“An order compelling ICAN to stop with immediate effect the system of ‘Group voting’, whereby each voter must cast vote on all the vacancies or otherwise be disqualified from voting at all.

“An order mandating ICAN to sanitise its electoral processes, carry out a forensic audit of its Information Technology’s (IT) electoral process and update the records of its members to remove all fraudulent entries on members’ record before conducting any other election.”

If anyone thought that the reforms would permanently lay the ghost of electoral crisis to rest, such a person was bound to be disappointed, as the cankerworm reared its ugly head against more recently.

The electronic voting regime continued to be bedeviled by suspicion, leading some members to again head to court to stop the 2018 Council Election. The aggrieved members were Mr. Oluseyi Olanrewaju who led four others to file a suit on 14th May, 2018 seeking an order of interlocutory injunction restraining ICAN from applying or seeking to apply the rule of “verification/updating of member’ profile” during the organisation’s election then scheduled for May 18.

In a sworn affidavit, Olanrewaju stated that on May 26, 2017 during ICAN’s 52nd Annual General Meeting, members reached a unanimous resolution to annul the following ICAN election rules:
• Group Voting and
• Profile Update as a pre-condition for voting

These rules “had for years beguiled its election into council and has been used by members in council to perpetuate themselves in power,” he contended.

He further alleged that then ICAN President and Chairman of Council, Ismaila Muhammadu Zakari, had on April 6, 2018 circulated a notice informing ICAN members of council’s decision to jettison the purported unanimous resolution reached at the 52nd Annual General Meeting of the institute on May 26, 2017.

Olanrewaju contended that nearly 38, 000 out of 40, 000 ICAN financial members did not partake in the profile update, arguing that they risk being disenfranchised.

Zakari had indeed issued a notice dated April 6, 2018 where he declared the purported resolutions as “null and void,” given that the issues were not listed on the agenda and that the issues were equally subjudice. The council hinged its decision on the opinions of three leading law firms.

It however extended an olive branch to the litigants, noting that while the profile update would continue and end on May 4, 2018, the aggrieved members have a window to bring the issues via a special resolution at this year’s Annual General Meeting.

Indeed, the election eventually held in June while the vexed issues have been included on the agenda for this year’s Annual General Meeting as follows:
“To Amend the Rules on Election into Council effective from 2019 to wit:-
(i) The basis for members’ eligibility to vote in the Council election shall be that a member must be a financial member having paid all annual subscriptions due in accordance with S.6(5)(d) of the ICAN Act;
(ii) On-line update of profile shall be a continuous process in the Institute. However, it shall no longer be a precondition for eligibility to vote in the Council election;
(iii) An eligible voter may cast his vote for any number of approved eligible contestants of his choice provided that the vote cast shall not exceed the number of declared vacancies in the two (2) categories.”

In his report on the 2018 Council Election, Zakari stated that “In line with International best practice, the 2018 Election to Council was conducted strictly via the internet (e-voting) on the Institute’s website. Members were required to update their profiles on the ICAN website, giving their e-mail addresses and GSM numbers. A dedicated PIN code was later sent to each member’s e-mail through which they gained access to the voting portal.

“Members voted via the ICAN website and the results were downloaded and collated by the Scrutineers appointed by Council. The results of the Election will be announced at this AGM.”

The “GENERAL REGULATIONS FOR ELECTIONS” sets down the following electorl rules:
Campaigns for election are not allowed. While it is recognised that subtle campaigns cannot be entirely eliminated, any unethical solicitation of votes is prohibited. Unethical campaign tactics include but are not limited to:
i. Unsolicited text messages to members by contestants or other members on behalf of contestants;
ii. Defamatory text messages against other contestants;
iii. Visits to District Societies and Chapters for campaign purposes;
iv. Working in groups or alliances to solicit for votes or to discredit other contestants;
v. Open discussions on elections or solicitation for votes at committees and District Society meetings;
vi. Payment of outstanding subscriptions by contestants or their representatives for other members during the election year.

Continuing, the rules state as follows:
EVERY ELIGIBLE MEMBER who is seeking election or re-election is PROHIBITED in the year of election or re-election from directly:-
i. Making donations to District Societies or Zonal Conferences organised by District Societies.
ii. Acting as facilitators or panel discussants or sponsoring any function or activities organised by the District Societies and Chapters.
iii. Production and distribution of handbills, calendars, flyers and complimentary cards to individuals or groups during Institute’s functions .
iv. Paying visits to District Societies and Chapters by sitting Council members and prospective contestants.
v. Canvassing for votes at the Institute’s functions or office to office campaigns.
vi. Sending text messages and emails to members even during festive periods in the year of election.
vii. Receiving undue reference/recognition at the Institute’s functions.
viii. Offering any form of financial inducement including assisting in payment of annual subscription during election year.
Members, whether seeking election/ re-election or not, shall not solicit/ canvass for votes on behalf of the contestants using any of the methods in 3.2 (i) to (viii) above.

As for the voting process, the electoral rules again state:
At least two weeks before the date fixed for the Annual General Meeting, the Registrar/Chief Executive shall send electronically (by e-mail and SMS) to each member, a special PIN Code and through the e-voting portal, an electronic ballot paper containing a list of members who have been duly nominated for each election to the Council requesting him/her to vote electronically for candidates of his/her choice. Every voting member shall endeavour to exercise his/her full voting rights and a member may vote for himself/herself, but voting by proxy is prohibited. A member shall not be allowed to vote twice.

“The President, the Registrar/Chief Executive and the Chairman of the Body of Scrutineers would sequentially log in their individual passwords to declare open the e-voting portal in the presence of Scrutineers’ members present on Friday, May 11, 2018. This same group would after the 14 days allotted for voting i.e. on Thursday, May 24, 2018 declare the evoting closed at 4.30p.m. and shut down the e-voting portal.

“The Scrutineers would generate the report from the e-voting portal immediately the portal closes at 4.30p.m. on Thursday, May 24, 2018. The votes obtained by each candidate shall be recorded and enclosed in a sealed envelope to be opened by the Chairman and presented at the Annual General Meeting on May 25, 2018.

“At the opening and closing of the voting portal, any interested member may be allowed to witness the ceremony.”

There are strong indications that the ICAN leadership has overtime striven to improve on its electronic voting system by addressing members’ genuine concerns and finding ways to tackle issues relating to the integrity of the process. Not only has the leadership dealt with concerns on identity theft and e-rigging, the planned move to address concerns generated by the update of members’ profiles – viewed as a viable source of fraud and infiltration – as well as the abridgement of rights arising from compulsion on “group voting” may ultimately lay to rest the ghost of electoral malfeasance in ICAN. The same is true for the electoral rules which aim at curbing corruption and monetization of the electoral system.

The NBA leadership may do well to take more than a cursory look at the ICAN electoral regime in addressing deep-seated concerns on electoral integrity among its teeming members.

 

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