The 2018 Election of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) heralded controversies among lawyers in the country. The election was held on August 19 and 20, and its result was announced on Monday 21st August, amidst various allegations of irregularities. First and foremost, the ICT Company appointed to handle the election, Charms Plc, attracted protests from candidates leading to the appointment of Crenet Techlabs Ltd, which initially accredited 32,000 lawyers, that is even higher than the 28,000 for the previous election.
The elections however made history as the first time, the election which was postponed three times, held outside the month of July as provided in Article 2.3(a) of the Second Schedule of the NBA Constitution, 2015. Out of all the positions in contest in the election, none generated so much debate and diatribe as that of the President. Four contenders, Paul Usoro (SAN), Prof. Ernest Ojukwu (SAN), Arthur Obi Okafor (SAN) and Mazi Afam Osigwe, a former General Secretary of the NBA. Osigwe indicated interest in the position, which was zoned to the East. But the Electoral Committee (ECNBA) constituted by the incumbent President, A.B.Mahmoud (SAN) was headed by Professor Auwalu Hamish Yadudu, a Professor of Law had announced that Mazi Afam Osigwe was “not cleared” to participate in the election.
in a statement announcing rejection of Osigwe’s cadidature, he said, “You are hereby disqualified from contesting for the office of the President of the NBA at the 2018 NBA Elections slated for the 28th July, 2018 by virtue of non-compliance with Section 8 (3) (a) (i) and Article 4 of the Third Schedule, NBA Constitution 2015. The Committee wishes you well in your future endeavors. Be assured of our professional regards.”
ECNBA premised its decision on three grounds which are; “There is no evidence before the Committee to show that you have paid your Annual Dues and other financial obligations to Nnewi Branch as and when due for at least 3 years preceding this years (sic) election.”
Secondly, “That there is no satisfactory proof of your relocation to Nnewi Branch to accommodate you within the window of exception created by the proviso to Paragraph 4(1) of the Third Schedule to the NBA Constitution, 2015 as amended.” And lastly, “that payment of 2016 and 2017 Branch Annual Dues cannot be verified.”
This development soon put the younger lawyers most of whom are supporters of Afam against the older members of the bar. Many young lawyers believe that Afam’s disqualification is a product of the political intrigues of the NBA. Afam is the youngest of the four contenders, he is also the only aspirant who has not attained that rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Although, there is no written law stipulating that only SANs can be President of the NBA, but over the years, members appear to have ceded or yielded that position to the learned Silks. Therefore the emergence of Mr. Afam Osigwe as a contender for the office was viewed in some quarters as an affront and a challenge to the old order.
Eventually, the three other candidates contested for the position of NBA President, and irrespective of various allegation of election irregularities, the result announced by the ECNBA declared Paul Usoro (SAN) as a winner and said to have polled 4, 509 votes against his closest rival, Okafor, who got 4, 423 votes, while Prof. Ojukwu scored 3,313 votes.
Sequel to this, some prominent lawyers have faulted the processes leading to the election and the election itself. Some members of the Bar, under the aegis of Concerned Lawyers being led by Ashimole Felix, has unveiled plans for a peaceful protest in Abuja against the alleged electoral malpractice which marred the NBA 2018 election.
In a letter to Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, the Concerned Lawyer asked the police chief to provide security for its members as they were set to embark on a peaceful protest today in Abuja. The letter is titled, “notification of our intent to peacefully protest at the forthcoming NBA conference at the International Conference Centre, Abuja on 26 – 30 August 2018, need for your men to protect the protesters.” In it, the lawyer said, “We are a coalition of concerned lawyers, financially up to date members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), who were gravely affected by the just concluded NBA election.
Former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, in his reaction to the election noted that it was unfortunate that lawyers failed to heed the Clear facts and evidence of a compromised process in the election. He added that the contestants and their supporter’s mostly behaved desperate, conferring legitimacy on a process that manifestly lacked it from the get go. According to Odinkalu, each campaign appeared to behave in such a way as to suggest they were best placed to benefit from a system configured for pre-determined.
“This was not an election. It was not even a selection. It was a racket and a messed up one at that. Now, they will ask the NBA NEC to make this messed up racket their own and ratify it at the pre-conference NEC. That will be interesting. This racket is a disgrace. The process was compromised and did not even pretend about it. The outcome lacks legitimacy and the declared winner has procured a compromised non-mandate,” he stated.Professor Ernest Ojukwu who contested and lost to Usoro, in his reaction, said he lost the election to massive vote buying, vote capture, rigging and a skewed process.“Though a winner has emerged from this present contest, remember that we contested against corruption, massive vote buying, vote capture, rigging and a skewed process.”
Ojukwu regretted that the journey to reform the NBA has again been postponed, but declared that he would not contest the election result.
“Just note that though we could not effectively commence the journey to reform and transform the Bar now, time is still on your side to make that difference in your life time. These reasons make a challenge of the result important but because of my long and selfless commitment to regenerating the Bar, and the need not create tension in our legal profession I shall not contest it. But do not surrender to a dirty system and fall of our profession. Continue to do your best to help clean it up and SET-A-NEW-Bar that would be relevant to all,” Ojukwu stated.
The case is however different with Arthur Obi Okafor SAN, who demanded a forensic audit of the electronic voting.
“Further to the controversy surrounding the recently conducted NBA elections, it has become imperative that the independent and participatory forensic post-election audit promised by the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association be conducted without further delay. This audit is necessary in order to address the several malpractices and irregularities including but not limited to voter identity theft by way of the use of fraudulent email addresses hosted on malicious websites. It is important to note that some of these irregularities were complained about, orally and in writing, by my agent and ICT representative during the elections but were not attended to,” Okafor stated.
He expressed optimism that the audit would reveal the true winner of the election.
“I am convinced that a credible participatory post-election audit will reveal the true winner of the presidential election, I will further appeal that this audit be carried out on or before Saturday, 26th of August, 2018,” he concluded. The new Bar President, Usoro, while reacting to the several allegations said if any of the two candidates that had won, the winner would not have called for the cancellation of the exercise or faulted the process. He however enjoined his co-contestants to join hands with him to build the association, even as he promised to fulfill his electioneering promises of reforming and moving the association to the next level.
Meanwhile, Afam who wasn’t allowed to participate in the election noted that the Bar is now more than ever divided. Although, the various complains which emanated from the election give some credence to Afams complain that his disqualification is baseless, he announced his fears for the future of NBA. “I have watched the unfolding developments in NBA with a lot mixed feelings and dread. A part of me wanted to laugh at those (including a Presidential candidate) who colluded to secure my unlawful disqualification from contesting for NBA Presidency in the forthcoming election, who are now screaming blue murder over the choice of Chams City Plc to provide the e-voting platform for the election. Despite the urge to give in to ‘I have the last laugh’, I am rational enough to fear for the future of our great Association. Edmund Burke warning that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing strengthened my resolve, not to keep silent.”
AFam however warned that the image of NBA is now gradually being torn to shreds by the decisions as well as actions of ECNBA. Chamsgate (as it is now called) clearly confirms yet again that the present Electoral Committee of NBA (ECNBA) lacks the competence, independence, integrity and impartiality to conduct the election.