Saturday, 4 July, 2020

ELECTIONS: ‘NBA OFFERED US READY-MADE VOTING PORTAL,’ SAYS TAWO TAWO

• CONFIRMS CITY LAWYER REPORT
• SAYS FATE OF PORTAL UNCERTAIN
• VOWS THAT ECNBA IS ‘TOTALLY INDEPENDENT’

The Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) has admitted that it was handed over a ready-made election portal for the forthcoming National Elections by the Mr. Paul Usoro SAN-led bar association. This confirms CITY LAWYER exclusive report which hinted that the ECNBA may have been preparing for the elections on the basis of the election portal bequeathed to it by the NBA leadership.

CITY LAWYER had in a recent report stated that “It was unclear at press time whether the vendor’s scope of work included a mandate to deliver an election portal for the forthcoming NBA Elections, given the notice issued by the ECNBA seeking proposals to recruit an ‘Information Technology Specialist.’ Among the work to be done by the IT Specialist/ECNBA Partner is, ‘Analyzing the new NBA Election portal system and infrastructure.’ The successful vendor is also required to train NBA staff ‘to use the new IT system.’ ”

Putting the issue beyond speculation, the ECNBA in a statement personally signed by its Chairman, Mr. Tawo Eja Tawo SAN said: “The Committee was briefed that the NBA has its own e-voting platform/portal for elections developed by TAVIA, an IT firm. TAVIA was invited to brief the Committee in conjunction with the NBA IT Officer Umar Gezawa, on the said NBA election platform/portal.”

He emphasized the critical role of the election portal, saying “the success of the elections would depend to a large extent on the electronic or IT platform that would be deployed for the election.” He added that “The need to procure such a platform has been a priority.”

Giving more insights into the “briefing” received from the NBA leadership on the election portal, the ECNBA Chairman said: “Further to the said briefing, the ECNBA decided that in spite of the advantages of such a portal, exploring the use of other viable e-voting platforms if necessary is not foreclosed. As such there was the need to engage an independent IT Consultant that would examine the NBA portal and critique same, its integrity, functionality and suitability or otherwise for the purpose of the elections as well as advise on other options.”

Highlighting additional roles of the consultant, the ECNBA Chairman said: “The Consultant would also be required to identify avenues for possible threats, and advise on how to contain same. Other issues to be addressed include the training of staff and all those associated with handling any part of the e-voting process by the consultant. They would be expected to verify electronically, the votes cast at the end of the exercise.”

Hinting on the fate of the election portal delivered by the NBA, Tawo who is said to be a born-again Christian noted: “Notwithstanding the above, the platform or portal to deploy for the election by the ECNBA would largely be dependent on the advice and report of the IT Consultant.” The ECNBA is currently sifting through applications received from its advertised request for expression of interest to pick its preferred IT consultant.

While the ECNBA Chairman did not state when the committee received the “briefing” from the NBA leadership, there are strong indications that this must have been before April 4, 2020 when the committee issued a “REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL (RFP): IT CONSULTANCY” which gave the scope of work of the IT Consultant to include “Analyzing the new NBA Election portal system and infrastructure.” CITY LAWYER recalls that the ECNBA was appointed by NBA-NEC on March 12, 2020.

At least three National officers who spoke to CITY LAWYER recently vowed that they were in the dark on the NBA website contract, adding that it was never discussed at any of their meetings. They also pleaded ignorance on the identity of the vendor or scope of work contained in the contract. The NBA did not respond to CITY LAWYER enquiries on the subject.

CITY LAWYER investigation however showed that Usoro informed NBA-NEC during its March 2019 meeting of his plan to “revamp” the verified NBA website to enhance its “functional uses.” He had stated that the websites for the Annual General Conference and NBA sections would be hosted on or linked to the NBA website while online payments and online platform for ordering stamps would be incorporated. However, the address was silent on the incorporation of a voting platform on the portal.

Though there are concerns among some stakeholders on the role of NBA staff in managing the elections, the ECNBA may have decided to give substantial roles to the staff. In its latest statement, the committee said: “Other issues to be addressed include the training of staff and all those associated with handling any part of the e-voting process by the consultant.” This aligns with item “f” of the “Scope of work” set out in the request for proposal which lists “Training staff to use the new IT system” as one of the deliverables of the IT Consultant.

While urging all stakeholders to shun “any activity that would be subversive and counter-productive to this exercise,” the committee however assured that it is “totally independent,” adding that “Mr. Paul Usoro SAN and his elected executive have given the ECNBA the needed liberty to do what is just and proper for the benefit of the profession in Nigeria. All candidates for the 2020 Elections shall be treated equally.”

The committee had published a Preliminary Notice of Elections as well as Election Guidelines in the run-up to the elections. Following its Call for Proposals from IT consultants, the ECNBA in its latest statement noted that it was “disheartening” for branches to shun the request to provide the data of eligible voters as requested by the NBA secretariat, warning that this may disenfranchise branch members. It however noted that it is in the process of compiling the Interim Voters Register as well as screening of IT proposals and interviewing of IT consultancy firms.

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