The Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) has declared that it has not set any deadline for the ongoing verification exercise, contrary to speculations that verification was billed to end yesterday.

ECNBA Chairman, Mr. Tawo Eja Tawo SAN told CITY LAWYER that the committee has not decided on when to draw the curtains on the exercise.

Speaking on whether a deadline has been set to conclude the verification process, he said pointedly: “There is none yet.” The electoral umpire was also at a loss as to the source of the speculation, saying: “I wonder the origin of the confusion.”

The frenzy may not be unconnected with certain posts on social media platforms suggesting that yesterday was the deadline for the verification exercise.

A post trended on several social media platforms yesterday urging lawyers to make haste to verify their personal details on the NBA website. It stated that only 48 hours was allowed for the exercise, adding that it would end by 6 pm. The post read: “Today is the deadline for all eligible lawyers to verify their details on the NBA Website. Visit https://nigerianbar.org.ng/membership-portal. #Securethefuture.”

Another version of the post which was sent to lawyers via short messaging service (SMS) read: “Dear (name of receiver), The ECNBA has released the 2nd List of Voters. Kindly verify that your details are correct. If they are not, send the correct details with proof of payment to ecnba2020@nigerianbar.ng not later than 6pm on 23/06/20. You can verify via https://nigerianbar.org.ng/membership-portal.” The message came under the “BULK SMS” banner.

The information caused anxiety among lawyers, leading to many making frantic efforts to verify their details.

CITY LAWYER investigations show that the speculation may also not be unconnected with the ECNBA press statement unveiling its second provisional voters list where it stated that “Those whose names are omitted are expected to send their details with proof of payment of Branch Dues within 48 hours of this publication to the account ecnba2020@nigerianbar.ng. Please note that any mails or messages sent after 6PM on Tuesday 23rd June 2020 will not be attended to.”

Given that the verification process was heralded by the press statement, many stakeholders may have assumed that the deadline was for both the compilation and verification exercises.

Meanwhile, there has been mixed reactions regarding the verification exercise. While some lawyers said that the process was stress-free, others seem to have had a herculean task navigating the verification process on the NBA website.

One of those who had a tough time engaging the process is former NBA presidential candidate, Mrs. Funke Adekoya SAN. She told CITY LAWYER that her experience was “terrible.” Her words: “My experience has been terrible. I was verified before but forgot password; so I sent ‘forgot password’ message. I have been waiting for password reset email since yesterday (Monday). I received email this (Tuesday) morning and accessed link – it says password cannot be reset. I sent email to NBA Secretariat 4 hours ago – still no response!”

In an early morning SOS to CITY LAWYER, Mr. Augustine Ogbodo said: “I don’t know if you have any clue on verification of membership on the NBA portal. I have been trying to log in to the portal to verify my membership but have not been successful. I tried reaching NBA via telephone but wasn’t successful.”

Immediately CITY LAWYER escalated the SOS on some social media platforms, there was a flurry of responses both from the ECNBA and the NBA leadership. While the NBA publicity team uploaded several versions of the verification process on sundry social media platforms, the ECNBA Secretary, Mrs. Cordelia Eke advised eligible voters who have challenges with the verification process to “contact the NBA IT staff in charge.”

She added: “A lot of phone calls (are) coming (in). They may not be able to take all. We advise people to send emails. It’s easier to track and treat complaints that way.” She assured that she “will ask the IT staff to look into this (complaint).” She later stated that “Members’ complaints about the website have been forwarded to NBA IT to handle.”

When CITY LAWYER asked Ogbodo to provide more details on his challenges with the verification process, he said: “I was prompted to supply new password and to confirm same. I did so but was again prompted to insert the correct format.” He then requested the “contact or email of the IT staff?” adding: “Thanks so much for your efforts. I have sent them an email. Waiting for their response. I sent the email to support@nigerianbar.org.ng as indicated.”

Unlike NBA Lagos Branch Welfare Secretary, Anthonia Eke who stated that “I had a seamless process updating my data on the verification portal of the NBA,” both Adekoya and Ogbodo eventually surmounted the verification hurdles.

Said Adekoya: “(I) Have finally been verified! A 24 hour process. With WFH (working from home), even if you have been verified (as I have) if you do not have an ‘active’ profile on the NBA website, you are unlikely to be able to vote. An ‘active’ profile means you interact with the NBA through your portal on the NBA website. (It is) Not the same as being verified.”

On his part, Ogbodo told CITY LAWYER that “This is what I have been missing. I have been trying to put the password without inserting figures and special number. (I) Have just done the needful and Password successfully reset. Thanks for your assistance.”

Worried that many lawyers may be disenfranchised by the verification model adopted by the ECNBA, Adekoya predicted a very low voter turnout in the 2020 NBA Elections. her words: “(I) Will be surprised if up to 3000 voters receive voting link from NBA website.”

CITY LAWYER also observed that the ECNBA press statement was silent on the details of any Help Desk or help lines for eligible voters who may have challenges with the verification process.

It is recalled that while 32, 228 eligible voters were on the provisional voters register for the 2018 NBA Elections, only 16,825 or 52.21 per cent of the eligible voters were able to scale the verification hurdle. Analysts have observed that the 2018 verification process is more straightforward than the current exercise, leading to fears that even fewer eligible voters may get their names on the final voters register.

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Former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) presidential candidate, Mrs. Funke Adekoya SAN has warned the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA) to steer clear of Nigerian information technology specialists if it plans to deliver free, fair and credible elections.

In an exclusive interview with CITY LAWYER, Adekoya warned that the forthcoming NBA National Officers Elections would be doomed if local ICT specialists are deployed for the elections, adding that “this is our last chance” to restore credibility to NBA’s electoral process given the rancour that has attended previous NBA elections.

She also noted that Nigerian ICT firms have been reportedly unreliable in previous elections. Her words: “Don’t use a Nigerian based entity or system; there are allegations that those used in the past have been hacked into and the voting was compromised.”

Instead, the foremost litigator who is also listed as a “thought leader” by the influential “Who is Who Legal” urged the Mr. Tawo Tawo SAN-led ECNBA to look beyond Nigeria’s shores for established electronic voting entities to conduct a rancour-free poll. She said: “The Committee does not need to re-invent the wheel; there are accredited international election conducting platforms that various Nigerian associations have used to conduct elections for their members for the past few years. Examples are https://www.eballot.com/, https://electionrunner.com/, https://electionbuddy.com/ and https://nvotes.com.”

On concerns that the bidding process may favour a pre-determined bidder, Adekoya said: “If they do that, it will be the death knell for the electoral process in the NBA. The IT platform must be agreed to by all the candidates.”

The former NBA presidential candidate warned that very minimal role must be given to NBA staff in the electoral management process to avoid compromising the poll. Her words: “Their (staff) only involvement should be to provide the election platform with access to the list of accredited voters. This list is all the lawyers who paid their practising fees by 31 March. Their email addresses should be accessible on the ‘Find a Lawyer’ portal of the NBA website.”

The ECNBA seems to have followed previous tradition where NBA staff are deployed as the committee’s clearinghouse. Both ECNBA notices seeking bids from information technology specialists as well as the committee’s preliminary notice on the elections give roles to NBA staff. This has raised doubts on the committee’s resolve not to be tied to the apron strings of the NBA but rather to keep an arm’s length relationship with NBA HOUSE.

On ways for the Electoral Committee to guarantee transparent and rancour-free elections, the highly decorated Founding Partner at AELEX said: “The Committee members must be IT savvy; they must have presided over, organised or been involved in online voting systems before now so they can understand the proposals presented, identify any areas where the system could be corrupted if a locally based provider is used and block all loopholes. In a properly run system, the results should be available within 24 hours.

“For transparency purposes, a delegate of each candidate should be a member of the Election Committee and participate in all decision making processes. Finally, keep Nigerian IT specialists out of the process. With the rancour generated over the last two elections in the NBA and the NMA, we must restore credibility to the system. It’s our last chance.”

Adekoya was in 2014 adopted by the Chief Bandele Aiku SAN-led Egbe Amofin O’odua as its sole candidate for the NBA presidential election. However, a split within the zone saw to the emergence of Mr. Dele Adesina SAN and Chief Niyi Akintola SAN as presidential candidates. Analysts argue that the inability of the Yoruba bloc to present a sole presidential candidate gifted the race to Mr. Augustine Alegeh SAN.

Adekoya heads the Dispute Resolution Practice Group at AELEX. Appointed Notary Public in 1986 and elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 2001, Adekoya has over 45 years experience in litigation and arbitration. She has acted in numerous disputes as either party appointed Arbitrator, Sole Arbitrator or Presiding Arbitrator. A Life Bencher, she is a member of the International Bar Association (IBA), International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), LCIA African Users Council and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK).

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