A Duty to Save NBA, by Afam Osigwe

I have watched the unfolding developments in NBA with a lot mixed feelings and dread. A part of me wanted to laugh at those (including a Presidential candidate) who colluded to secure my unlawful disqualification from contesting for NBA Presidency in the forthcoming election, who are now screaming blue murder over the choice of Chams City Plc to provide the e-voting platform for the election. Despite the urge to give in to ‘I have the last laugh’, I am rational enough to fear for the future of our great Association. Edmund Burke warning that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing strengthened my resolve, not to keep silent.

I could not but shudder at the lame excuse that the NBA leadership/ECNBA chose Chams as service provider because Grace Infotech which conducted the last election is involved in litigation over the outcome of the last election. I could not help but wonder as follows:

1. If that be the case, what moral authority does the NBA President have in hand-picking an Electoral Committee as well as midwifing an election when he himself is a party to the same suit;

2. Whether the same Chams Plc is also not indirectly involved in the litigation arising out of the 2014, ICAN election which it superintended as e-voting platform provider.

3. Whether he is not aware that Mrs Okparaeke (a member of one of the Panels that investigated the e-rigging in the 2014 ICAN election) said about the culpability of Chams Plc in the electronic rigging, thus: “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.”

4. Whether he is not aware of the unending and embarrassing cases of identity theft in the NBA Electoral process as well as the possible high level of fraud in the voters register.

Confidence reposed on both the ECNBA as well as the electoral process has been greatly eroded. Little wonder less than 20% of the total number of lawyers whose names appeared in the Final voters’ register (inclusive of fake voters) were able to update their details to vote in the election. Supporters of many candidates who were hitherto excited about the election no longer believe the election is capable of producing a fair and trust-worthy outcome! In fact, it is now an openly embarrassing joke that the ECNBA is about to ‘conduct a concluded election”.

The image of the Association is now gradually being torn to shreds by the decisions as well as actions of ECNBA. Chamsgate (as it is now called) clearly confirms yet again that the present Electoral Committee of NBA (ECNBA) lacks the competence, independence, integrity and impartiality to conduct the election. The election of National Officers of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) slated for July 27 to July 28, 2018 has been in the news for the very wrong reasons, ranging from allegations of selecting the service provider for e-voting whose director is a co-director with a Presidential candidate to vulnerability of the system to manipulation such that strangers could update and hijack names on the final voters register.

The ECNBA has by series of mis-steps and perverse decisions also shown it lacks the competence and integrity to be entrusted with the conduct of the election. The Committee made rules not founded on the NBA Constitution, clearly betraying the fact of its being tele-guided. No better example of ECNBA’s incompetence and lack of integrity can be given than its unlawful disqualification of qualified persons, unlawful qualification of unqualified persons as candidates, of the manner it manipulated the Voters register to remove persons whose names appeared as voters in the Preliminary Voters’ list, exclusion of persons related to me or known to be supporting me, use of a service provider closely associated with one of the NBA Presidential candidates, use of a voter platform that is susceptible to manipulation, duplication of names as well as gross failure to apply the law. Most frightening of the litany of incompetence by ECNBA is the reliance on ‘protests’ by branches to exclude names of lawyers who duly paid their BPF and Branch dues. We have never had it this bad.

A few example will suffice: it unlawfully qualified Banke Olagbegi-Oloba who is less than ten years at the Bar and not in private legal practice to contest for office of Treasurer, it unlawfully disqualified Adedotu Adetunji for failure to present letter of Good Standing even though it is not a ground for qualification to run for any office. Mine is sub judice, so I will say nothing about it.

The NBA has an opportunity to redress these wrongs by postponing the election, dissolving the ECNBA, sacking the service provider and starting the process all over again. Anything other than this will produce a new crop of leadership lacking in credibility.

The Bar is more than ever divided. If the NBA leadership insists on going ahead with this flawed process, it will leave the Bar much more divided than it met it. It will further erode the confidence of many lawyers who already believe the NBA is riddled with corruption and has an electoral process that is highly manipulable so as to achieve a pre-determined end. Nothing will better confirm that belief than an adamant decision to continue with an electoral process that is already devoid of trust, integrity and transparency.

The whole world is watching.

May God save the Nigerian Bar Association.

MAZI AFAM OSIGWE

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