NBA 2020 Election is Illegal, Fraudulent – Adesina, SAN calls for a New Election
Body of Trustees,
Nigerian Bar Association
C/o: 10A, Ilabere Street,
Off Macpherson Road,
Off Bourdillon Road,
Ikoyi, Lagos State.
Attention: Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN
Dear Learned Brother Silk,
RE: THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION 2020 NATIONAL OFFICERS ELECTION: A CASE OF CLASSICAL ELECTRONIC FRAUD, ILLEGAL AND UNCONSTITUTIONAL PROCESS: CALL FOR CANCELLATION AND A NEW ELECTION CONDUCTED FOR THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (NBA).
My fraternal greetings and profound respect to the Chairman and other members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Board of Trustees. I send this Petition to you with all sense of responsibility and in appreciation of the motto of the NBA which is – “Promoting the Rule of Law” – with a clarion call that you rise up and save our beloved Association. In writing this Petition, please I beseech you to have attention to the following fundamental observations as regards my person:
a) I, Dele Adesina SAN, by the Grace of God have had the privilege of joining others to build the NBA before some of the god-fathers who are plunging the NBA into avoidable crisis today ever became involved in the affairs of the Association. As a past Chairman of NBA Ikeja Branch, past General Secretary of the Association, a Life Member of the National Executive Committee and a Life Member of the Distinguished Body of Benchers, I can lay claim to being one of the builders of the Association. Consequently, I will hate to see it destroyed. My pedigree will confirm that I don’t pursue anything at all cost and my actions regarding the NBA are driven by the interest of the Association.
In 2008, in the interest of the Association, I stepped down from contesting for the Office of President of NBA in favour of another candidate who became elected unopposed in order to address and possibly stop the monetisation of NBA elections. In 2014, I contested and lost to Augustine Alegeh, SAN. Nevertheless, I congratulated him that very night when he visited my hotel room in the company of my brother – Olumide Akpata – and I supported his administration throughout his tenure. I am writing this Petition because of my heartfelt desire to redeem the image and integrity of our Association that is consistently being beaten and battered every two years by electoral fraud.
b) The NBA as a generational Association is supposed to be and is presumably composed by men and women of honour, honesty and integrity. These ethical values have to be exhibited by the Association at all times. Please recognise that these ethical values are not just in words only, they are in consistency of actions.
It is against the foregoing background that I am compelled to present this Petition to the Trustees with a view to letting you know that the conduct of the NBA Election of July 29-30, 2020 is not only a violation of all the known values of our Profession but is also capable of bringing disgrace and dishonour to the Association and the Legal Profession in general and I will be urging your Body to take a stand with respect, promptly.
PRE-ELECTION CONCERNS AND AGITATIONS:
Upon noticing anomalous situations in the process, some candidates and members of the Association raised concerns about the flawed process leading to the election. Some of the concerns are contained in the following correspondences to ECNBA:
a) Letter to the Chairman of the ECNBA dated July 7, 2020 by Mr. Ade OkeayaInneh, SAN; Mr. Ayuli Jemide, Vice Chairman, NBA SBL; Prof. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu and Mrs. Barbara Omosun calling for postponement of the Election in order to address disenfranchisement issues.
b) Letter dated July 9, 2020 to Mr. Tawo E. Tawo, SAN, the Chairman of the ECNBA, by Lawal Pedro, SAN, Director-General of Dele Adesina Campaign Team, raising concerns over the management of the electoral process. The concerns raised included: inflation and injection of names into the Voters List of Abuja Branch, illegal use of Stamp and Seal payment as a basis for compilation of Voter’s Register, lack of information regarding the Service Provider and the Election portal, the security of the NBA Website and the serial violations of the provisions of the NBA Constitution.
c) Statement by Dr. Foluke Dada, 2nd Vice President of the NBA dated July 15, 2020 where she stated inter alia that: “as recently as yesterday, July 6 2020, members from across the Nation have been clamouring for the postponement of the 2020 NBA National Elections for reasons varying from the lack of transparency, lack of a trustworthy web-platform secured to ensure the integrity of the Elections.”
d) Letter dated July 20, 2020 to the ECNBA by Mr. Olumide Akpata drawing attention to the “urgent need to avert the looming disenfranchisement of voters and possible manipulation of the forth-coming 2020 NBA Election”. Mr. Akpata’s letter further stated: “the lack of information regarding the specific modalities for the forth-coming election is quite disturbing… as of the date of writing this letter, the ECNBA has not informed me and I believe any other candidate, of the technology it intends to use in the elections, how that technology works, who will provide it, how secure it is against possible hacks or manipulation (such as the ones that currently bedevil the NBA Portal). We have not seen any demonstration or test-run of the proposed technology and are therefore not able to ascertain that it would work at all, to say nothing of guaranteeing free, fair and transparent elections.” The fact that Mr. Olumide Akpata has now become the beneficiary of this flawed and manipulated process does not validate or make the flawed process acceptable.
e) Statement by Prof. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu dated July 21, 2020 and titled “How 2020 Elections of the NBA will be rigged.” It is striking to note that all these agitations, concerns and warnings were studiedly neglected and disregarded by the ECNBA.
The Election in a most disgraceful, brazen and unconscionable manner was conducted in violation of the clear, express and unambiguous provisions of the Constitution of the NBA (2015 as amended). It was riddled with electronic fraud where the server used for the Election was loaded with predetermined data. It is significant to note that the system used for this election was said to have been registered the very day the election was to start and the MoU was signed on that same day. The appointment of the Service Provider was done solely by the President contrary to the provisions of Section 18 (2) of the NBA Constitution which obligates the ECNBA to engage the Service Provider for the Election. There was no opportunity to interrogate the System before the commencement of the Election in order to determine its vulnerability, security and capacity. The inability to deliver 14,000 notices to prospective voters 13 hours after the commencement of the Election was not only evidence of lack of capacity on the part of the System but also a clear disenfranchisement of these prospective voters. Therefore, the election failed to conform with the minimum principle of fairness and transparency.
1. Illegal Voters Register:
The Voters Register is the foundation of any and every election and as such, the compilation of the list must be undertaken with the utmost degree of openness and transparency. However, the Verified Voters’ Register used in the 2020 Election was a sham, illegal, doctored and manipulated.
a) Publication of Voters Register: By the provisions of Paragraph 1.3 (d) of the Second Schedule to the NBA Constitution, the Voters List must be made available to the Branches and the candidates not later than 28 days to the date of the Election. The Verified Voters List used for this instant Election was only released by the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) five (5) hours to the Election in violation of the constitutional provisions. This alone suffices to erode the basis of the entire election because the provisions of the NBA Constitution relating to publication of the voters register are couched in mandatory terms. By parity of reasoning, can the respected Trustees imagine a situation where INEC conducts elections and only publishes the voters register a few hours to the opening of polling and on the day of voting. I have made this comparison because NBA usually acts as an election monitor and I wonder what the stance of the NBA will be if such a scenario manifests in elections conducted by INEC.
b) Inaccurate and Flawed Voters Register: Upon the receipt of the Verified Voters List published about five (5) hours to the commencement of the 2020 NBA Election, my team and I after a painstaking perusal of the List observed that the List was manipulated, doctored and padded to achieve preconceived intentions and other grave errors of omission and commission including but not limited to the following:
i. 4,464 names of purported Lawyers without Branches ascribed to any of them from Serial Number 25171 to 29635. This List obviously provided cover for harvested voters without Branches;
ii. 86 names of Lawyers under the category “International Diaspora” from Serial Number 12182 to 12268, a clear violation of the provisions of the Constitution of the NBA. International Diaspora as a Branch is unknown to the NBA Constitution. See Section 4 of the NBA Constitution, 2015, as amended.
iii. Inflation of the List of some Branches. For instance, Obollo-Afor Branch had only 39 names from Serial Number 30424 to 30462 on the Final List for Verification. Strangely, this increased to 662 on the Verified Voters
List published on the date of the Election;
iv. Deletion/removal of Names of many Members from the Final List. Example: Ikeja, Ibadan, Enugu, Ife, Ado-Ekiti and many others have their number of voters substantially reduced without any explanation whatsoever or howsoever;
v. Many Members names were omitted from the List and many names found their way to Branches other than their own Branch. These facts were admitted by the ECNBA in their Statement No. 19 where they stated among others: “the ECNBA received complaints of members being placed in Branches other than their own. The situation is regretted… In respect of omitted names, please see the ECNBA
Statement No. 018.”
c) Use of Stamp and Seal payment by the National Secretariat/ ECNBA as a basis for the Compilation of the Voters List: According to the ECNBA Statement No. 12, the ECNBA used Stamp and Seal List to compile the Voters List. This is totally contrary to the clear, express and unambiguous provision of the NBA Constitution which provides for the eligibility of members to vote and be voted for. See Sections 4(1), 13(14) and 4(b) of the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association. The said provisions limit the factors for the qualification of voters to the payment of the pre-requisite Bar Practicing Fees and Branch Dues.
There is no mention of the use of a Stamp and Seal List to compile the List of Eligible Voters. Consequently, the use of the said Stamp and Seal List as ECNBA has done is a gross perversion and violation of the clear, express and unambiguous provisions of the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association. Even more so is the fact that the use of stamp and seal list led directly to the exclusion of lawyers who pay their practicing fees and branch dues in a timely fashion but are not in active practice such as to require stamps and seal. It must be understood and this is made clear by the Constitution of the NBA that payment for Stamp and Seal without more does not make anyone a member of any Branch of the Association.
d) Final Voters List: As rightly noted by the ECNBA in their Statement No. 12, the Constitution of the NBA provides a deadline before which the list of eligible voters must be released to the public and the candidates. In this instance, the list of voters eligible for the election was only released by the ECNBA, Five hours before the election itself commenced, in gross violation of the constitutional requirement of 28 days before the election. See Paragraph 1.3
(d) of the Second Schedule to the Constitution. Much more disconcerting is the fact that the names of several people, who fulfilled all the constitutional requirements of payment of practicing fees and branch dues and undertook the verification process further to which their names were included in the earlier ‘Final Voters List’ issued by the ECNBA, were wrongly excluded from the List of Eligible Voters released only hours to the election.
2. Loading of Predetermined Data and Disenfranchisement:
Our I.C.T. Consultants informed us that though the voting site might have appeared credible on the surface as a decoy, it is apparent to state that the data uploaded to the site was programmed and preconfigured to achieve a premeditated result in an obvious case of data diddling. Right from the outset of the election and up till the end of same, all the candidates virtually maintained the same percentage of votes relative to each other and the total votes cast. This fact alone is indicative of the possibility of a system which was programmed towards a predetermined result. A close examination of the recorded result at different timelines shows percentage movement of the Presidential Candidates as 54%, 23% and 21% with little or no variation. The system was obviously programmed to distribute votes at either +1 or – 1 throughout the 24 hour period. According to the Interim Report of our Technical Team, “statistically, the voting result showed no randomness of any sort, which raises the question of whether there was no tampering of votes.” Besides, about forty percent of voters could not vote as they were not sent with the links to do so. Again, ECNBA admitted this fact by stating that notices were delivered in batches what ought to be delivered at once to all prospective voters.Does this not call into question the capacity of the portal used for this election? Out of about 29,000 prospective voters, about 14,000 were not able to vote by the reasons stated above. As if that is not enough, instead of the recorded system stating that Mr. Olumide Akpata leads by 54% barely from about 20 minutes after voting started, the system stated that Olumide Akpata is winning by 54% in order to hoodwink and bias the mind of the voters in an election that is supposed to be free and fair. No doubt, everything considered showed an unholy alliance and collaboration between the ‘winning’ candidate, the leadership under whom the election was held and perhaps the ECNBA. Several members of many Branches of the NBA including but not limited to Ikeja, Ibadan, Enugu, Ilorin and Kano Branches of the NBA were starved of voting links for the election.
3. Use of Service Provider(s) to develop the Election Portal and manage the Electoral Process:
Throughout the process leading to the Election, there was no information from the ECNBA regarding the Service Provider who would conduct and manage the electoral process in respect of accreditation, voting, computation of votes, and declaration of results, such as to enable the parties interrogate in order to determine its vulnerability, security or capacity to have confidence or otherwise in the system. This is very much unlike the previous elections where the disclosure was timely made to enable the candidates and the general public to interrogate the process and ensure that the election is not only fair but also seen to be fair. In this instance, the candidates were deprived of this opportunity and this deprivation robbed the candidates the opportunity to raise any and all desires or relevant issues to the process before the process was concluded. It even appears that the ECNBA went out of its way to deceive the contestants on the way and manner the election was going to be held as, a few days before, they released an infographic informing the electorate how to vote, which stated that the election was to be held on the ‘NBA Membership Portal,’ only to resile from this position during the only meeting held with all candidates by the ECNBA on Monday, 27th July, 2020. It is our contention that this failure was fundamental and it was deliberately designed to permit the ultimate manipulation of the electoral process. We know as a fact that in 2016 the I.T. company appointed for the election made two (2) representations to the National Executive Committee (NEC) – first in February 2016 and second in May 2016 – about what they were going to do and how they will do it
before the election. In 2018, the then President and Electoral Committee held several meetings with the candidates including the out-going President and their I.T. consultants. Some of these meetings were attended by past Presidents and past General Secretaries of the Bar. These meetings provided not only the candidates but also members of NEC the opportunity to interrogate the process. There is hardly any doubt that in this present instance the ECNBA took a deliberate decision to withhold the identity of the Service Provider involved in the process.
Besides, the appointment of the Service Provider was shrouded in secrecy and made single-handedly by the President of the NBA without the knowledge or approval of the National Executive Committee or the ECNBA and contrary to the provisions of Section 18 (2) of the NBA Constitution. Furthermore, the ECNBA never briefed NEC throughout the pendency of their assignment from March 12, 2020 when they were appointed till July 29-30, 2020 when they conducted the election contrary to the practice and convention that we have had since 2016. No briefing, no report and no demonstration to members of NEC.
Some of the protests received from different Branches in the course of the election are as follows:
a) Many members, particularly from the Branches in the West, like Ikeja, Ibadan and Ado-Ekiti, did not receive the link to vote and some of those who received the link could not vote. The same protest came from several Branches in the North, like Gombe, Katsina, Birnin-Kebbi, Yobe and Kano.
b) The same complaint was lodged vehemently by members of NBA Enugu Branch.
c) Several cases of disenfranchisement were reported by members whose names were not on the list. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria who contacted the helpline to lodge his complaint was told that it is because he did not have his SAN’s number. Query! Is SAN’s number a requirement?
ABDICATION OF DUTY BY THE ECNBA:
By the express provisions of Statement No. 013 issued by the ECNBA and titled “Travel Across the Country or to NBA Branches to canvass for Votes: Get Disqualified.”, the ECNBA prohibited aspirants from travelling to Branches to canvass for votes. Some candidates travelled from Lagos to Uyo, Port-Harcourt, Abuja, Bwari etc. in violation of this Guideline and the ECNBA for unexplainable reasons saw nothing, heard nothing and did nothing.
Mr. Chairman and Honourable Members of the Board of Trustees, with the greatest respect to the ECNBA and the NBA President, this election has been in violation of the Rule of Law and what the NBA stands for: it has breached the fundamental provisions of the NBA Constitution itself in material particulars; in areas where the constitution of our Association applies the use of the words “must” and “shall” to what must be done, including but not limited to publication of the Voters Register 28 days before election and appointment of Service Provider by ECNBA. The main objective of the NBA as entrenched in our Constitution is to uphold and defend the Rule of Law. Most humbly, an association that cannot and has not obeyed its own constitution or honoured mandatory provisions of the constitution relating to the conduct of its own election cannot pretend under any guise to defend or protect the Rule of Law in the country, or act as the bulwark against the breach of the Rule of Law or the Nation’s ground norm – the Constitution. The ECNBA is expected to be an independent body. Representations made by me to the ECNBA were very strangely responded to personally by the NBA President without any such response from the ECNBA which was the primary addressee of the complaints. The entire election looked like it was a personal show or project of the incumbent President including selection/appointment of service providers et al. Mr. Chairman, sir, what the NBA President did by comparison can be likened to a situation where the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria conducts a Presidential election, hijacked the constitutional responsibilities by assuming the duties and responsibilities of INEC, appointing Service Providers, nominating and paying those who would print ballot papers, warehousing the ballot boxes, providing INEC Server etc.
Mr. Chairman, sir, this Petition is not about Dele Adesina SAN; it is about protecting the heritage of our forebears and progenitors, the great founders and leaders of our Association, including your humble self. It is often said that one cannot give what he does not have (nemo dat quod non habet). In this connection, NBA will never be taken serious by Nigeria and Nigerians as well as other law associations outside our shores, including the International Bar Association (IBA) if these crass, abnormalities, illegalities and deliberate wholesale breach of our constitution are not redressed. Our dear Association must not be allowed to descend to opprobrium. We must not be made or subjected to a laughing stock.
I have herein complained of both the process leading to the Election and the Election itself which show instances of lawlessness and gross violation of the NBA Constitution. Disregarding the law is worse than corruption. The end product of lawlessness is condemnation and destruction. I urge the members of the Board of Trustees of the NBA to intervene and right these wrongs and save the NBA from condemnation and destruction. I believe that leaders must do things right and/or ensure that things are done right. It is needless to say, Mr. Chairman and other members of the Board of Trustees of the NBA, that if the process is wrong, the product cannot be right. If the election process is wrongful and unconstitutional, the outcome must suffer the same fate and be cancelled. Since 2016 when this electronic voting system started, there have been consistent allegations of system manipulation and rigging which has resulted in litigations over NBA elections. As at today, a criminal action arising from the NBA Election of 2018 is still pending at the Federal High Court. This is a shame to all of us without exception. Patriotism must guide our aspirations and our conscience must always be our companion. The time has come to regain the integrity of the Nigerian Bar Association by putting an end to unconstitutional and fraudulent elections in our Association.
Dele Adesina, SAN, FCIArb.
i. Members, NBA Board of Trustees
ii. Past Presidents of NBA