By Long Williams
The recent scandal involving the ICT provider and one of the Presidential candidates in the NBA 2018 election compelled Mr A.B. Mahmoud SAN, the President of NBA to summon a meeting involving the National Officers, the Contestants and Major Stakeholders like the Past Presidents and Secretaries for consultation on the way out of the imbroglio.
In these meetings, majority of the participants saw everything wrong with the fact that one of the Presidential Candidates shares a relationship with the Chairman of the ICT Provider for the election. In a reply sent to the Chairman of the Electoral Committee of NBA, CHAMS Plc, the ICT Partner admitted that their chairman sits on the same board with Mr. Paul Usoro SAN in Access Bank PLC. Not only are they co-directors in the said bank, they belong to several committees where relationship are deepened.
For the sake of perception which raised several dust within the legal constituency, many of the national officers, stakeholders and one of the Presidential Candidates in the person of Mr. Arthur Obi Okafor SAN expressed concern and objected vociferously that CHAMS PLC should not be allowed as the ICT Partner in the electoral process. It is noteworthy to state here that CHAMS in their reply owned up and advised that they are ready to step aside from the process if the perception of the likelihood of bias is strong in the minds of contestants and members of the Association.
It was also observed during demonstration of the technical aspect of the process by CHAMS that they committed several blunders which if allowed for the election to take place would have compromised the entire process. For instance, it was found out that there was; (1) No security in the verification aspect of the process, in other words, any other person using a different email and phone number can easily verify and steal the code of another person. Many eligible voters had their names verified by others who remained unknown till date. (2) The ICT Partner agreed during demonstration of the technical aspect that it is possible that those they claimed are verified(twelve thousand of them) could have those voters whose identity were stolen and verified by unknown persons. (3) The company during the said demonstration also showed over a thousand and eight hundred eligible voters who did not verify their names but which are to be added as part of the verified names who will participate in the election and, finally (4) The company had about a thousand and nine hundred names whose identity were regarded as suspicious and will be excluded in the election proper but on a closer look were names of eligible voters who apparently are being excluded by virtue of their perceived support to a particular candidate.
Luckily one of the eligible voters was present during the demonstration and discovered that her name and several others known to her were dubbed suspicious names and would have been excluded from participating from the election if the list was used for the election but for the impasse.
Having examined all these factors and many more, majority who participated in these meetings expressed fear and held the strong view that CHAMS Plc be excused to avoid credibility issue more so when it is revealed that CHAMS elections for ICAN is presently in court which is yet to be resolved on grounds of fraud, incompetence and compromise of the electoral system.
Despite all these revelations and objections by majority of the participants, Mr. A.B. Mahmoud for reasons yet unknown, overruled everyone and held the view that he does not see any reason to completely ease out CHAMS PLC as the ICT Partner in the 2018 NBA Elections. At every segment of the meeting, whether with the National Officers, the Contestants, and the Past Leaders, he was very vehement, strident on clearing himself of any complicity and manipulation of the system that is allegedly tailored towards favoring a particular candidate. He was insistent on retaining CHAMS PLC in the electoral process as dropping them now will send a “wrong signal” to the international community. Strange, isn’t it? One would have thought that going ahead with CHAMS Plc in the light of these startling revelations about their integrity and competence would have sent a wrong signal about the integrity and transparency of NBA as a professional body. Alas! Mr. A.B. Mahmoud SAN does not think that way, in fact information made available revealed he uttered that he cared less with whatever the legal community in Nigeria thinks about his idea of going ahead with this election for 2018 with CHAMS PLC. According to a reliable source he is more interested in satisfying his perceived international community audience who he feels will question his integrity if CHAMS PLC is dropped than the Nigerian legal constituency that elected him president in 2016. What an irony?
However when Mr. A.B. Mahmoud SAN discovered that he was alone on his insistence in retaining CHAMS PLC as the ICT provider, he soft-pedaled and agreed that the verification exercise of voters list be taken away from CHAMS PLC and given to a new ICT partner , while the election proper will be conducted by CHAMS PLC.
Secondly it was agreed that a proper pre election audit be done on the final voters list, while the ICT Experts of the various candidates be involved in auditing both the verification and Elections Platforms of both companies to guarantee its fairness, transparency and integrity. In fact it was resolved that the ICT experts of the various candidates will be allowed to have access to the back-end of the platform of CHAMS in the electoral process.
This agreement calmed frayed nerves a little, even though there are doubts with the retention of CHAMS Plc as an umpire in one of the segments of the process in the light of them having eligible voters of about thirty two thousands in their custody. What if they decide to be mischievous? What and what? Fill in the gap.
What is very worrisome about the whole process is the news that the election will now be shifted from 27th and 28th to 30th and 31st of July, 2018 just seventy two hours postponement. One asks, what has changed? The following poser and views demand your intense observation gentlemen.
(1) Why the rush to have the election when the vital issue of verification has not been sorted out properly taking into cognizance our peculiarities in times of size, geography, communication issues to branches and the attendant ICT and its related problems? We know how long it took to verify the last flawed process and the attendant problems.
(2) When will the experts and candidates audit the list before they are verified?
(3) The present list are they sacrosanct, integrity laden? Who vetted them and why were the verified list not segmented branch by branch to guarantee that those names are members of the branch from which they came?
(3) Has the new ICT partner for verification been employed? If yes, when? When was the bidding and contract signed and what are the contents of the agreement?
(4) Most importantly, has the new ICT company developed the platform already for the verification? When was this done and has it been tested to the extent that the verification is alleged to commence next Monday?
(5). Have we done enough publicity to sensitize the constituency about the new company, the new process and how it shall be done taking into account the level of our size as branches, geography, state of information technology and other related factors?
(6) When is there going to be time for complaints and petitions in case of technical hitches that is usually prevalent with online verifications judging by previous experiences if this time table is adhered to strictly without adjustments?
(7) Why is Mr A.B. Mahmoud SAN hell bent on driving this process to a determined end, not caring about the negative consequences and attendant law suits that will further denigrate the Bar Association in Nigeria?
(6) Where are the leaders of the Bar and why are they quiet about the looming danger that may likely consume the bar if this already determined end is callously and mischievously carried through by Mr. A.B. Mahmoud SAN and some others in this conspiracy who are fixated on a determined outcome.
Several lawyers from all over the country are demanding the following to ensure free, fair and credible 2018 election to avoid unnecessary litigation over our electoral matters;
(1) A total disengagement with CHAMS PLC as an ICT partner in this electoral process on grounds of likelihood of bias, compromise and general perception of its lack of its neutrality in driving this process. Moreover, the technical depth and competence of the company is also in doubt.
(2) Engagement of two new separate companies for compilation and verification and validation of voters list and the second company to carry through the voting proper.
(3) Pre election and post election Auditing of the voters list to ensure no fake names are added at any time in the process.
(4) Unhindered access to the ICT experts of all candidates to audit the entire process technically within the limits allowed and permitted professionally to guarantee fairness, integrity and equity of the entire process.
(5) Enough sensitization and publicity to the constituency to ensure adequate participation by at least a reasonable percentage of Nigerian lawyers.
(6) Access to the back-end to the candidates’ technical experts to guarantee integrity of the process.
(7) Postponement of the process to at least two weeks to permit the implementations of the above demands as our constitution permits the election to be held either July or any other time (month) agreed and ratified by the National Executive Committee. The extension beyond July can be ratified at the Pre Conference NEC meeting coming up sometime later this year in August.
These minimum demands as requested if implemented will prevent chaos and crisis within the bar. It is a minimum requirement and should be attended to fast to avoid further denigration and polarization of the Bar.
Already the president has issued a statement today the 21st of July in which he used the word ” may” to cover the aspect involving the employment of a new ICT partner to verify voters list. It is a dangerous signal as the failure to adhere to the process of employing a new ICT company to sanitize the voters list will portray the NBA president Mr AB Mahmoud SAN as a man who does not keep to his words and puts a more dangerous question mark to the entire electoral process of 2018.
We wait to see the reactions of the candidates to the press statement from Mr AB Mahmoud SAN as it appears that he will not abide with even his own summary of the agreements reached in those meetings held recently at the National Secretariat, Abuja with the stakeholders.
Long Williams Esq, former Secretary, NBA PH Branch writes from Port Harcourt.