ECNBA APPEARS BEFORE TRUSTEES, REPLIES ADESINA

BY EMEKA NWADIOKE

• CONTRADICTS ITSELF ON NUMBER OF VERIFIED VOTERS
• SET TO SUBMIT CLEAN LIST OF VERIFIED VOTERS TO BOT
• ELECTIONBUDDY SUBMITS CERTIFIED RESULTS
• ‘AUDIT WILL IDENTIFY EVERY VOTER, CHOICES’
• ‘THERE IS ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT,’ SAYS TAWO

There are strong indications that the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) may have appeared before the NBA Board of Trustees (BOT) yesterday as Trustees opened hearing in a petition filed by erstwhile NBA presidential candidate, Mr. Dele Adesina SAN seeking to overturn the election.

CITY LAWYER had reported that the committee was to adopt its response to Adesina’s petition at yesterday’s hearing. 

Meanwhile, the controversy over the exact number of voters on the register has refused to abate, as the electoral committee has now pegged the figure at 29,632 voters in its response to the BOT. The figure is different from the “total of 29,635 verified and duly accredited members who have fulfilled all requirements for voting in the NBA National Officers elections 2020” – as announced by the committee in its ECNBA STATEMENT N0. 018 ACCREDITED VOTERS LIST – or the “29636 eligible voters” which is still trending on the election results portal. 

In the response obtained by CITY LAWYER and titled “RE: PETITION BY JULIUS OLADELE ADESINA SAN IN RESPECT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (sic) 2020,” the electoral committee stated that it “through a transparent process, engaged an IT Consultant to advice the committee on the best possible options to achieve maximum result for the e-voting system and an enterprise voting platform to conduct the election.”

According to the ECNBA, “A record of Over 18,000 members of the NBA voters participated in the NBA national officers elections. In specific terms, the list of legal practitioners qualified to vote in the 2020 NBA national officers elections stood at 39,000.”

Though the electoral committee stated that “The verified voters were in excesses (sic) of 30,000,” it later declared in the response that “29,632 (75.36%) verified.”

Noting that 18,256 voters cast their ballot, “representing over 62% or verified/accredited Voters,” the ECNBA said: “The results were observed from all locations real time and same were later officially announced by the ECNBA. The election was adjudged by many as free, fair and transparent.”

Comparing the 2020 election with the 2016 and 2018 polls, the electoral committee stated that “In 2020, a total of 39,321 Lawyers made the final voters’ list, 29,632 (75.36%) verified, 18,256 voted representing 46.43% of the electorate and 61.61% of those verified by accreditation to vote.”

Responding specifically to Adesina’s petition, the committee in its 8-page defence dated August 5, 2020 and signed by its Chairman, Mr. Tawo Eja Tawo SAN said that “no illegal, inaccurate or flawed Voters Register was used in the 2020 National officers’ elections of the Nigerian Bar Association neither was the process subverted nor manipulated against or in favour of anybody by any person.”

The committee vowed that it did not deploy any illegal voters’ register for the elections, adding that “The Electronic voting platform is designed in such a manner that a post-election audit can identify every voter and his choices at the election.”

It also debunked Adesina’s allegation that the use of NBA stamp in compiling the voters’ register imperiled the elections, saying that the “stamp and seal list for 2020 was a mere handmaiden provided by the National secretariat based on data supplied by the Branches of persons who had paid their Bar practicing fees and Branch dues as prequalification for application for stamp and seal. The Branches sent further details to cover those whose names were not on the stamp and seal list.”

On the allegation that the final voters’ list violated the provision of the NBA Constitution which set out a 28 days deadline for the publication of the register, the committee said: “This (publication of the list of verified voters) must not be confused with the (39,321) final voters’ list of legal practitioners qualified to vote as required by Article 1.2.(d) to be published at least twenty-eight (28) days before the election.”

The committee also debunked the claim that there were names of lawyers on the accredited list without branches indicated, saying that “the said names already had their branches indicated in the full list of all legal practitioners qualified to vote which was published on the 1st of July 2020.”

On the controversial issue of “International diaspora” branch, the electoral umpire said that “the names that were erroneously tagged as International Diaspora, had their correct branches indicated on the aforesaid list of 1st July 2020. The error of the International Diaspora designation arose from the fact that same was amongst the list of branches on the NBA Verification portal (perhaps for futuristic projections) and became a default place holder for any member who did not indicate his/her Branch during verification. This was addressed in the contents of ECNBA Statement No.019 thereto.”

Noting that there was no untoward activity relating to uploading of the voters’ register “that would affect the outcome of the elections or disenfranchise any voter in the elections,” the committee added that it explained in its Statement No. 019 “the circumstances around the complaints of members that they were put in branches other than their own.”

The electoral committee promised to avail the Trustees with “accredited Voters’ list with the proper Branches of members reflected,” adding that “It may be compared with the names on the final voters’ list prior to verification/accreditation.” It also noted that the “active element” for the election or unique identifier for each member was the Supreme Court Enrollment Number (SCN). “At no time did the Committee receive any complain about ‘SAN Number’ which may well have been a reference to SCN number, if at all such an incident occurred. There is no such requirement for eligibility to vote in the elections,” the committee said.

Turning to the charge of “data diddling” as alleged by Adesina, the committee said: “The ECNBA reiterates that no data was programmed and/or preconfigured to a premeditated result “in any case of data diddling”. There was never and could never be any unholy alliance and collaboration between any candidate and the ECNBA.”

The committee declared that NBA portal was not deployed for the voting, adding: “Rather, it is a foreign enterprise platform called Election Buddy with a pedigree for the kind of electoral exercise conducted by the NBA. Prior to the voting exercise, the platform had been put through series of trials via mock elections involving the ECNBA members and national officers (excluding the NBA President), with a good showing. At the end of the elections, the Certification of the election results by Election Buddy (platform provider) has also been received by the ECNBA and is forwarded with this report.”

It stated that the committee “is not unaware that for two previous elections, the IT consultants/Service providers have been subject to litigations and invitations to the various organs of the States in a manner that have not given so much credit to the NBA,” noting that “This state of affairs has made many service providers wary of doing business with the NBA.”

The committee noted that the election portal “was programmed to deliver 5 notices of the election to each voter’s phone number and email and each failed attempt was aggregated. The failure to deliver the notices had nothing to do with the capacity of the platform but the phone number/email or the facility on the receiving device.”

Though the ECNBA denied that NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN usurped its powers to engage the Service Provider, it however admitted that “The MOU for the engagement for the ICT consultant was necessarily signed by the NBA because the ECNBA is a committee of the NBA and the former has no resources of its own to pay for the services.”

Concluding, the electoral committee noted that “There is no gainsaying the fact that there is room for improvement in the NBA electoral process, especially in the manner members’ data are maintained at the Branches and the need for Lawyers to optimize their digital skills to enable the e-voting system to be user friendly cannot be over-emphasized.”

It is recalled that Adesina had petitioned the electoral committee alleging irregularities and demanding a cancellation of the poll. In a letter to ECNBA Chairman dated 30th July, 2020 and personally signed by him, Adesina stated that the voters’ list “contained grave errors of omission and commission,” listing some of the errors as:

Leading solicitor, Mr. Olumide Akpata was on July 31, 2020 declared winner of the NBA presidential election held on July 29 or 30, 2020. Announcing the results, Tawo said Akpata polled 9,891 or 54.3 per cent votes to beat his closest rival, Dr. Babatunde Ajibade SAN who garnered 4,328 (23.8 per cent) votes. Adesina polled 3,982 votes (21.9 per cent) to bring up the rear. Adesina had a few hours to the end of the election demanded cancellation of the poll, saying it was fraught with infractions. The election was held via ElectionBuddy, an electronic voting software deployed by Edmonton, Canada based firm.

ECNBA RESPONSE

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