EDITORIAL: NBA ELECTIONS 2020 – WHY WE MUST GET IT RIGHT

In a matter of hours, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) 2020 National Elections will get underway. Unsurprisingly, the election has attracted frenzied interest from key stakeholders. The campaigns have been electrifying.

The run-up to the election has been thorny, occasionally uncertain. The compilation of the voters’ list was a near nightmare. Even on the eve of the election, the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA) is battling to deliver a clean copy of the voters’ list. Although the Electoral Committee, mindful of the provisions of the NBA Constitution (as amended), had hurriedly published a voters’ list, it soon walked into expected controversies, given the surfeit of duplications and a few strange names on the list.

The Electoral Committee has reported a record 29,635 verified voters in excess of the 39, 321 eligible voters. Given that the 2018 NBA Election posted only 16,825 or less than 50 per cent verified voters out of the 32,228 eligible voters, this is highly commendable. In fact, there are strong indications that this number would have been higher if the verification process was more seamless. What is more, CITY LAWYER reliably gathered that the Electoral Committee members went beyond the call of duty in compilation of the voters’ list. We owe the Electoral Committee members a debt of gratitude for their sacrifice.

Equally refreshing is that the Tawo Eja Tawo SAN-led committee has been especially conscious of meeting the electoral timelines set by the NBA Constitution (as amended), notwithstanding significant challenges posed especially by the coronavirus pandemic.

Accordingly, delivering a clean voters’ list is one solemn duty and commitment the Electoral Committee must not shirk. It is the foundation on which every election rises or falls.

Another issue that has gained currency among key stakeholders is the integrity of the voting portal for the election. While the NBA leadership had incorporated an election portal in the revamped NBA website and offered same to the committee as an option for the election, some key stakeholders have poked holes on the integrity of the NBA Election portal. This has not been helped by the alleged opacity that attended the building of the voting portal.

Some stakeholders have contended that the committee’s reluctance to disclose key elements of the electoral process – including its Information Technology Consultant, the voting portal and its vendor – detracts from the high level of transparency that ought to attend the entire electoral process. On its part, the electoral committee contends that its warehousing of information on the critical election elements is a deliberate strategy to safeguard the integrity of the process. It has also stated that it is speculative that the committee would deploy the NBA Election portal for the poll.

However, aside from the alleged porous nature of the ‘voting portal,’ what is perhaps more worrisome is the speculated tampering with the NBA portal by unknown persons. In a petition to the electoral committee, one of the presidential candidates had alleged that “the NBA portal on which the verification exercise is being conducted appears not to be secure and can be easily manipulated.”

Even more damning is the allegation vide a technical report by the candidate’s ICT experts that Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF), an attack that tricks the victim into loading a page that contains a malicious request, “was exploited few weeks ago on the NBA portal where many users made complaints of their password being changed without their taking such actions personally.” Given several complaints by eligible voters on the subject, we urge the electoral committee to thoroughly investigate this charge in order to ensure that it does not imperil the election. This is moreso as the ECNBA has not rebutted the allegation till date.

It is noteworthy that more recent NBA Elections have been strewn with controversies and allegations of rigging. Both have ended up in court, while the 2018 Election led to the filing of a petition at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). It behoves on the electoral committee to do all within its power to obviate a recurrence and save the noble profession the odium that invariably attends a contentious poll.

There is also the pressing need to activate a functional internal dispute resolution mechanism. As stated in our inaugural editorial, although Section 16 of the NBA Constitution provides that “No aggrieved member shall resort to the court unless his/her complaint must have been considered and disposed of by the Dispute Resolution Committee; provided that such complaint of member shall be decided by the Committee within sixty (60) days of receipt of the complaint,” this has been observed more in breach. Given that the Trustees are the soul of unions such as the NBA, the association’s Trustees are expected to play a crucial role in mediating any dispute that may arise from the elections. However, given that perhaps most of the Trustees have inexplicably thrown their hats into the ring, it remains to be seen whether potential combatants will still repose requisite confidence in them to do justice.

On the other hand, the candidates must not see the election as a do-or-die combat. The spirit of sportsmanship must pervade the entire space. This is increasingly possible where the electoral process is seen to be free, fair, transparent and credible. Winners must also be magnanimous in victory. This will engender the much needed rapprochement at the Bar.

It has been said that electronic voting is no longer rocket science. Not only has many associations in Nigeria deployed it repeatedly for rancour-free elections, technological advancements have made it sufficiently safe, with many reputable and world class e-voting companies pervading the space. Accordingly, everything turns on the political will to deliver a free, fair and credible poll. That will undoubtedly be the best legacy of the Usoro Administration.

NBA ELECTION’LL BE TRANSPARENT, INCLUSIVE, FREE AND FAIR – TAWO TAWO

At today’s meeting of the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) with candidates and other stakeholders, ECNBA Chairman, MR. TAWO TAWO SAN in his welcome address assures all that the committee is leaving no stone unturned to deliver free and credible polls 

ECNBA UPDATE ON THE NBA NATIONAL OFFICERS ELECTIONS 2020 PRESENTED AT THE STAKEHOLDERS INTERACTIVE SESSION HELD ON THE 27TH OF JULY 2020

PREAMBLE
The ECNBA welcomes you all to this interactive session to update Bar leaders, Candidates and Voters of the current state of affairs towards preparation for the NBA National Officers Elections. We had hoped that this session would take place earlier in the electoral process but the global health emergency response by Government compelled a change of the course of activities initially outlined by the Committee to accord with extant regulations on the pandemic and yet accord with the Nigerian Bar Association Constitution 2015(as amended). We do however consider it necessary at this stage of the electoral process, to hold this session albeit remotely, due to the prevailing conditions, to enable us rub minds with stakeholders in the process towards ensuring that we all have a National election that we can be proud of as Lawyers and as an Association.

COMMENCEMENT OF DUTIES
The ECNBA was appointed by the NBA NEC and inaugurated by the NBA President of the 12th day of March 2020 pursuant to the provisions of the NBA Constitution which prescribes for the appointment of the Committee at the first NEC meeting of an election year. The Committee was given the task of conducting the NBA National Officers election within four (4) months. This was at a time when the COVID19 pandemic had just broken out in the Country. Undeterred, the Committee was set to commence work immediately, even if working remotely, knowing that time was of the essence. The effect of the pandemic however significantly slowed down responses and affected schedules and timelines.

COMMITTEE ACTIVITIES
From the time of inauguration of the Committee till date, the ECNBA has carried several activities and has kept members informed through its several releases in ECNBA Statements Nos.1-15.

It is noteworthy that in the course of its activities, the ECNBA has constantly updated members via Statements and publications in total of fifteen (15) as at date. We would however like to specifically address some areas perceived to be of concern to members and Candidates in the election.

THE ELIGIBLE VOTERS REGISTER

The importance of a credible voters list to the NBA 2020 elections cannot be over emphasized. The Nigerian Bar Association Constitution 2015 (as amended) in Paragraph 1.3 (d) Second schedule stipulates that the register of eligible voters is to be compiled by the ECNBA in conjunction with the Nigerian Bar Association. As such the said task is not one that could be done without recourse or input from the NBA or its Staff. In furtherance of this provision, while engaging with the National Secretariat, the ECNBA also engaged with Branch Chairmen to supply lists of members that had met the Constitutional criteria for eligibility to vote, being payment of Branch Dues as at 31st March of 2020. The National Secretariat was also requested to produce the list of members who had paid their Bar Practice Fees as at March 31st 2020. This task suffered some delays due to the fact that the NBA National Secretariat and some Branches of the NBA were closed and not fully operational due to the Government lockdown in Abuja and other parts of the country, making it difficult to access some necessary documentation for the exercise. It would also be recalled that Access Bank was not fully operational at this time and needed time to supply the data on payments of BPF. Eventually, the National Secretariat succeeded in producing the comprehensive data on the BPF payments, but the lists from the NBA Branches were however more challenging to gather as shown in the several statements already published by the ECNBA to that effect.

The challenges to the exercise ranged from but were not limited to: lack of Bank statements showing payment of dues by members, failure of members to submit their payment details to their Branches for compilation, incomplete membership information and documentation from Branches, inaccurate lists submitted by some Branches, amongst others. The general impact of the lockdown across the country is also acknowledged as a major factor that affected the exercise.

In combating these challenges, the ECNBA had to device creative solutions, to sort through the various lists and payment details submitted in order to sieve those persons truly eligible to vote in compliance with the provisions of the NBA Constitution.

It must at this stage be clarified that due to complaints by members in respect of lists submitted by their Branches and the desire to ensure that no eligible Voter is disenfranchised, the ECNBA gave an opportunity to members whose names may have been omitted or had errors, to submit same directly to the Committee with proof of payment of their Branch dues and Bar Practice fees for compilation in the voters register. It is noteworthy that these activities had deadlines assigned to them because the Committee was also bound by timelines imposed by the NBA Constitution, which still remains effective in the face of the COVID19 pandemic. While some colleagues responded to the publications and extensions given within the time stipulated, some failed to do so and only awoke much later (after expiration of the deadlines) to demand that their names be included on the final Voters list. However, there must be an end to that exercise and as such the final list of names had to be published in accordance with the NBA Constitution.

VOTERS VERIFICATION EXERCISE
By the ECNBA Statement No. 008, the Committee called on eligible voters to ensure they verified their details on the NBA website preparatory to voting in the elections. The importance of the Exercise cannot be overemphasized as it is not only a form of accreditation for eligible Voters, but also a source of authentic data about members supplied by the Voters themselves. It also ensures that Voters have access to their portal in the event that the site would be used for the voting exercise. The verification exercise for voters has now ended by 6PM on Sunday 26th July 2020. We can confirm from records of the exercise available to us now, that over 30,000 Voters on the published Voters have now verified their details.

ELECTION PLATFORM AND IT CONSULTANT

Security and integrity of the voting platform for the NBA national officers election 2020 is of paramount importance to the ECNBA. The authenticity and security of votes cast at the elections are issues that have not been taken lightly. A lot of work has gone into ensuring that all but only legitimate votes count at the elections. It would be recalled that in the ECNBA Statement No.006, the Committee outlined its efforts at engaging an IT expert to work with the ECNBA in the determination of the proper platform to be used for voting and also the modalities for the electronic voting. We can confirm that further to our Request for Proposals, applications were received from several IT firms, which went through various stages of screening and interviews and at the end, a firm which was adjudged to have the requisite experience and expertise and competence in such matters was engaged to work with the ECNBA on this project. At the time of engagement of the Consultant, the ECNBA had not taken any decision as to the platform to be used for the elections as mentioned in our Statement No. 006 and were open to exploring all viable options, inclusive of the newly developed election portal of the Nigerian Bar Association. We had intimated that the decision as to what platform would be used for the elections would be based on the recommendations of the technical experts, in this case our engaged IT Consultants, not foreclosing recommendations from other experts. The Committee therefore deprecates in strong terms the various attempt by individuals, who in an attempt to force the hand of the ECNBA some of whom are members of the profession, to gain unauthorized access to the NBA website and going further to publish a report showing perceived weaknesses of the site to the world. This action is sad to say, not expected of gentlemen of the legal profession.

The ECNBA is confident of the competence of our OT Consultants who are to advise us on the technical aspects of the electoral process and will abide by their professional recommendations.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, and as we count down to the elections, the ECNBA wishes to express its gratitude to members of the Bar for their patience with the ECNBA, our Bar leaders for their constant advise and contributions and the National Secretariat for cooperation thus far in this process. Needless to say that we all are stakeholders in this process and must continue to work together to ensure a smooth transition process in our association for the benefit of us all. On its part the ECNBA will continue to keep its promise of doing its very best to conduct a transparent, inclusive, free and fair 2020 polls. We therefore urge you to keep an open mind on issues and make constructive contributions that will engender progress and promote the general good of our dear Association.

Thank you and God bless you.

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