Now that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) 2020 National Election is over, I can safely denounce it for what it was – spurious! I observed many of the events which led up to the election closely, discussed with all the main campaign groups, even the leadership of the NBA, because I was troubled about what I saw throughout the election cycle, let alone the actual election itself. It is a thing of shame, that we Lawyers, who are supposedly upholders of the rule of law, could not follow laid down rules and procedure in conducting our own election. Do we really have any right to call out Government or Politicians for disobeying court orders or for their contempt for the rule of law, when we have shown ourselves to be exactly the same as them?
Non-Senior Advocates and the NBA Presidency
Again, let me reiterate the fact that, I do not agree that the Presidency of the NBA is the exclusive preserve of Senior Advocates of Nigeria; and the allusion to the fact that the leadership of the NBA must indeed, continue to be the exclusive right of Senior Advocates, certainly furthered the cause of Mr Olumide Akpata (who was the non-Senior Advocate in the NBA Presidential race) in the minds of many Lawyers who do not share this Senior Advocate sentiment, especially the younger ones. The 2015 NBA Constitution which is our grundnorm, certainly does not make being a Senior Advocate a condition precedent for qualification for the Presidency of our Association, so, how can anybody or any group seek to do so? However, a situation in which a non-Senior Advocate won the Presidential election by means of a completely credible process, would have been ideal and more acceptable. This certainly does not seem to be the case in this situation, as the victory of Mr Akpata is marred by allegations of electoral impropriety, malpractice and outright breaching of our NBA Constitution and 2020 ECNBA Guidelines. The joy that came with the proof that a non-Senior Advocate has the ability to win the NBA Presidential election has been somewhat dampened, because of the allegations of wrongdoing which have surrounded this election.
Matters Arising: The IT Company and the Voters Register
My dear colleagues, how free, fair and credible can an election be said to be, when it has been tainted with impropriety from the beginning to the end of the election cycle? The obvious response to this question is, not very. I must admit that, the actual voting process was seamless in my own experience – it took me all of two minutes to make my choices and submit them. However, many others were not as fortunate as me. They received their voting links, but were unable to vote. There were also complaints by some of the candidates, that the identity of the IT Company that conducted the electronic voting process was shrouded in so much secrecy, that neither the NBA’s NEC nor the candidates were able to investigate the integrity of the IT Company and certify its capacity beforehand, as should be the case.
Paragraph 8.1 of the ECNBA Guidelines provides that the condition precedent for voting in the general election is that a) members belong to a Branch; b) members must have paid their Practicing Fees and Branch Dues as at when due for the election year (that is, by March 31); and c) members are duly registered to vote in the election. Alas, many who fit this bill were somehow excluded from the final Voters Register, including my Mother, former President of the NBA (1992), Dame Priscilla Olabori Kuye. In the chambers, we all paid our Practicing Fees and Branch Dues together, and when we were asked to register to vote, we did so together too and were all verified as eligible to vote. So, why was Dame Kuye excluded from the final Voters Register, or why was she unable to vote?
After the initial registration/verification exercise, what would be the reason for subsequent exercises of the same nature? Surely, only to correct anomalies and include those who have been wrongly excluded from the Voters list, and not to remove the names of those who have every right to be on the the list and have already been verified as such! Most people like Dame Kuye, would therefore, have gone home feeling satisfied once they had verified that their names were on the Voters list, confident that on election day, they would be able to cast their vote. Tah! Unfortunately, members like Dame Kuye were disappointed, and they had to pay dearly for the inefficiency of the Branches or whoever had the responsibility of collating the final Voters Register, or the mischief of Branch leaders who sought to enthrone their own choice of candidates by preventing those who were perceived not to be in support of their own candidates, from voting. A Senior Advocate reported to me how their firm had to raise a petition, because the Branch which they belong to had somehow excluded the names of about 100 Lawyers in their firm from the Voters list, having paid their Practicing Fees and Branch Dues in January 2020. The Secretary of the Lagos Branch which we also belong to, had actually raised a petition against the Chairman of the Branch, for the opaque manner in which the Voters list was drawn up. Some Branches were also accused of padding their Voters list, while members of X Branch found their names under the list of Y Branch which they did not belong to, usually in a completely different State.
Paragraph 2.3(d) of the Second Schedule to the NBA Constitution and Paragraph 8.5 of the ECNBA Guidelines make it mandatory for the final Voters Register to be published at least 28 days before the election – it is alleged that the final Voters Register was published on July 29 – the day of the election, a few hours before the voting portal opened. Therefore, members whose names were wrongly omitted from the final Voters Register could do little or nothing to rectify the NBA’s mistake, especially because voting had more or less begun by the time they may have even realised that they had been excluded. Some called the designated helplines or sent emails, to have the omissions rectified – all to no avail. They never received any response/no action was taken by the ECNBA to make any such rectification.
Questions have also been raised about so-called Lawyers in the diaspora, who voted in this election – about whether they were indeed, members of any of the NBA Branches/whether they had fulfilled the conditions for eligibility to vote in the election. Though they were said to be less than 100 in number, allegations that these Lawyers in the diaspora voted without meeting the mandatory conditions are noteworthy, because if they are found to be true, their votes are null and void and of no effect.
The bottom line is that, one of the most important aspects of an election is the Voters Register. If the Voters Register is flawed, then the election cannot be adjudged to be reliable.
The election that brought the outgoing Executive of the NBA into office also faced allegations of malpractice, to the extent that certain NBA staff are presently facing criminal charges in that regard. It is obvious that, the NBA’s electoral process has been fraught with imperfections even before now. However, candidates not putting their feet down and ensuring that the ECNBA took steps to right the wrongs complained of before the election held, was in my humble opinion, a missed and wasted opportunity. If disgruntled parties now proceed to court to ventilate their grievances (which obviously is their prerogative), it is likely that the matter will linger on till Armageddon or well after Mr Akpata has completed his tenure. Litigation in this type of circumstance, is akin to crying over spilt milk and nothing more than an academic exercise!
Therefore, we can only hope that Mr Akpata will take the Association to greater heights as he has undertaken to do, and show that like the late Alao Aka Bashorun who has gone down in NBA history as one of the best Presidents that the NBA has ever had, another non-SAN can perform just as excellently. Indeed, Mr Akpata has very big shoes to fill. We also hope that one of the first actions that his administration will take, will be to address all the fallibilities pertaining to NBA election matters and the electronic voting process itself, so that by 2022, the election process will be seamless and unimpeachable. Going forward, we wish Mr Akpata the best of luck and a successful tenure!