FOLUSO OGUNMODEDE Writes That There Are Ominous Indications That Lawyers’ Umbrella Body—The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) May Again Be In Limbo As Aggrieved Members Have Approached An Abuja High Court To Stop The Association’s National Elections Billed For Saturday
Lawyers are worried that its revered association—the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) may be plunged into an unending crisis reminiscent of the 1992 going by wrangling among members over a process adopted for the association’s national elections billed for Saturday.
For six years during the leadership of the first female president of the NBA, Chief Priscilla Kuye, the association was in limbo following a protracted leadership crisis that put it in comatose. This may again repeat itself as some members are accusing the NBA, being led by the Augustine Alegeh executive over some electoral process.
Already, an Abuja High Court was at the weekend told to stop the elections of its new executive fixed for Saturday and Sunday. Elections of the association come every two years. A member of the association and immediate past Assistant Publicity Secretary, Mr. John Unachukwu, has approached the court, asking it to stop the planned elections.
Although the court has asked the aggrieved lawyer to put the association on notice, the court will tomorrow determine whether the NBA will go ahead with the elections come Saturday.Unachukwu who has hired five Senior Advocates– Chief Bolaji Ayorinde, Chief Emeka Ngige, Chief Chukwuma Ekomaru, Mr. Kunle Ogunba, and Mr. Sebastine Hon, is asking the court to bar NBA President, NBA President, Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN, Chairman of Electoral Committee (ECNBA), Mr. Kenneth Mozia, as well as two presidential candidates, Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama, SAN and Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN from conducting the NBA National Officers’ Election by Internet Voting (I-voting) on July 30 and 31, or any other date pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit. Specifically, Unachukwu is asking the court to declare that the system of voting over the Internet or Internet Voting (I-voting) proposed by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants for the 2016 NBA elections is contrary to and ultra vires their powers under relevant provisions of the NBA Constitution 2015 as amended.
Other orders sought include “an order upholding the principle of universal suffrage enshrined in the NBA Constitution by suspending the use of voting over Internet (I-voting) and ordering the adoption of electronic voting (with paper ballot backup) for all branches across the country in the 2016 NBA general elections; “An order of the court guaranteeing the meaningful exercise of universal suffrage by directing the ECNBA to issue guidelines stipulating that the e-voting for the 2016 NBA general elections be conducted in all branches of the NBA and that results be collated at branch level before transmitting same to the Secretariat, and “An order of the court, upholding the principle of universal suffrage enshrined in the NBA Constitution by directing the ECNBA to issue guidelines allowing the use of manual voting alone in branches of the NBA where available information technology infrastructure is clearly inadequate.” This may plunge the association into unending crisis as the aggrieved members may pursue the matter up to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, unlike previous years when its members will converge and elect their leaders in biennial elections, lawyers will now elect their representatives in a national election by electronic voting. This is the first time the NBA in its 116 years of existence will produce its national officers by universal suffrage through electronic voting.
The e-voting which was implemented by the Augustine Alegeh outgoing leadership was adopted by the body as contained in its amended 2015 Constitution. Augustine Oyarekhua Alegeh, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria was elected 32nd NBA President on July 14, 2014 in Abuja where about 5,000 lawyers cast their votes in an election adjudged the freest in the association’s electoral history.
Alegeh, whose tenure terminates this month after two years of stewardship, won the election keenly contested alongside Mrs. Funke Adekoya, Deacon Dele Adesina, Chief Adeniyi Akintola, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria and Mr. Osas Erhabor with a simple majority of the votes cast.
Two years on, Alegeh determined to leave a better NBA, mid-wifed the adoption of the e-voting with a view to reducing attendant tensions being charaterised by NBA biennial elections in terms of logistic and other inconveniences. However, about 114 branches of the NBA with over 100,000 lawyers will this year vote at the comfort of their offices for the candidates of their choices on July 30 by electronic voting.
NBA has fixed the election for July 30 and 31 by electronic voting while results will be released same day, according to the association’s electoral committee. But the novel e-voting is already generating anxiety among members of the lawyers’ umbrella body as their anticipatory hitches are beginning to unfold leading to a court action.
For instance, lawyers are already complaining of strange names in voter’s register while others say their names cannot be located even as a section faulted the process on the grounds that they are yet to update or upload their profile as part of voter’s verification exercise. This, among other apathy had characterized the NBA planned electioneering process.
Also, the NBA electoral committee is being blamed for some of the apathy as it has failed to meet up with many of what the lawyers referred to as ‘self-imposed’ timelines for the novel election. They feared that the NBA electoral committee being led by Mr. Kenneth Ekene Mozia, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria may not conduct a free and fair election.
Notable names of senior lawyers are allegedly being omitted in the voter’s register. Notable among them include a former president of NBA, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, FIDA President, Hauwa Shekarau, Professor Olawoyin, Dr. S.P Aji, former NBA 1st Vice President, Mrs Funke Adekoya, SAN and scores of others’ names are allegedly being omitted in the register barely 10 days to the election.
There is also an allegation of a planned manipulation of Saturday elections against the leadership of the outgoing NBA by one of the managers of the two contenders to the association’s presidency. They wired a letter to the outgoing NBA President, Alegeh that there were strong fears that the elections may be marred by partisanship of the NBA leadership.
In the letter, dated June 24 and signed by Mr. Steve Abar, the Alegeh leadership was accused of ‘working to ensure that a particular candidate emerges by all means as no leadership in the history of the NBA has openly showed support for any presidential candidate in the manner that you are now doing.”
This may have formed the fulcrum of worry being expressed by some lawyers that the 2016 elections of the NBA may turn out to be worst ever in the history of the association. Already, a series of meetings are ongoing including the concerned Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) which met at the weekend in Lagos to address some of the complaints being raised by lawyers. Also, a meeting of past NBA presidents and the Bar leaders with the outgoing Alegeh leadership was allegedly held in Abuja at the weekend to resolve the brewing crisis.
Notwithstanding, some senior lawyers at the weekend said there was nothing to fear as the novel evoting NBA election would produce credible candidates. According to them, the e-voting would not only restore sovereignty but make members responsible for their choice of candidates and the would-be elected officers accountable for members.
Chief Adeniyi Akintola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, an activist lawyer, Mr. Festus Okoye, an Ibadan rights lawyer, Comrade Femi Aborisade, a former NBA chairman, Mr. Monday Ubani, Festus Keyamo and an Oyo NBA Secretary, Mr Jide Olanipekun and the President of Public Interest Lawyers League, Dr. Abdul Mahmud were unanimous that the evoting will produce credible officers on July 30.
To Akintola, there was nothing to worry about as ‘the intention is to drag everybody back to work.’ Akintola said: “I don’t know why people should be crying wolf where there is none. “In the first place, this is a new innovation and we are using it for the first time.
Our people should allow it to work. Of course, with all innovations, there will be teething problems here and there. Must we continue to operate the archaic system that is riddled with corruption and inefficiency? “You see, this innovation was not welcome by some people, most of whom were practicing Bar and not practicing law.
The intention, however, is to drag everybody back to work. People should go back to the court and should no longer live on Bar activism. Some of our people are practically surviving on Bar activism. They don’t even have offices. But all they do is to wait for the time of election, they write memos and proposals to collect money from people.
In the process, they made a whole lot of money. “Do you know that the amount of money that went down the drain at the last elections? It is quite amazing. You can imagine having over 1,500 delegates in Abuja for the election for about four or five days. If you are a candidate, you can imagine how much will be spent.
The estimated cost of hosting 700 people is more than N800million. So, I believe that it is those that have no other business that are complaining. This is what they feed on. The issues that might arise with this innovation will surely be rectified. People should allow it to work. Other professional bodies like ICAN have also gone through this route and they are now enjoying it.
Why should anyone be kicking against Universal Adult Suffrage? What belongs to us should be overseeing by all. Every lawyer who has paid his or her practicing fee should be eligible to vote. The idea of delegate system is corruption laden. It is an indirect election that breeds corruption.” Akintola was echoed by a fiery activist, Okoye , who said that the universal suffrage would no doubt restore sovereignty to members.
Okoye said: “All the members of the association are now responsible for their choices and can no longer blame delegates for wrong choices. Universal suffrage and the electronic platform for voting are innovative, creative and novel. “Furthermore, the Constitution of the association is clear on qualifications for voting.
You must have paid your practicing fees and branch dues as at and when due. “You must have done your verification. The Chairman of the Branch must endorse the list and the list has been uploaded. “The Bar election is in the public domain and it is our responsibility to make the election a model.”
Mahmud said the e-voting and the universal suffrage were new innovation and lofty steps that must be welcome by members, insisting that the idea that all lawyers would have an opportunity to exercise their power of universal suffrage in the NBA was a lofty one and it is welcome.
He said: “At least it is the gain of lawyers for the democratization of our country and by extension the NBA. “As a lofty idea, it seeks to erode the culture unwholesome business of commoditization of the electoral process within the Bar and makes every lawyer to own the leadership of the Bar.
“For me the mechanics for unraveling universal suffrage within the Bar shouldn’t be cumbersome or problematic; but we live in a country where politics is politics of influence, prestige, opportunism and careerism and it inevitably follows that the contests for offices and positions within the NBA would be fierce and competitive.
“While the contests turn into fierce battles, it is ineluctable that certain forces within the Bar would invariably seek out ways of undermining the universal suffrage and work sinister ways to ensure that the e-voting framework is corrupted, skewed to the benefit of these interests within the Bar.
“This shouldn’t be so when there exists the Roll of lawyers in the Supreme Court and every lawyer’s call date and number are reflected in the Roll. “While it is easy to rig all electronic voting framework, it behooves the leadership of the NBA to provide foolproof electronic voting system that can catch vote riggers out, forbids double voting and the likes.