A leading presidential candidate in the forthcoming Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Elections, Mr. Olumide Akpata has raised alarm over what he called “looming disenfranchisement of voters and possible manipulation” of the elections, saying the operations of the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA) is bedeviled by “general opacity.” In a three-page letter to the electoral committee, the former NBA Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) Chairman urged the electoral body to urgently address these concerns to reassure stakeholders.

In the three-page letter titled “Urgent need to avert the looming disenfranchisement of voters and possible manipulation of the forthcoming NBA 2020 elections,” Akpata who is a Founding Partner at TEMPLARS, a tier-1 law firm, commended the electoral committee “for its good intent and efforts towards conducting credible 2020 elections into the national offices of the NBA.”

He however said he was constrained “to register respectfully my reservations concerning the persistent issues affecting the voters’ register and verification process.” He identified three major factors that may imperil the elections, including “seriously flawed final voters’ list,” “frustrating and cumbersome verification process,” and “opacity regarding the technology and modalities for the elections.”

In a damning rebuke of the electoral body, Akpata frowned on what he termed the “general opacity regarding the conduct of the forth-coming elections,” adding that while he is keen to see that the elections are free, fair and transparent, “The realities surrounding the electoral process presently, with respect, do not suggest that this would be the case, as I explain below.”

According to him, the final voters register as published by the ECNBA is fraught with “tell-tale duplicity of names,” adding that “whilst the final voters’ list contains both duplicated and apparently non-existent names, I am informed that it omits a significant number of NBA members who paid their BPF and Branch Dues on time.”

On the verification exercise, Akpata stated that it “appears to have the effect of preventing prospective voters from exercising their franchise,” adding that “In many cases, it takes days for verification emails to be sent whilst some members simply do not get verified no matter how many times they try.”

Akpata stated that it is “more distressing” that the NBA portal on which the verification exercise is to be conducted appears not to be secure and can be easily manipulated.” He said that a report from an IT consultancy firm recruited by him to assess the vulnerability of the NBA portal “shows clearly that the portal is extremely porous,” adding that the portal “has serious vulnerabilities which could be exploited by anyone to manipulate the process in favour of or against particular candidates.”

He noted that lack of information on specific modalities for the elections is “quite disturbing,” adding that “the ECNBA needs to address the point publicly now.” Noting that the 2018 election “raised many valid concerns which must be avoided this time around,” Akpata warned that “Anything short of a fully transparent, free, fair, credible and user-friendly electoral process in the forthcoming elections would thoroughly offend the collective sensibilities of the members of the NBA which the ECNBA was constituted to serve.”

He demanded that the electoral body should publish “a complete and accurate list of eligible voters in the forthcoming elections” as well as release the statement of account from Access Bank Plc evidencing NBA members who met the March 31 deadline for payment of Bar Practising Fee.

Akpata also asked the ECNBA to “simplify and secure” the verification process and disclose the technology to be deployed for the elections, the IT vendor and measures put in place to secure the voting portal.

Suggesting that the electoral committee jettison its insistence on  a Nigeria registered IT company as vendor for the elections, Akpata stated that most professional associations including NBA Lagos Branch had deployed “technology service providers that specialize in electronic voting.” He urged the ECNBA to “adopt this standard” to ensure free and credible elections.

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