Human rights advocate and former Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu has predicted that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) National Officers Elections scheduled to open on July 29 will be rigged. In an article titled “The 2020 Elections of the Nigerian Bar Association Will Be Rigged: Here is How,” Odinkalu outlines perceived gaps in the ongoing electoral process, expressing fears that the NBA leadership may lack the political will to conduct free, fair and credible elections.


By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

In his infamous letter issued last month to the 1998 transitional President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NA), Chief T.J.O. Okpoko, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), senior Nigerian lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, himself also a SAN, appealed that “it will be a great failure of leadership for the senior advocate to surrender leadership to outer Bar when there are willing and able senior advocates.” In an election in which two of the three aspirants for the top prize of president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) are SANs, this was as close as anyone could come to openly advocating rigging the election à la carte, without calling the crime by its name. Barring last minute course correction by the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA), Chief Awomolo is likely to get his wish: these 2020 NBA elections, like the two before it in 2016 and 2018, have been set up to be rigged to order.

While Chief Awomolo may have provided the motive or rationale for rigging the NBA election, the mechanics of procuring the rigging are in the hands of the ECNBA. By way of context, it is useful to explain that the NBA elections are digital. In their 2018 book, How to Rig an Election, Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas point out that “once upon a time, to do the dirty of changing votes, you had to be present in the actual polling location. That is no longer true.” In an earlier piece of work on “Making Democracy Harder to Hack” published in the Michigan Journal of Law Reform in 2017, Scott Shackleford and his collaborators examined essential vulnerabilities that make rigging possible in digital democracy, focusing in particular on three aspects: who can vote (voter rolls); who you vote for (voting platforms) and vote computation. (how many votes each candidate receives). As will be shown shortly, all three vulnerabilities are deliberately built into the NBA’s electoral processes.

Essentially, there are four vulnerabilities that have been designed to guarantee rigging of the vote in the 2020 NBA election. These are voter rolls (register), portal integrity (or lack of it), voter verification opacity and prohibitive transaction cost, and lack of independence in the ECNBA. I will explain each of these briefly.

Voter Register: Voters in NBA ballot have to meet three conditions. First, they must be enrolled as lawyers in Nigeria. This is easily confirmed from the Roll of lawyers kept with the Supreme Court. Every lawyer on the Roll has an enrolment number, with which their enrolment can be verified. Second, the person must have paid their annual practicing fees by 31 March. The collecting bank for this is Access Bank. It should be easy to verify those who paid from the records or tellers of the bank. In reality, the only people who have access to this record are the President of the NBA and those whom he wishes to. Third, the voter must also have paid his or her branch dues by 31 March. The NBA comprises 125 branches. Each branch manages its own processes for collecting dues. These are not standardized. The list of eligible payees is at the say so of the different branch chairmen.

Without access to the records of the bank or of the branches, the register of voters lacks integrity and it shows. When the ECNBA issued the provisional register at the end of May 2020, it contained 21,067 names. By the time it issued what it called a final list one month later in June, it had ballooned by 186.65% to 39,321. A close reading of the list shows it contains multiple repetitions, omissions and even figments. People who did not pay the practicing fees are there while many who paid are not. Many branch chairmen have no records of people whom they have put forward as having paid branch dues. There are credibly attested reports of chairmen printing receipts of payment and backdating fictional payments. One particular voter on the list goes by the incredible name of “Opening Balance”. The joke is that this voter has a twin, who is also a lawyer called “Closing”. Their Dad, Mr. Balance, must be proud!

Portal Integrity: In 2018, the voting portal for the NBA election was from a compromised provider. In 2020 it is not clear who the provider is. The portal appears to be managed by the NBA itself. It is not clear who has built it. There is neither transparency to its provenance nor verifiability or falsifiability to its operations and computations. As such, its integrity can neither be investigated nor guaranteed. It should be easy to engage external monitors for this purpose or engage the leading campaigns to designate back-end agents to monitor and verify the integrity of the operations. Neither the leadership of the NBA nor the ECNBA constituted by it is willing to grant either.

Verification Opacity and Prohibitive Transaction Cost: By meeting the three conditions for getting on the voter register, a potential voter does not earn the right to vote as such. S/he only qualifies for the privilege of verification. To do this, the voter is required to go to the portal and key in their details, including uploading their qualifying certificate and providing an e-mail address to which a password can be sent to them. The uploading can take up to three to four days. Many voters find this frustrating and opt out. Passwords are generated by the portal and changed by it at will without the agency of the voter. The voting register does not contain the e-mail address of the voter, so it is impossible to verify in any forensic process whether an e-mail corresponds to any particular voter. On their part, the ECNBA and the NBA can put forward data-protection concerns for circumspection with publishing of the e-mail addresses. In response, surely, that cannot be cited to justify creating deliberate balloting vulnerability. This opacity guarantees inflation of actual voting. In 2018, this was precisely the vulnerability that allowed for clusters of voting to happen using fake Firemail addresses generated from one source. That is almost guaranteed to occur in 2020. The prohibitive transaction cost is engineered for targeted disenfranchisement of voting clusters or conurbations seen as favourably disposed to unfavoured candidates.

Lack of Independence in ECNBA: Appointed to supervise the NBA election, the ECNBA lacks independent appropriations and operations. It has to function through the NBA Secretariat under the direction of the NBA President. Despite the existence of an ECNBA, aspirants and candidates continue(d) to receive letters from the NBA Secretariat and the NBA continues to be involved in directing essential aspects of the election value chain. The absence of institutional and process independence could itself become a dent on the personal integrity of members of the ECNBA.

It happened in 2016 and 2018. The litigation commenced in 2016 against the outcome of the rigged election to the position of the NBA presidency was only concluded at the end of the tenure of the beneficiary in 2018. After the 2018 election, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the State Security Service (SSS) instituted investigations into the rigging of the ballot for the NBA presidency. Several staff of the NBA Secretariat were arrested. In one case, a young mother who works as staff of the NBA was arrested and detained for nearly two weeks.

The ECNBA has an opportunity even now 2020 to avoid these. It can easily infuse greater transparency into its operations. It can invite independent monitors to certify the integrity of its operations. All the accredited campaigns should be entitled to records that should enable them to certify the integrity of the process. These are not expensive steps. The only reason none will happen is because the NBA elections will be rigged. I will be happy to be proved wrong and to eat humble pie.

This, then, is the architecture of rigging that almost assuredly guarantees that Chief Awomolo and his gang of insecure, entitled antediluvians will get his wish. As I have said elsewhere, any system in which a minority feels entitled to rule over the majority has only one name: Apartheid. It should be resisted.

Odinkalu is Co-Convenor of the Open Bar Initiative and writes in his personal capacity.

Copyright 2020 CITY LAWYER. Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Join us on Facebook at https://web.facebook.com/City-Lawyer-Magazine-434937936684320 and on TWITTER at https://twitter.com/CityLawyerMag All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.



Some stakeholders have raised concerns over the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lagos Branch Elections scheduled to hold on Friday.

The stakeholders told CITY LAWYER that while the integrity of the Electoral Committee is not in doubt, some of the processes leading to the high-stakes elections leave a sour taste in their mouth.

This comes against the backdrop of postponement of the highly anticipated “Manifesto Day” earlier scheduled for tomorrow to Tuesday at 1:45 pm. The postponement is not unconnected with the investiture of former Chief Judge of Lagos State, Hon. Justice Opeyemi Oke as a Fellow of the Institute of Criminology and Penology at the High Court Foyer earlier slated for the Manifesto Day.

According to some of the candidates, enlightenment on the electronic voting system is poor, moreso as the branch is deploying the e-voting system for the first time.

They also poked holes in the complaints processes for the cleaning up of the voters’ register. According to them, many eligible voters may be disenfranchised as the initial notice on omitted names did not request members to send in their Bar Practicing Fee and Branch Dues receipts.


“Several members reached out to us on this, saying it was only after they sent in their complaints that they were directed to attach these documents,” a candidate told CITY LAWYER at the weekend. “Some potential voters are even giving up after several attempts to send in their complaints.” It was also noted that there was no feedback from the Electoral Committee to members on whether their complaints are being resolved or not.

The stakeholders also say that barely a few days to the elections, they are in the dark as to the framework being put in place by the Electoral Committee for the elections. “We are worried that the disclosure levels are rather low,” said the candidate. “We are not being carried along. There is no information on the processes. We do not know who the ICT Partner will be. The integrity of the Electoral Committee is not the issue. How do you monitor an electoral process you know nothing about?”

Another stakeholder told CITY LAWYER that the integrity of the voters’ register must not be put in doubt. His words: “It is crucial that we have in place a credible voters’ register. This is non-negotiable. There is also no official Help Desk or hotline published by the Electoral Committee for potential voters to follow-up on their complaints.

“There is no reason why the attendance list for the June Branch Meeting should not be in the public domain by now; transparency demands that. We must eschew padding of the voters’ register.

“Till date, there is also no notice on when electioneering campaigns should cease. This is important so that everyone is on the same page on the electoral guidelines. This is the first time that e-voting is being used. This entails that we must be extra careful.

“Why is the database not published on the election website or online so that members can update their details there? I know some members who are overseas as we speak. Will they not be disenfranchised by this manual approach to the complaints? Why do we then call it electronic voting if members cannot update their data online and vote from any part of the world?”

One of the candidates told CITY LAWYER that it is imperative that the Electoral Committee convenes a stakeholders’ meeting to be attended by the media to unveil its framework for the elections. “We need to have a forum to ventilate our concerns to the Electoral Committee. So far, that has not happened. That needs to happen. What will be the level of involvement of our agents in the entire electoral process? We need to be in the server room as the votes are dropping; that is an irreducible minimum. We do not want a situation where the backend is opened to rig the process.”

It is estimated that Lagos Branch has about 14,000 nominal members. However, only 793 voters are on the voters’ register published by the Electoral Committee. More names may make the list following ongoing resolution of complaints by the Electoral Committee. Members of the longstanding committee are Mr. Richard Akintunde SAN, Chairman; Chief E. A. Otokhina; Mr. Geff Eze; Mrs. Obosa Akpata and Mrs. Olusola Adegbonmire.

When CITY LAWYER contacted Akintunde on the concerns, he assured that he would respond to all the issues raised by the stakeholders.

Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com.

Copyright 2018 CITY LAWYER. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

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By Our Correspondent

The Nigerian Bar Association is set to hold its National Officers election on July 27 and 28, 2018. Controversies have however trailed preparations for the election, not least being the functionality and fidelity of the electronic voting system slated for the election. Continue Reading