As the tenure of the incumbent president of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata, rounds off, with barely a month to go, prominent lawyers have commenced preparations to contest the association’s number one position. The election, which holds every two years, ushers in a new set of executives to pilot the affairs of the body.
Over the years, the NBA has elected its leadership by a system of delegates drawn from all branches of the Bar with each branch entitled to 10 delegates. However, branches get additional delegates for every 100 members.
Those entitled to vote as delegates are elected officers of the NBA, all living lawyers (excluding judges), who are members of the Body of Benchers, Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and all members of the expanded National Executive Committee (NEC) of the association. But all of those have changed with the electronic voting system introduced about seven years ago that makes every registered and financially up-to-date lawyer eligible to vote.
Following its constitution, the NBA presidential position is rotated among the association’s three zones, east, west and north. Currently, it is the turn of the northern zone to produce the next President.
Ahead of this year’s election, Akpata inaugurated the Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA), expressing hope that the new ECNBA will perform beyond expectations in the 2022 NBA elections considering the pedigree of members in the committee.
In 2015, under the leadership of its former president, Augustine Alegeh (SAN), the association introduced an
the electronic voting system to curb any form of compromise.
The electronic voting system was also expected to cure the ills of electoral fraud, vote-buying and sundry irregularities but has failed to achieve the desire result.
Recall in 2018, the electoral committee unjustly disqualified the then immediate past general secretary of the association, Mazi Afam Osigwe, who was adjudged to wield a major political influence among young lawyers. Following the contentious disqualification, the battle for the NBA presidency became a tripodal face-off between Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), Chief Arthur Obi-Okafor (SAN) and Prof. Ernest Ojukwu (SAN). Members encountered overwhelming challenges during the verification process and consistently called for the postponement of the election.
Unfortunately for NBA, the 2020 elections did not make any difference in erasing doubts about the possibility of fraud, rigging and manipulation.
Zoned to the South West, comprising the former Midwestern Region, three candidates emerged. They were Mr. Dele Adesina (SAN), Dr. Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) and Mr. Olumide Akpata, a member of the outer bar. During the election, Akpata had raised the alarm about the possibility of electoral fraud. He ended up winning the election.
Since the constitution of the NBA requires the ECNBA to publish the list of eligible voters within 28 days before the voting date, the final list of eligible voters ought to have been out by July 1, 2020, when the election was scheduled to hold on July 29, 2020, but it didn’t happen until five hours to the commencement of voting on July 29, 2020.
When the ECNBA eventually issued the final list on July 29, 2020, it had dropped by 9,686 or 24.63 per cent to 29,635. While the ECNBA managed to eliminate ‘Opening Balance’, in its first list, it included ‘Diaspora International’, with 87 members, into the list, thereby, impugning the credibility of the process. In addition to other irregularities, many lawyers who had verified and had been digitally assured that they were confirmed to vote could not find their names in the final list and there was no more time to right the wrongs.
So far, the presidential aspirants that have been cleared by ECNBA for the 2022 election are, Gadzama Joe-Kyari (SAN), Mikyau Yakubu Chonoko (SAN) and Taidi Jonathan Gunu.
Those cleared for the position of the first vice president are Bala Linda Rose, Bawa Yakubu Saleh and Liman Salihu.
Also, Nosike Damian Onwubiko, Ugo Chukwuemeka Clement and Ugochukwu Gerald Abonyi were cleared for the post of the second vice president, while Asagba Justina Ego Amanda and Ogbah Isaac Omuta were cleared for the position of the third vice president.
For the post of the general secretary, Adegbite Adeshina, Asenoguan Osamuede Isobomuwa, Ogiegbaen Callistus Benson and Yamah Desmond were cleared, while Aka Oluwaseun, Balogun Dhikrullah Adewale, Kip Daniel KayAyu and Oseme Peremene Anthony were cleared for the post of assistant general secretary. Anze-Bishop Caroline Ladidi, Adeogun Funmilola Oluwatosin and Balarabe Safiya Iweyi were cleared for the post of the association’s treasurer, while Adaramola Gbemiga, Aniekwena Ben Churchill, Auta Nyada, Obasi Chinyere Gladys and Ugwuoke Ikechukwu Maximus were cleared for the post of welfare secretary.
Also, Emoghwanre Ogaga and Lawal Akorede Habeeb were cleared for the post of publicity secretary, while Ajiboye Charles Olawale and Nwoye Akachukwu Anthony were cleared for the post of assistant publicity Secretary.
But speaking on the development, an Abuja-based lawyer, Amaechi Ekwe, said the 2022 NBA election might not be different from the previous elections as the former criteria for eligibility were still in place.
Ekwe maintained that the criteria for voting in the NBA election were rigid and made the exercise undemocratic, noting that although the criteria aimed to reduce voting fraud and ensure that members pay their dues, it has other rigours that limit eligibility.
“The process of eligibility should be seamless, not rigorous. It disenfranchises voters. NBA knows what I’m talking about. Let’s make doing things easy and credible. That is why technology is evolving on daily basis making things easy. Many will not have much time to pass through the needle’s eye of eligibility after paying the NBA Bar Practicing Fee and on time,” he said.
Ekwe explained that the NBA makes use of the Electronic Voting System (EVS), which is by email, saying text messages could be included like in other climes. However, he noted that the EVS gives more access to voters to participate in the NBA election especially persons with disabilities.
“Electronic voting, though not perfect, is better than manual voting, because it reduces electoral irregularities to the barest minimum. Thus, with an electronic voting system in place, the NBA election will be relatively seamless, credible, free and fair in 2022. The rigging in manual voting is monumental and disastrous,” he stated.
He lauded Akpata’s administration, saying the election that led to his emergence as the NBA president was powered by the resilience of the popular will of the people, not just in the NBA, but also in Nigeria as a whole.
“The current President of the NBA came from the non-SAN wing of the Bar and decided to carry every stratum of the Bar along including the Bench, the Inner Bar and all other strata therein. This is because the Bar is the nursery where all others grow even to the Bench. This is to say that, without the Bar, there will be no Inner Bar, Bench or even professors of law in the academia,” he stated.
On the achievement of the Akpata-led NBA, he said: “The administration has attempted to address the issue of independence of the Judiciary, which led to JUSUN strike. They have addressed the issue of the welfare of lawyers by partnering with some commercial banks in Nigeria to wit: Access Bank and First Bank for low-interest loans for lawyers.
“They have also established and maintained Health Insurance Scheme for lawyers and judges alike. They have shown maximum resistance to the unlawful prosecution and intimidation of judges by politicians and powerful individuals.
“I wish this NBA was there when Hon Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen (former Chief Justice of Nigeria) was maliciously prosecuted and the judiciary rubbished. This Akpata administration recently compelled a sitting governor to apologise to a judge over the governor’s unguarded comments. This is brave and uncommon in recent times. This has given judges the morale and face-lift to uphold justice no matter who was involved.”
He continued: “In protection of the Nigerian society and the press, the NBA has lent its eponymous voice against the intimidation of Nigerian masses and the members of the public. This Administration also dissolved certain superfluous offices in the NBA to prevent wastage and leakage of funds.
“This NBA promised and has delivered to lawyers two free batches of lawyer’s stamp and seal once the member pays his Bar Practicing Fee on/before March 31st every year. Every lawyer has benefitted from Akpata-led NBA administration.”
Council member, Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL) and former member of the NBA criminal justice reform committee, Emeka Nwadioke, said that to have free and fair elections, lawyers must make the necessary preparations. “I dare say it starts with the political will of the incumbent administration.
“The NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata has been commended for appointing what many lawyers perceive as a credible crop of senior lawyers to midwife the elections. Thus far, the electoral commission has not given many stakeholders any serious cause for concern. The committee has also rolled out the voting guidelines, which ought to deliver credible and rancour-free polls. If the committee continues on the current trajectory, the elections stand a chance of being free, fair and credible,” he said.
Nwadioke, who added that electronic voting remains the best option for the NBA, recalled that 18,201 lawyers voted during the last NBA presidential election. The days of delegates’ system he said are over and thankfully so.
His words: “With the NBA Constitution prescribing universal suffrage for NBA elections, the deployment of electronic voting becomes a no-brainer, especially in managing the huge number of voters. The process had suffered hiccups since 2015 when it was introduced. I dare say that much of this was man-made. Electronic voting has been deployed by a lot of countries and professional associations, even in Nigeria, to deliver rancour-free polls. If the key players are committed to do the right thing than rig the process in favour of their preferred candidates, electronic voting remains the best option for NBA elections.”
He stressed that there are credible signs to show that this may yet be the first rancour-free NBA National Officers election since the introduction of electronic voting in 2015.
“Quite a few close aides of Akpata have vowed that he would not rig an election even for his best friend! That’s reassuring. Aside from the electoral committee chairman, Mr Ayodele Akintunde SAN who is reputed as very ethical, the committee also has among others renowned human rights activist and former Chairman of the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu as one of its members. Both have either spoken extensively about the shenanigans that bedevilled past NBA elections or have been involved in an official probe of those previous efforts. It will be a great disservice to themselves and to the legal profession if, given this golden opportunity to wrought the requisite reforms, they fail to walk the talk. I dare say they will not disappoint,” Nwadioke said.
National President, Admiralty Lawyers Society of Nigeria and Constitutional rights lawyer, Angus Obinna Chukwuka expressed hope that the NBA National election would be free and fair.
Chukwuka said, “the current President, Akpata has set the process in motion by setting up an electoral committee which in my view is made up of persons of integrity and responsibility who know that a lot is at stake.
“I don’t expect them to sell out. Beyond that, Akpata has had quite an impressive outing as a president.I don’t expect that he will scuttle the system he has helped to its present state to be messed up electorally. Again, NBA has an opportunity now to demonstrate to Nigerians the absolute workability of the electoral system, particularly e- voting system. We cannot be bungling our own process and expect to be taken seriously when criticizing or attempting to sanitize Nigeria’s electoral system. I believe the current NBA Exco know what is at stake and are equal to the task. I believe the steps they have taken so far if followed through to the end guarantee a free and fair election,” he said.
Chukwuka noted that the concept of e-voting is contemporary and convenient.
His words: “It presents a seamless electoral process by which the electorate in the confines and comforts of their houses, offices or geographical positions can make a decision as to who they want to be elected as their leaders.
“The benefits are enormous. It will save costs of moving men and materials and monitoring the process across the nation to avoid ballot snatching, pockets of violence and all sorts of rigging tactics.
“It guarantees safe secret voting opportunities. You don’t have to physically coerce, cajole or filibuster me to vote for you. You won’t even see me and I don’t have to see you. I just consider the credibility of your candidacy and cast my vote. You won’t even know if I voted for you or not. This is fine. It is safer, cost-effective and more convenient than the manual or other methods.”
Chukwuka while expressing optimism said he believes NBA this year will record a better result than in the previous years.
“This does not mean there may not be one or two candidates who will feel shortchanged by the system. It will always be there. What is important is the actual integrity and sanity of the system. Will an objective or reasonable person having knowledge of the facts say that the election was not free and fair or efficient and effective?
“That is what matters. Since the inception of the e-voting system, the results have always been very controversial and challenged in court. It is only the one that brought in Akpata that has been most acceptable as being free and fair. I believe Akpata will not violate a system, which gave him a free and fair opportunity. I believe he is a gentleman and will certainly even make the system better than he met it. He has a populist disposition hence it should not be difficult to make such predictions. Beyond that, the National Executive Committee has in recent times under his watch, made certain resolutions with respect to elections that if implemented by the electoral committee should assure us of the freest election so far,” he stated.
In his view, Bar Chuba Ogbui said, NBA will have a credible election if the stakeholders so decide. This is because NBA is an elite group. Electronic voting is ideal for NBA election, because it’s largely a small group voting, eligible voters are easily ascertainable. All lawyers are not voting but only those who renewed their licences to practice for the year. So, it’s safe and effective, if technical hitches are taken care of.
“If there is transparency the election will be generally accepted in which case there will be no disputations: hence it will be different from the past elections alleged by some to be marred by irregularities,” he said.