The NBA Elections 2016: How Nigerian Lawyers Chose their Officers By e-Voting

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The Nigerian Bar Association, one of Nigeria’s longest standing and foremost professional associations elected its national officers last week through a rather innovative and pioneering system, which made it possible for all accredited members to cast their ballots online from any location across the globe. Jude Igbanoi who monitored the elections reports.

The Nigerian Bar Association, one of Nigeria’s longest standing and foremost professional associations elected its national officers last week through a rather innovative and pioneering system, which made it possible for all accredited members to cast their ballots online from any location across the globe. Jude Igbanoi who monitored the elections reports.

For the first time in over two decades, Nigerian lawyers, irrespective of age at the Bar, branch, sex or status had a rare privilege to participate in the elections to choose the national officers to lead the Association for the next two years. For years there had been agitations by young lawyers seeking to be given an opportunity to vote in the elections for national officers.

That opportunity came through a campaign promise made by Mr. Augustine Alegeh SAN in 2014 during his campaign for office of president. This promise was fulfilled last week when the Alegeh led administration conducted an election of universal suffrage which did not only afford all Nigerian lawyers an opportunity to vote, but did so via the internet.

As with any other election in Nigeria, this election which saw Mr. A.B Mahmoud SAN emerge as president has come with its fair share of challenges as one of the candidates for the office of president, Chief J-K Gadzama SAN has filed a suit to challenge the outcome of the election, alleging fraud, bias, the unreliability of the electronic system of voting and noncompliance with the NBA constitution and Electoral Guidelines. He is asking for an outright cancelation of the election or a re-run.

The NBA has since set up a high-powered Dispute Resolution Committee to look into all complaints and petitions arising from the just concluded elections. The committee which is headed by immediate past president Mr. Okey Wali SAN has as its Secretary Ms. Toyin Bashorun.

The committee’s terms of reference include:-

• To resolve all appeals arising from the elections within 60 days as stipulated by Section 16 of the NBA Constitution 2015.

• To consider materials brought before it and rely on oral evidence of witnesses.

• To ensure that decisions of the committee are communicated in writing to all parties in the appeal within a reasonable time.

It could be recalled that Mr. Gadzama SAN had accused Mr. Alegeh SAN of openly announcing his preference for Mahmoud’s candidacy. This the NBA president denied, recounting how he had tried his best to ensure that both Gadzama and Mahmoud reached an accord months before the election.

When the Arewa Lawyers Forum, the umbrella body of lawyers of northern extraction could not reach a consensus as to which of the two candidates to adopt, Alegeh waded in and offered to mediate between the two disputants. Alegeh told THISDAY LAWYER “I called Gadzama and Mahmoud and organised a meeting of all the chairmen of the branches in the entire North, with a view to resolving the impasse and agreeing on a candidate. For convenience of venue and to suit Gadzama I suggested Abuja as venue of the meeting. But Gadzama, whose home branch is Abuja refused. He insisted that the meeting should hold in Dutse, Jigawa State which is nearer Mahmoud’s home base. According to him, he wanted to use the opportunity to campaign in Mahmoud’s territory.”

“Mahmoud agreed to this arrangement and venue as suggested by Gadzama. Both of them arrived in Dutse as agreed and all the chairmen of all the branches in the North were present. Mahmoud said ‘Look, I told my wife as I was coming for this meeting that whatever outcome, I will accept it and move ahead with my life.’ Gadzama agreed to be bound by the outcome of the meeting. Out of my personal resources I paid for transportation, accommodation of all the branch chairmen to attend the Dutse meeting and all was set.”

“To our greatest surprise and consternation, Gadzama suddenly pulled out of the meeting, just a few minutes before deliberations and voting. No reasons were given and everyone felt slighted. He came all the way from Abuja to attend the meeting, subjected himself to jurisdiction, only to announce that he was no longer ready at the last minute.”

“It was at that point I washed off my hands and asked all candidates to go ahead with their campaigns and let Nigerian lawyers pick their choice without adoption of any candidate.”

The campaigns were tough, tortuous and rancorous. Each candidate traversed the length and breadth of the 116 branches of the Association, which culminated in the election by Nigerian lawyers, with A.B. Mahmoud SAN emerging as winner at the end of polling on Sunday July 31, 2016.

As the Gadzama Campaign Organisation continues with its litigation in court, these are the reactions THISDAY LAWYER got exclusively from Nigerian lawyers about the elections.

Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN – former NBA President

“I read the Press Statement of the Gadzama Campaign Organisation with great concern. The Campaign Organisation alleges electoral malpractices and calls for fresh elections. I cannot confirm whether there were electoral malpractices but I like to make it clear that virtually every election of the Nigerian Bar Association has been criticised as unfair. Nonetheless, I do not recall any case where a statement such as issued by the Gadzama Campaign Organisation, calling for the cancellation of the election and the holding of fresh ones, has ever been made.

As a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, I urge the Gadzama Campaign Organisation to take the election results in good faith. It will not be in our interest to create challenges for our Association. The newly introduced voting system may have had challenges, but it was an innovative easy voting procedure.

I understand the reaction of the Campaign Organisation. However, it is important to protect the integrity of the NBA. At this stage, what we need as an Association is unity. I appeal to the Gadzama Campaign Organisation to accept the election results in good faith and accept A. B. Mahmoud SAN, as our new President.”

“As the process unfolded, these colleagues went from healthy scepticism to a healthy respect. The process was cumbersome but effective and where we ran into any hitches, the helpline dealt with the complaints efficiently and quickly too. We have a WhatsApp group for the lawyers in our firm and in order to check voter apathy, we agreed to inform the group as we voted. I can confirm that every single one of us voted successfully at different times over the weekend. Naturally, there is always room for improvement and my suggestion is to streamline and simplify the process even further.”

O.C.J. Okocha SAN – former NBA President

“My overall impression about the recently concluded elections is that the elections were free and fair, and that the results thereof have been well received by a majority of those who participated.

I personally participated in the elections, and the process was relatively seamless. I duly followed the stipulated procedures, from registration to accreditation, and then on to voting, and all went well. I even received notification that I had voted.

The only apparent downside is that the results indicated that less than six thousand persons actually voted in the elections. This may be attributed to the fact that, that was the actual number of persons who correctly followed the stipulated procedures. Lawyers are known not to take the time and trouble to follow stipulated procedures which they consider to be tedious, even without trying out such procedures. The lessons have now been learnt, and it is my hope that our great Association can now be moved forward to the next higher level.

I commend the Committee that organised the Elections, and all those who participated in the epoch making process. To God be the glory.”

Mrs. Stella Ugboma – former President FIDA International

“I must congratulate President Alegeh for a job well done. It was not perfect, there were hitches here and there but at the end of the day we achieved our purpose of selecting our officers without travelling to Abuja or wherever, without incurring hotel and other expenses and also without compromising ourselves. To crown it all we achieved universal suffrage!

I wish to appeal to all contestants who lost to sheath their swords and accept the results. Better luck next time.”

Mrs. Boma Ozobia – Immediate past President, Commonwealth Lawyers Association

“The initial reaction from many of my colleagues in my practice was scepticism. In fact, one young lawyer declared, ‘It is not possible in Nigeria’. I knew it was possible and that the technology to conduct an election via e-voting was widely available and had been in use in other jurisdictions for years. As a member of the Law Society of England and Wales, I had personally participated in e-voting successfully for the first time as far back as fifteen years ago. Imagine the technological advances in the intervening years.”

Alhaji Jam Jam – former Katsina Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice

“The elections were very well conducted by ECNBA.

As with all new things there were some teething problems, which will hopefully be resolved by the next elections on 2018.

The e-voting system, which allowed members to vote from the comfort of their homes, offices and vacation spots all over the world has received commendation from a very wide section of our members. The fact that the election results were also independently verified by INEC is another commendable and noteworthy point. Lawyers are very happy with the elections. I am not aware that there is any challenge of the election results in Court. It is doubtful that there would be a legal challenge as that is not what is expected of aspiring Bar leaders. In the NBA elections we are all winners. Those whose aspirations were not actualised now must realise that all elevation comes from God and should accept the electoral loss with dignity.

We believe that the e-voting system which we deployed is so good that INEC should consider adopting same for future national elections.

The elections have been acclaimed by the NBA members as having been free, fair and transparent. The security measures embedded in the e-voting system made it clear to all that the system was secure and transparent. All candidates participated fully in the process with agents representing them.

The NBA Constitution provides a dispute resolution mechanism and in the very unlikely event that any candidate is dissatisfied with the election outcome such candidate has to exhaust the dispute resolution mechanism provided in the NBA Constitution before he can resort to court litigation. I believe that the decision of the Dispute Resolution Committee headed by Past President, Okey Wali SAN would be acceptable to any such candidate.

It is important to stress that the NBA elections are not do or die affairs.

The NBA is a family of learned and noble gentlemen and women where issues are always amicably resolved.”

Mr. Ibrahim Mark – former NBA General Secretary

“The elections have come and gone and winners have emerged through the system as provided in the constitution of the NBA.

It is a novelty in the sense that electronic voting took place for the first time in the annals of the history of the NBA.

It gave opportunity for qualified persons to cast their vote for a candidate of their choice provided that they must have paid their Bar practice fees and Branch dues as at when due, updated their records and gone through accreditation.

Incidentally as a new process it will have some hiccups but with continuous use it will be perfected with fewer rigors.

One good thing was that you could vote from anywhere and anytime with your phone, laptop or any gadget to the like effect.

Ostensibly there was low voter turnout because we have 24,000 lawyers that qualified to vote having paid their Bar practice fees, 11,000 updated their profile, 6000 did accreditation and 5600 or thereabout voted. People pay their Bar practice fees not to vote but to practice and are less concerned about the politics of leadership of the Bar.”

We had a decent election, free and fair and worthy to be commended. The products of the elections truly represent the will and wish of the voting Bar members.

The elections are over and I will say we are all winners. The Bar has won and it is incumbent on all lawyers to rally round the officers elected to progressively move the Bar forward. We must restore the confidence of the people in the legal profession. The Judiciary must be assisted to achieve just ideals in all its ramifications.

For our colleagues that are in court or planning to go to court in respect of the elections my advice is for them to sheath their sword and those already in court to withdraw their cases. It is an ill wind that blows no good air. We may have imperfect conditions but the interest of the Bar soars high and over the interest of any member of the Bar. We must take heed not to allow those who do not wish the Bar well to creep in with their devilish and evil intentions.

The election season is a two-year affair and if you do not get it now you can get it later. The President elect tried and lost it in 2004 but has won in 2016 that is 12 years later after the first attempt.

We have so much catching up to do with the skills required for modern legal practice. Let us do more in making Nigerian lawyers compliant comparable and able to compete on the world stage. It will do us more good than recriminations over election results.”

Ms. Rotola Williams – Lagos based legal practitioner

“I think the electronic elections were a good idea in principle and though they are supposed to help counter fraud a lot of people who were entitled to vote could not vote. They had paid all dues registered accordingly and we’re still not electronically registered. In other words what should have been a step forward in principle turned out to be three steps backward. As usual though we have missed the point. The lawyers challenging the vote are challenging on the ground that there is no provision for electronic voting. I think on that basis he ought to lose. Innovation is a good thing and people should not be allowed to impede progress. However if he was challenging on the basis that a lot of people were disenfranchised despite paying all dues and doing all that is necessary to be on the voters’ register then I think he has a better chance of success in challenging the process. Even in America the manual vote is still used for a reason and now I understand why.

I made an effort to respond because I personally know people in this position. The branch associations are aware and did absolutely nothing. Some tried to rectify the situation but there was no response at the federal level. Others are aware, but went ahead anyway without doing anything to formally complain about the situation. I feel the system is therefore even more open to corruption as people can now disenfranchise political opponents and hide under the guise of electronic error or computer glitch. I hope you have a great day and thanks for listening.”

Mr. Martins Ogunleye – Chairman, Lagos Branch

“Let me first congratulate the NBA for taking a bold step towards achieving seamless transition in leadership which is a biennial ritual for the association. The introduction of the concept of e-voting by Section 9(4) of the NBA constitution is one of the factors that give hope of a brighter future for the association.

Having said that, I must say that the conduct of the 2016 elections itself fell far short of the standard expected by many members of the association, including known proponents of e-voting and champions of Universal suffrage.

Perhaps, the ECNBA underestimated the challenge it would face in delivering credible elections; perhaps also the IT consultants who handled the e-voting platform also underestimated the challenge before them. At the NBA NEC meeting in Benin earlier in June, several questions and apprehension about the new system were raised but these concerns were brushed aside by the leadership of the association as well as the IT consultants.

I believe that the elections were robbed of some of its credibility by reason of the problems that beleaguered the entire process, and these problems were quite fundamental to my mind. Article 2.3 (d) of the Second Schedule to the NBA constitution 2015 compelled the ECNBA to publish list of qualified voters no less than 28 days to the polls. In reality, as late as 24 hours to the polls, the voters’ list was neither fully published nor could anyone ascertain the final number of voters.

Even the ECNBA as late as 5 days to the polls was still seeking help from branch chairmen to vet/edit the list of voters from their branches. Our experience in Lagos branch was that we sent 5000 names of our members qualified to vote to the ECNBA in May but no less than 500 of those names went missing from the final list.

The situation was so chaotic that in the 10 days preceding the polls, my telephone lines never stopped ringing, it was a galore of complaints. Even as late as on the eve of the polls we were still trying to get the names of many of our members into the final list of voters through no fault of ours (as we had sent the names earlier).

Now I was bothered that despite these challenges, the ECNBA yielded to pressure to go ahead with the polls. The statistics released by the ECNBA revealed that 24,305 lawyers were eligible to vote, 11,646 actually verified their voting status whilst a paltry 6,932 were accredited to vote. Only 5439 ended up voting. These figures are a nightmare to proponents of Universal suffrage and may also be an indication that the majority of lawyers are either disillusioned with their association or were unwittingly disenfranchised.

One cannot but also notice that a particular candidate at the polls had a different name ascribed to her on the list of candidates and yet another on the ballot on election day. Some of these fundamentals ought to be addressed and going forward must be avoided.

I must concede that new innovations usually take some time to settle well with users, however I also believe that the insistence of the ECNBA to go ahead with the polls rather than postpone same as some stakeholders had suggested did not help matters.

I am not unaware that there may be litigation arising from this election and I would urge that the ECNBA do a bit more to dispel the angst in some quarters about the transparency of the system. One thing the ECNBA could do is to print out the ballots at the polls for a manual count by agents of the candidates. This would rest all allegations of bias against it.”

Mr. Chidi Onyuike – former Chairman NBA Onitsha Branch

“There is just no doubt that Austin Alegeh SAN, our outgoing president has made an indelible statement in the history of the NBA, nay Nigeria. The innovation, was almost 95 per cent successful. I am certain it can only get better praying our in-coming president will further perfect the act. The process brought sanity, minimised the former huge expenses heaped on aspirants. In future it will ensure better participation of our otherwise tepid colleagues who just sit down to criticise …perpetual sceptics. Per the issue of testing the process in Court, you can only expect that; what are we after all? Lawyers. But I dare say that losers are bound to protest. It has always happened, even with the delegate elections as was the case before. Remember Emeka Ngige SAN v Okey Wali SAN. The former cried to high heavens that he was rigged out when it was analog head count, how much more this e-voting? This process that brought out our new set of leaders was transparent. The only clog was the initial problem of updates and accreditation of voters but I guess it is expected. It was all geared to ensure that the process was secure and not infiltrated. More of our members will now get interested. The problem with our assessment of ourselves is that we tend to underestimate or overestimate our popularity. Take AB Mahmoud for instance; the moment he stepped out I knew he was going to win. He is the kind of lawyer that will appeal to a mix of conservative and progressive lawyers. He was not noisy, boastful, nor dichotomised either by religion, geography or otherwise. More than anything the process was saner and it helped. Remain fit my dear friend.”

Mr. Luka Haruna – former Chairman, NBA Gombe Branch

“The elections of the NBA have just been concluded and winners have emerged from the process that begun about a year ago. I must quickly say that it is a time-hallowed universal principle that whoever embarks and submits himself to a project of contesting elections, certainly knows deeply that there must be a winner and a looser in the end! The declared results have produced Mr. Abukakar Balarabe Mahmoud SAN as the new President of the Bar and others as members of the Exco. As such, they will have the onerous duty and mandate of leading us for the next two years. I therefore wish to congratulate them for this achievement, but most importantly I pray that God will grant them the wherewithal to actualise the covenant they have entered with the Nigerian Lawyers.

However, I enjoin chief J-K Gadzama SAN, a grass-root mobiliser and one of the leading voices at the Bar and his teaming supporters to take pride and solace in the fact that they have put up a gallant fight and struggle in an attempt to win the Presidency of the Bar. I know it could be a painful and stressful experience but that is the rough and tumble of every election.

Even though, I did not vote nor campaigned for Mahmoud SAN, he will now be my President and leader of the Bar. The unity and oneness of the Bar is stronger than any of our personal interests. As lawyers, we must lead by example and chart a way for other Associations to follow.

The Alegeh SAN led Exco have performed and discharged their mandate to the Bar and we should continue to applaud them for breaking the ceiling. The NBA has raised the stake in our electoral system with the introduction of the electronic system of voting.

However, there could be some challenges witnessed from the process of the election, especially as to the none display of results as the votes trickle in from the electronic system to be seen by agents of both candidates. That is not enough for anyone to undermine the process and the outcome of the election. There must be room for improvement in due course. There can never be a 100% perfect election in any system except an election conducted by God Almighty.”

Lawal Hudu Garba – NBA Birnin Kebbi Branch

“From the outset, J. K. Gadzama SAN had an upper hand to beat his adversary, A. B. Mahmoud SAN in the NBA Presidential race. Whereas Mr. Gadzama was a devout member of the Arewa Lawyers Forum, Mahmoud was a dormant member. While he was an active member of the Nigerian Bar Association who was visible in all its activities, Mahmoud was rarely seen participating in its activities. Therefore, Mr. Gadzama had all it takes to beat Mahmoud in the race. However, some factors had played against him and as a result he could not beat Mahmoud. To my mind, Gadzama met his waterloo for the following reasons:-

He was so overbearing to the extent that he wrongly used officials of the Arewa Lawyers Forum, when the governor of Bauchi, His Excellency Barr. Abubakar, the Chairman of the forum and a personal friend of Gadzama called a hoax general meeting of the forum in Bauchi. But before the arrival of most of the Forum’s members, the governor had changed the timing of the meeting. Many members including myself reached Bauchi after the meeting. With few members in attendance he purportedly constituted a selection/screening committee, which he mandated to choose and recommend one candidate- between Gadzama and Mahmoud- for the endorsement of the Forum. It later became obvious that the committee was working for Gadzama and instead of dissolving the committee, it was allowed to carry out its nefarious activity. Later on we were called late for another hoax meeting in Kaduna with the sole agenda of imposing Gadzama on Arewa as its consensus candidate. I among others had vehemently opposed this imposition. Consequently, Gadzama could not be endorsed on that day. However, the following day, the Gadzama team went on air announcing that their candidate Gadzama was endorsed by the Forum. To make it worse, the governor along with some officials of the Forum went ahead to issue a communiqué to that effect. This action did not go down well with the rest of the members.

Instead of mounting an aggressive or rigorous campaign, the Gadzama team was busy soliciting for cheap endorsements from branches and fora. For instance, the team had issued a report maliciously claiming that Gadzama was endorsed by my branch, Birnin Kebbi. We were confronted with this unholy attribution and were able to rebut it at the polls.

Instead of addressing issues, the Gadzama campaign organisation resorted to a negative campaign where they smeared the personality of his opponent. However, this had to a greater extent elicited sympathy for A. B. Mahmoud.

Mr. Gadzama instead of appealing to voters’ conscience, devoted most of his energy to eliciting voters’ sentiments. For instance, in my presence in Enugu while attending the Quarterly Eastern Bar Forum, Gadzama when addressing the Christian-Igbo/Niger Delta members of the NBA, busied himself telling them that being a Christian himself; he was their brother in faith indirectly implying that the other candidate was their foe, a Muslim. While doing that he was not mindful the negative impact that this would have on the minds of Muslim lawyers all over the country.

Gadzama displayed an air of arrogance, while his opponent was an epitome of humility. Instead of displaying intelligence on his understanding of the issues confronting the NBA, he resorted to prejudiced and parochial rumblings. On the other hand, Mahmoud was insightful in his thoughts and articulate in his presentations.

Gadzama’s campaign manifesto seemed to be a fantasy, hence unrealisable. On the other hand, Mahmoud’s campaign promises seemed to be genuine and implementable.

Gadzama’s team seemed to run an incoherent campaign as he was inconsistent in his promises and actions.

His affiliation with President Goodluck in the past and his unrepentant support of the PDP had negatively impacted on his campaign.

And above all, Gadzama experienced a character crises. Many voters doubted his honesty and integrity to lead the Bar at a moment where corruption has bedevilled the nation.

To my mind these were the factors that scuttled Gadzama’s chances to win the 2016 NBA Presidential race. To this end, it is my humble view that instead of him wasting his precious time challenging the electioneering process, it would be better for him to carryout a self-assessment of his conducts and actions throughout the electioneering process with a view to making an amendment and in order to forge ahead. Perhaps, age is still on his side? Therefore, there is yet another chance for him to lead the Bar in future. But let this election be a lesson to him. ‘A stitch in time saves nine.’”