Periodic election is one of the expectations in a democratic system. Over the years, democratic institutions have modified the way our elections are conducted in other to ensure the efficiency, transparency and inclusivity of the system.
The Nigerian Bar Association operates the concept of democracy and has in recent years given room for members of the Bar, who meet the requirements for eligibility to vote as stipulated in the Association’s constitution, to participate in electing their National Officers through individual voting system. However, with the NBA 2018 National elections only hours away, many have heavily criticized the conduct of the verification of voters by the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNA) particularly in the wake of the shocking figures of members who have been disenfranchised by the process.
The Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) is one of the eleven standing committees expressly recognized under Section 12 of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Constitution 2015. By the Second Schedule to the Constitution, the Committee is responsible for the conduct of elections of National Officers of the Nigerian Bar Association. Paragraph 2.4 of the Second Schedule mandates that the voting for the election shall be by electronic means and in particular empowers the Committee to issue guidelines for conduct of electronic voting, which shall amongst other things provide for “verification of voters, place, time and platform to be utilized for electronic voting for each particular election year taking into consideration the state of available technology and Information Technology infrastructure of the branches in order to afford all registered voters the opportunity to vote”.
Unfortunately, the process of the verification exercise of the 2018 NBA elections has been far from affording all eligible voters the opportunity to be verified, even before consideration of the opportunity to vote. Indeed, many eligible voters have been shut out by the back and forth process of the verification exercise this year which has not only been time consuming but has also been a cumbersome procedure marred with questions. There are a few questions that have arisen due to the difficulty posed by this year’s verification process. Section 16 of the NBA Constitution stipulates that to be eligible to vote, a member shall be a financial member of the Branch and shall have paid his/her bar practicing fees and annual branch dues, as and when due, for the two (2) years preceding the election or since enrolment, if less than two (2) years post-call, and shall have attended a minimum of five (5) monthly general meetings of the Branch within the twelve (12) months preceding the date of the election. However, this eligibility vote is subject to the requirement of verification.
While this verification is ordinarily not a challenge, with the difficulty of the process this year, it is recommended that a more convenient method which ensures inclusivity, transparency and majority participation be embraced. This was the conclusion of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, A.B Mahmoud, in a Press Briefing held on the 6th of August 2018, where he apologized for the challenges of the 1st verification process initiated and concluded by Chams Plc appointed by the ECNBA. Even though the allegations of undue influence and integrity questions against Chams Plc where said to be without proof, the NBA President stated that “ Due to wide-spread complaints about security of the verification process undertaken by Chams Plc and upon further consultation with the Presidential Candidates for the 2018 NBA National Elections and their technical advisers and other stakeholders across Nigeria, the NBA has decided to review and disaggregate the entire electoral process into 3 stages, pre, during and post-election, and appointed a new service provider to manage a more secure verification process that would strengthen the confidence of our members in the electoral process”. The NBA proceeded to appoint CRENET as the service provider for the electronic elections.
The President also noted in his press briefing of 6th August, that “ To ensure that our members are not disenfranchised during the electoral process, the NBA has instructed CRENET to suspend the current verification process and introduce a simplified process to enable all outstanding members eligible to vote but unable to verify to do so through a simplified form that will be made available for completion and submission online…” This would constitute the second set of voter verification for the same election.
Also Pursuant to Paragraph 7 of the Statement of the President of Nigerian Bar Association dated 6th of August, 2018, postponing the verification, stating as follows “Upon collation of all data from the submitted forms, CRENET shall thereafter review and verify the details with support from the annual Practicing fees list, NBA Bar services Unit and Supreme Court records”
Second verification exercise also suffered greatly from low publicity of procedure and lack of sufficient time for implementation. All these TheNigerialawyer (TNL) gathered
have negatively impacted the process and it came as not too much of a surprise that at the end of the verification process almost half of all eligible voters would be disenfranchised in the 2018 NBA elections. In a Press statement released by the ECNBA and signed by its Secretary, Bolaji Agoro Esq on the 17th of ,August 2018, the ECNBA stated that “the final voters register containing a total of Thirty-Two Thousand, Two Hundred and Twenty-Eight (32,228) was published on the 29th June. 2018 pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution of Nigerian Bar Association 2015. However, the total number of members, who took part in the verification exercise and are eligible to participate in the forthcoming voting exercise, are Three Thousand Five Hundred and Seventy-One (3,571) [Batch A verified between 31 July 2018 to 2nd August 2018] and Thirteen Thousand Two Hundred and Fifty-Four (13,254) [Batch B verified between 8th ,August 2018, to 11th, August, 2018]”.
Commenting on the figures, released by the ECNBA, Human rights Activist, Prof Chidi Odinkalu tweeted “At least 15,503 of 32,228 representing 47.79% of fully paid up, eligible voters disenfranchised in @NigBarAssoc vote”. However, while some have argued that it is not the duty of the ECNBA to force anyone to get verified, it is worthy of note that the ECNBA never intended the verification exercise to be conducted in batches and it was the failure of the first verification exercise that led to the second conduct of the process. Both verification exercises where marred with delays and several procedural challenges, with the first greatly worse off than the second.
Hence, by the ECNBA planning as originally envisioned, only 16,725 out of 32,228 eligible voters would have been voting at the elections this year and even after the corrections effected to the process more that 47.79% of members who would have been entitled to participate have been shut out. It is also likely that the number of verified voters who would eventually vote would be less that this published figure.
Moving forward, it is hoped that the ECNBA would have a better and more effective approach to the elections and that with the Accreditation and e-voting exercises now scheduled for Saturday 18th August 2018 to Monday 20th August 2018, the process would be credible and inclusive in a manner that would not further shed the weight of eligible voters for the elections.
It is also hoped that subsequent conduct of NBA National elections would learn from these 2018 challenges in other to create a proper platform for the operation of the electronic verification and voting system for future Bar elections.