NBA 2018 ELECTIONS: WHICH WAY FORWARD FOR A CREDIBLE ELECTION ACCEPTABLE TO ALL?

At it’s meeting held on the 1st of March 2018, the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Nigerian Association (NBA) constituted the Electoral Committee (ECNBA), a body saddled with the task of organizing the NBA’s biennial general election. One of the terms of reference for the ECNBA as approved by NEC was that the elections should hold between the hours of 23:59 hours on Friday 27th to 23:59 hours Saturday 28th July, 2018. Even if the NEC had not so mandated ECNBA to conduct the elections as at the said dates, it is permissible for one to expect the ECNBA to conduct the elections at about the said time going by the clear provisions of the NBA Constitution 2015 which is the constitutive legal document of the association. To most members of the NBA’s irritation, as at the time this article is being written, those dates have lapsed by almost two weeks and it is obvious to all and has indeed been clamoured by not few stakeholders in the electoral process that the ECNBA must further extend the date for the elections if we are to have something close to a free and fair election if a completely free and fair lection cannot be achieved.

For proper foundation, it is important to state that the electoral process appear to have started out on a proper footing with some hiccups but which obviously could be managed by CHAMS, the appointed service provider, until some unfounded allegations from the camp of two presidential candidates including (which obviously turned out to be wolf’s cry) messed up the whole process and set the ball in motion for the engagement of another service provider. More directly, the camps of the two other candidates for the office of the President had erroneously alleged that CHAMS had Paul Usoro, SAN as a member of its board.

At a later time, the story was that the chairman of the board of directors for CHAMS sits on the same board as Paul Usoro at Access Bank Plc and was thus in a position to manipulate the electoral process! Sounds like some cock and bull story right? I share your views too!. But the funny part of the whole story is that the NBA leadership bought the cock and bull story even without a formal petition or request and without letting a supposedly independent ECNBA do its job, set up a meeting at which CHAMS was relieved of its task of verifying eligible voters for the elections. The result is that CRENET SOLUTIONS was brought on board to manage the verification process. If anything, the experience we have had since we entrusted the herculean task of verifying qualified members for the elections to CRENET has so far raised more serious concerns on the election process as a whole.

From all indications, it appears more than 75% of total eligible voters are yet to be verified despite the fact the elections are supposed to commence in two days. Recently, at a press conference held in Abuja, the NBA leadership stated that of the over 30, 000 eligible voters, only about 3,500 eligible voters have been verified in direct contrast to the figures published by CHAMS before they were relieved of that aspect of their engagement. Specifically, CHAMS had verified and updated the records of over 12, 000 eligible voters in just two or three days it commenced the verification exercise.

The result of CRENET’s challenges is that several NBA branch Chairmen and members have written public letters to the Chairman of the Electoral Committee of the NBA informing him of the failure of the verification exercise and threatened legal actions if they are disenfranchised . The Lagos Branch Chairman, Mr. Chukwuka Ikwuazom in his letter to the Chairman of the Electoral Committee of the NBA dated 03 August 2018 stated that over 80% of the members of the Lagos Branch were yet to be verified as at 03 August 2018 and that many of those who had been previously verified by CHAMS cannot find their records on CRENET’s verification portal. The situation is even more alarming in the Owerri Branch where over 95% of eligible voters are said not to have been verified, not for want of their applications to so do, but because they are all facing myriads of challenges with the verification process.

Beyond CRENET’s struggles, a bigger cause for concern is the revelation that the NBA Secretariat and some NBA Exco Members are directly involved in the verification exercise, staff of the Secretariat under the leadership of these Exco members formed a large part of Help Desk set up by the ECNBA/CRENET to attend members with issues regarding the verification exercise. The result of this being that only complaints from supporters of a particular candidate or from a particular part of the country where a particular candidate seemingly has more supporters are prioritized. Flowing from the travesty of simple principles of fair play by the NBA Secretariat, it has been revealed that the ECNBA helpline gave priority to supporters of that one candidate, the same one openly supported by some of the NBA Exco members, by providing a special e-mail address where complaints from the supporters of this particular candidate are being forwarded from where they are directed to CRENET to resolve without the grueling drama persons not supportive of that candidate go through. In essence, it does appear that there is a selective process for the treatment of complaints arising from the verification process and the determinant factor of how soon your complaint will be attended to is who is forwarding your complaint and which candidate it appears you are supporting. Is it mere coincidence that supporters of this particular candidate have not come out with their vuvuzelas to attack CRENET like they attacked CHAMS despite the very obvious fact that CRENET is obviously struggling to discharge its obligations? Honestly, I think not. This clear interference by the some of the NBA Excos in the process does not only betray commonsensical principles, it also runs afoul of the agreement of all stakeholders at the meeting where CRENET was appointed to handle the verification exercise or process.

As if the above were not enough, it was further discovered that several names, which were not included in the list of eligible voters submitted by the various branches mysteriously found their way into CRENET’s list of verified voters. If this is not a clear evidence of the attempts by certain people to sabotage the electoral process, then I do not know what it is. It is really hard to fault this revelation because how does one explain that thousands of people who were verified in the previous exercise carried out by CHAMS are met with the “NO RECORDS FOUND” answer in CRENET’s verification platform. The question that really begs for answer is “what lists did the NBA Secretariat and indeed the ECNBA submit to CRENET”? This is one issue that needs to be thoroughly investigated. Again, why is all this process concerning the final lists of respective branches shrouded in secrecy if indeed the ECNBA and indeed the NBA is committed to a free, fair and credible election. Why are these final lists not pasted on the NBA Website for everyone to see? In his words, the President of the NBA, upon being asked for his views on this development identified it as a “Professional Misconduct” and really, one cannot but agree with him. For posterity sake, it is expected that the perpetrators of this insidious act be brought to book openly and sanctioned for attempting to compromise the election process. Let us hope that this is not all talks without action to match.

It is also instructive to note that CRENET has never handled a sensitive brief as the one committed to it by the NBA before now. Asides the young age of the infant company, a visit to its website will confirm that fact, intel gathered on the company revealed that it has never carried out e-voting process before. In its response to accusations that it is mismanaging the verification process, CRENET has stated that the NBA Secretariat approves all details before they are uploaded. In other words, if the help desk decides that certain eligible voters would not vote due to the choice of their candidates or for whatever reason, then their details may not be forwarded to CRENET for corrective actions. Even though, the verification exercise did not close as at 10am today as scheduled and there is the talk that all the complaints ticket to the CRENET Portal will be attended to, the rate at which such complaints are being resolved, one needs no soothsayer to conclude that if even an extension is granted till December, the problems being faced by majority of lawyers all over the country will persist and there will be no end in sight.

The issues considered in this piece and many more which for want of space will be shelved to a later date have raised public concern as to the integrity of the NBA leadership and indeed the ECNBA in this year’s electoral process. The fairness of the entire process is almost looking like an impossibility given the baring facts. As at today, there are multiple questions without answers. It may thus be a wiser option that the entire process be annulled and a fresh one commenced shorn of all interferences by the incumbent NBA Exco members, one that will contend with the independence of the ECNBA as it really ought to be. For posterity sake, the election must not only be free and fair, but must be manifestly seen to be free and fair by all and sundry.

Solomon Igberaese Esq

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