VERIFICATION: LAGOS Branch May Sue NBA, ECNBA
• Says Less than 20% of Members Verified
• Queries List Used for Verification
• ‘Help Desk is Helpless’
• ‘ECNBA Lacks Transparency’
• Our Members are Getting Restive, Says Ikwuazom
There are ominous signs that the Nigerian Bar Association (Lagos Branch) may head to court to challenge any attempt to disenfranchise its members from voting in the forthcoming NBA National Officers Election.
In a four-page statement issued today and signed by its Chairman, Mr. Chukwuka Ikwuazom, the largest NBA branch warned ominously that the rights of its members “are fully reserved,” hinting that it may head to court to secure the right of its members to vote.
Listing a litany of vices that have allegedly beset the verification exercise, the branch wondered whether the lists being used for the verification is the same as the lists submitted by branches.
Below is the statement.
03 August 2018.
Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (“ECNBA”)
Plot 1101 Mohammadu Buhari Way,
Central Business District,
Federal Capital Territory
Attention: Prof. Auwalu Yadudu
VERIFICATION OF VOTERS FOR THE 2018 NATIONAL ELECTIONS OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION
We write to communicate to the ECNBA our deep concerns about the overall preparation, and in particular the ongoing verification exercise, for the 2018 Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA” or the “Association”) national election scheduled to take place from Monday, 6 August 2018 to Wednesday, 8 August 2018. In a statement issued under the hands of Professor Auwalu Yadudu (Chairman, ECNBA) and Mr. Bolabji A. Agoro (Secretary, ECNBA) and dated 2 August 2018, the ECNBA announced revised timetables for the verification exercise and the election. The 2 August statement by the ECNBA would be the 3rd or 4th time the ECNBA would be announcing a postponement/extension of the verification exercise/election. These postponements/extensions create the impression of incoordination even to the most ardent optimist.
The NBA Lagos branch (the “Branch”) is unarguably the largest branch of the Association and over 7,000 of its members have been cleared as eligible to vote in the coming election by the ECNBA. This represents at least 20% of the entire voting population in the election. The Branch is gravely concerned that given the manner in which it has managed the entire election process up to this time, the ECNBA has not demonstrated that it is capable of conducting a credible election for the Association.
As at 3 pm today, Friday, 3 August 2018, the information available to us is that less than 20% of the over 7,000 members of our Branch whose names appear on the final list of voters published by the ECNBA have been able to verify for the election. An overwhelming majority of our members have been unsuccessfully trying to do the verification in the past three days. A large number of these unsuccessful members are told when they enter their Supreme Court enrolment numbers that there is no record on the verification portal matching their numbers. This is so notwithstanding that their names were submitted to the ECNBA by the Branch and also appear on the final list of voters. This raises further concerns as to whether the list used for the verification exercise is different from the final list of voters published by the ECNBA.
Even for our members who are lucky to locate their information on the portal, they grapple with different challenges which ensure that many of them are unable to complete the verification process. A large number of them do not receive the access codes required to progress and complete the verification process even after trying multiple times and wasting precious man-hours navigating the portal. For some of them, this wholly unavoidable ordeal has been on-going for some days. Even for some who receive the access codes, they are still unable to complete the process because the portal does not open to a page on which the access codes are to be entered. For this category of persons, a message pops up saying that the access codes could not be sent to them even when they have, in fact, received the access codes.
There is also the general problem of the verification platform being frustratingly slow. The helpline provided by the ECNBA has been anything but helpful. Members who call the helpline are kept on hold for an inordinately long period of time suggesting that there are too few personnel manning the helpdesk. If you eventually get through, the helpdesk personnel sound utterly clueless. I called the helpdesk myself when I was having difficulty verifying and the attendant who took the call sounded utterly helpless explaining to me that the “platform is not smart and is extremely slow” and lamented that he did not see how all the eligible voters could be verified before the election.
Following myriads of complaints we had received from members of our Branch, I sent a text to Mr. Agoro yesterday, 2 August 2018 complaining about the inability of our branch members to verify for voting in the election. In his response to me, he acknowledged the difficulty that members of the Association are facing and stated that the ECNBA was working with its IT partner to resolve the issues. Unfortunately, more than 24 hours after his response, we have not seen any appreciable improvement and the challenges I complained about remain largely unsolved.
The situation is so dire that unless something really dramatic happens, if the election goes on next Wednesday as scheduled, as many as 70% of our members will be disenfranchised. Indeed, there is a growing sense of anxiety and restiveness among our members. Some have even suggested that the challenges currently being encountered by members of the Association have been deliberately orchestrated to frustrate and ultimately disenfranchise many of us from voting in the election. These suggestions have further been fueled by the inexplicable lack of transparency and poor communication on the part of the ECNBA. Beyond the perfunctory response that the ECNBA is working with the IT company to resolve the issues, there has been no attempt to explain to members of the Association the nature of the challenges and the specific steps that are being taken to address them. In our view, the requirement of transparency and openness should compel the ECNBA to publish information on a daily basis advising members of the Association on: (i) the number of voters that have been verified and the branches of the NBA to which these members belong; (ii) how many complaints have been filed; (iii) how many filed complaints have been resolved; and (iv) what processes have been put in place to ensure that all complaints are treated before the end of the verification period. In addition, a transparent verification process will require the ECNBA to publish, at the end of the verification period, the total number of verified voters as a percentage of the total number of eligible voters. The verification process must also aim at ensuring that the approximately 32,000 eligible voters are all verified save for any member who may deliberately abstain from the verification exercise.
We must state unequivocally that the right of members of the Association to elect their leaders is a right that the ECNBA must do everything possible to protect. Any member of the Association who has satisfied the eligibility criteria for voting in the election must be given all accommodation needed to exercise that right. The ECNBA should know that as a result of recent events within and outside of our profession, many members of the Association have taken a keen and unprecedented interest in participating in the election of the Association’s leadership for the next two years. The ECNBA must not do anything that suggests, even remotely, that it is on a mission to truncate the rights of members of the Association to choose their leaders.
We therefore call on the ECNBA to immediately reappraise the entire verification and election process and constantly communicate to members the discrete steps it is taking to ensure a credible election. The need for openness and transparency in the management of the election process by the ECNBA cannot be overemphasized.
If it becomes necessary, in the opinion of the ECNBA, to further extend the period of verification of voters and shift the dates of the election, the ECNBA must not hesitate to do so. The ECNBA must realise that the entire country is watching the members of this noble profession and that the only way to rectify our already floundering reputation is to deliver a transparent and credible election.
While we look forward to a final and acceptable resolution of all the issues militating against a credible electoral process for the Association, please accept the assurances of our highest regard.
In the meantime, please note that the rights of members of the NBA Lagos Branch are fully reserved.
Chukwuka Ikwuazom, Esq.
(Chairman, NBA Lagos Branch)
cc: Mr. A. B. Mahmoud, SAN, (President, Nigerian Bar Association)
Past Presidents of the Nigerian Bar Association
Past General Secretaries of the Nigerian Bar Association
All Presidential Candidates in the 2018 NBA Elections
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