There are concerns in legal circles following revelation by the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) that one of the applicants for the crucial role of “Technical Support Consultant” (TSC) played the same role in the controversial 2018 NBA Elections.

The ECNBA had in a Public Notice yesterday urged NBA stakeholders to comment on the suitability of two leading ICT firms seeking to fill the role of ECNBA Technical Consultant. The two companies are Finesse Integrated Technologies Limited and Thriveonus Limited, both Abuja based ICT companies.

While reeling out its numerous operations especially in the legal sector, Finesse Integrated Technologies Limited wrote: “NBA – Technical Consultant to the ECNBA for the 2018 NBA general elections.” This is aside from other jobs done for the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Court of Appeal, National Judicial Institute (NJI) and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) in an otherwise rich resume.

CITY LAWYER investigation however shows that the 2018 NBA Elections remains one of the most controversial in the history of the lawyers’ association. Following a CITY LAWYER exclusive report showing that former NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN – who was one of the presidential candidates in the election – was equally a non-Executive Director at Access Bank Plc alongside Dr. (Mrs.) Ajoritsedere Josephine Awosika, the pioneer female Chairman of CHAMS hired as ICT Partner to midwife the election, this set off a chain of events that took the election beyond the July deadline stipulated by the NBA Constitution.

Current ECNBA member and former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu referred to the debacle when he wrote: “Under the constitution of the association, the ballot was to have concluded before the end of July. A cocktail of implausible cock-ups had conspired to defer the completion of the ballot by three weeks beyond the constitutionally permissible date.”

Passing a judgement on the 2018 NBA Elections, the fiery human rights activist wrote: “The figures announced by the ECNBA suggested a very spirited contest. In reality, the outcome was pre-determined. The ECNBA and the NBA leadership of AB Mahmoud SAN had presided over the most willfully manipulated ballot in the history of the association.” While Usoro emerged victorious with 4,509 votes, Chief Arthur Obi-Okafor SAN and former Deputy Director-General of the Nigerian Law School, Prof. Ernest Ojukwu SAN polled 4, 423 and 3, 313 votes respectively.

Odinkalu observed that the process leading to the engagement of CRENET, a new election data service provider, was shrouded in secrecy, adding: “One phone number in particular, 0807 410 7787 accounted for 41 voters; 0810 642 1702 accounted for 32 voters, while 0806 402 8401 accounted for 18. Between them, these three numbers alone accounted for 91 votes, that is six votes more than the announced margin of 86 votes between the declared winner and the runner up.”

This would later ground prosecution of two lawyers by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) following a petition by Obi-Okafor. In the August 28, 2018 petition presented by the ICT Team Lead for his campaign organization, Mr. Olumuyiwa Olowokure, it said: “The NBA 2018 National Elections which held from August 18 to 20, 2018 has been mired in controversy following complaints of gross irregularities characterised by theft of members’ identities and data, internet fraud, interference/manipulation of the online portal … parties connived to fraudulently manipulate the electoral process to achieve a predetermined outcome.”

The EFCC in the suit marked FHC/L/118c/2020 and signed by its counsel, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, alleged that the accused persons altered 1004 eligible voters’ personal details and cast votes for the former NBA president by impersonating voters through fraudulently using the Supreme Court Enrolment Numbers of some lawyers.

While CHAMS and CRENET were in the eye of the storm for the alleged fraud that enveloped the election, Finesse Integrated Technologies Limited seems to have been in the shadows. The process leading to its appointment as ECNBA’s Technical Consultant as well as the exact role it played during the 2018 NBA Election seem to be mired in mystery. Given that the ECNBA was decidedly silent on its involvement in the 2018 Election, it was not until yesterday that it announced its participation in the controversial election.

Said Odinkalu: “In the end, a voting process that was supposed to be seamless suffered at least eight deferrals and one suspension. Every stage in the process was tortured.”

Ojukwu also had only harsh words for the conduct of the election. He denounced the election as having been characterized by “massive vote buying, vote capture, rigging and a skewed process.”

The uproar that greeted the 2018 election as well as the one before and after it compelled the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) to set up a five-man committee to work with the NBA to review the 2018 and 2020 elections. Members of the committee were Chief Joe Kyari-Gadzama, SAN; Mr. Osaro Eghobamien, SAN; Chief Yomi Aliu, SAN; Prof. Offornze Amucheazi, SAN, and Mr. Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa, SAN.

Former NBA President and Chairman of its Board of Trustees, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN said of the electoral audit: “It is very good to review the electoral process of NBA, which is exactly what we, the Trustees recommended.” The BOSAN Committee soon became troubled itself, with the resignation of some of its members including Gadzama.

Following his commitment in his inaugural address to review the association’s electoral process and bequeath a flawless electoral system to the lawyers’ body, NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata on September 30, 2020 set up the Mr. Ayodele Akintunde SAN-led “Electoral Reform and Audit Committee.” One of the committee’s terms of reference was “To audit the elections of National Officers of the NBA of 2016, 2018 and 2020 and recommend reforms (if any) of the electoral process.” Aside from submitting a detailed report on the malfeasance that bedeviled past NBA Elections, the mantle again fell on Akintunde to walk the talk by implementing his committee’s recommendations geared towards a free, fair and credible NBA Election.

Attempts by CITY LAWYER to reach Finesse Integrated Technologies Limited on its role in the 2018 NBA Elections proved abortive. Though one Ruth Isaac told CITY LAWYER that the company’s Managing Director and Chief Executive, Mr. Akintomide Akinwolere would respond timeously to our enquiries, he was yet to do so at press time.

According to the “Request for Proposal For Technical Support Consultant to the ECNBA” dated April 11, 2022 the all-important role of the Technical Support Consultant was spelt out as follows: “The TSC shall be responsible for providing the requisite consulting and advisory services necessary to attain the goal established by the ECNBA for the Project. Specifically, the TSC shall play key roles in the following areas:

1. Member Identity & Database (Technical Assistance):
(a) Collect, review and certify as adequate and fit for purpose, an approximately 50,000– 60,000 member-rich database, and transform same into a Register of Voters in an integration ready format for use with any standard Election Management System (EMS); and

(b) Propose a multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) protocol to govern the identification and verification of members on the EMS to be deployed for the Project.

2. ICT Service Provider (“Service Provider”):
(a) Develop the technical requirements and the ECNBA’s criteria for engaging the Service Provider that will deploy the EMS;

(b) Support the ECNBA in developing the requisite RFP for the selection process and subsequent negotiations between the qualified, experienced, skilled, and selected Service Provider; and

(c) Outline the deliverables that will be incorporated in the Service Level Agreement (SLA) and Operational Level Agreement (OLA) that will govern the performance and operations of the EMS services by the Service Provider.

3. Stakeholder Support:
(a) Support the ECNBA in its voter sensitization and enlightenment outreach by producing materials, including Q&A’s, for publication on the Project website or distribution to members, and to attend the ECNBA branch or regional stakeholder programs physically (or virtually), to respond to technical issues raised by members;

(b) Conduct trainings for members (virtually or physically) on any aspect of the electoral process, including voter registration and certification as well as login and logout protocol of the EMS; and

(c) Set up and operate a Technical Support Centre, including 24/7 Call Centre from the commencement and throughout the election period, to assist members on any technical issues relating to access, login, or logout process on the EMS.

4. Tests, Audits & Reports:
(a) Conduct a system and software testing to ensure that the EMS is implementing the latest, modern technology and solutions;

(b) Conduct functionality testing to ensure that the EMS delivers on all the functional requirements and specifications stipulated by the ECNBA;

(c) Conduct vulnerability testing to identify any vulnerability or threat to which the system might be exposed, assign severity levels to threats found, and propose remediation or mitigation; and

(d) Perform process audit of the EMS, monitor elections real time, and carry out postelection audit and produce all relevant reports required by the ECNBA.

According to the approved ECNBA Budget, the Technical Support Consultant is to earn N15 Million for its services.

It remains to be seen the exact role played by Finesse Integrated Technologies Limited in the NBA 2018 Elections saga.

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