* As Prof. Ojukwu awaits ECNBA decision
* Ubani calls for investigation

The controversy surrounding the allegation against the Professor Auwal Yadudu led Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association appears to be facing another twist following a call for the signing of a petition by some members of the NBA against the Electoral Committee.

This Call was made after the integrity of the Committee was questioned at the back of an investigation by an online blog.

By a report made on the 12th day of July, 2018, the said blog, had claimed that the ICT Partner selected by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to anchor the forthcoming general elections of the association has as its Chairman, a co-director with one of the leading presidential candidates, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN. According to the findings concluded, investigations among other things show that Mr. Paul Usoro SAN and Dr. (Mrs.) Ajoritsedere Josephine Awosika are currently Non-Executive Directors of Access Bank Plc. According to the report, Awosika is the pioneer female Chairman of CHAMS. While Awosika was appointed a Director of Access Bank since April 2013, Usoro, on the other hand, joined the board a year later in January 2014.

Following the report, TheNigerialawyer (TNL) snooped the truth, or otherwise of the report. Speaking with the Secretary to the NBA Electoral Committee, he debunked the story claiming that it was a cheap blackmail. His words:

“We didn’t hire any company linked with any of the contestants. The committee deliberated on it and responded accordingly”

Corroborating what the committee’s secretary had said, the NBA Secretariat through its General Secretary, Aare Isiaka Abiola Olaguju, stated that the story is false, stressing that the contract was awarded to an independent ICT firm known as CHAMS. TNL further learnt that Grace Infotech Limited which was the company contracted to conduct the 2016 NBA elections was not contacted for this year’s election because of the controversy surrounding the 2016 Election which is, of course, sub judice.

To uncover more about the authenticity of the claims made, TheNigerialawyer (TNL) checked the Access bank website to confirm the constitution of its board and management team, and also compare same with that of CHAMS. Our findings show that there are eight members of the management team of the public company (Access Bank Plc). The members of the board as shown are: Mrs. Mosun Belo-Olusoga (FCA – Chairperson), Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN (Non-Executive Director), Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, OFR (Independent Director), Mrs. Anthonia Olufeyikemi Ogunmefun (Non-Executive Director), Dr. Ajoritsedere Awosika (MFR- Independent Director), Mr. Abba Mamman Tor Habib (Non-Executive Director), Mr. Adeniyi Adedokun Adekoya (Independent Non-Executive Director), and Mr. Iboroma Tamunoemi Akpana (Independent Non-Executive Director).

Accessing the website of CHAMS, it was discovered that there are also eight members of the Board of Directors of the company, of which Paul Usoro is not a member. The website shows that Dr. (Mrs) Ajoritsedere Awosika who is an Independent Director of Access bank is also the chairman of CHAMS. This confirms the claim of the said blog that indeed Mr. Paul Usoro SAN and Dr. Ajoritsedere Awosika are both members of the Access Bank’s Management Team.

The findings have led to a mixed reaction in the legal community as diverse opinions have been given about the matter.

According to one of the commentators, ECNBA has failed to do due diligence. He noted that the relationship between the duo, is one that cannot be ignored. ”Has the platform been tested? Demonstrated? To whom? When? How? What due diligence did the ECNBA do? It seems it’s only now after the fact that the ECNBA is about to do the kind of due diligence it should have done well before now.

”Some people said the relationship between Mr. Usoro & Dr. Awosika is too tangential to ignore. Both CHAMS & Access Bank are public companies. It seems clear from the publicly available records that Mr. Usoro is a debtor to Access Bank. Dr. Awosika who sits on both the credit and finance and Audit committees of the Access Bank Board would have had to take a view of this. I say nothing of the concurrence of their board committee memberships.

”None of these are disclosed. We simply are supposed to accept the opinions of people who have not done their homework. For me, that is not good enough,” he added.

Another commenter, Nnamdi Ikpeze, questioned the fact that NBA seems to be an appendage of Access Bank.

“Access keeps our funds. Its director conducts elections for us and runs for president in our organization. Are we now an appendage of Access? Conflict of interest?”

Another commenter said ” Even CHAMS does not have any integrity issue. Guys are just reaching for what’s not available. May God have mercy on them.

Monday Ubani, the second Vice President of the NBA, is calling for the investigation of the allegation in order to clear the doubts in the minds of other contestants.

According to him the president of the Bar will do his best to ensure that doubts are cleared on this issue by carrying out a thorough investigation over the weighty allegation.

“Any doubt in the electoral process will not be in the interest of the bar. Remember that we are still battling with the last election which is still in court and it is as a result of issues like this. If there is the truth that there is any likelihood of relationship with them, it has to be cleared before the election.

“Such allegation is not healthy for the bar as it will throw the Association into crisis. The proper petition should be sent to the NBA. As it stands now, this issue is only trending on social media, therefore, an official letter has been sent to NBA.

Prof Ojukwu, when contacted said he was informed that the ECNBA is committed to investigating the allegation and will take a decision after which they will communicate their findings as soon as possible.

“This will actually clear the issue of trust in the allegation, as for now, the committee is investigating.

“Because they are investigating the matter, there is nothing to say. I don’t have the facts other than what was published, so I will wait for the committee to communicate their findings. I urge them to move as fast as possible to ensure that the election goes in an atmosphere of trust.

Chief Emeka Obegolu, said that he wouldn’t want to respond to the issue as he already has a preferred candidate.

Another commenter who claimed anonymity said that their business interests outside Access Bank could be as far apart as their positions in this pix.

”It’ll be a different ball game if Mr. Paul Usoro SAN were to be an investor in the ICT firm. It’s my humble opinion that the proximity of interest is one that shouldn’t raise any suspicion.”

Prof. Chidi Odinkalu stated that he has read reports crediting the NBA Secretary, Mr. Olagunju & the ECNBA Secretary, Mr. Agoro, with doing a tag team on this issue of the NBA’s E-voting solution provider and he is of the opinion that the Secretariat ought to have remained silent about the matter.

”One would have thought that with the existence of an ECNBA, the NBA Gen-Sec would advise himself to keep quiet on this matter. By coming out the way he has, he casts a pall over the independence of the ECNBA and he suggests he has an excess of eagerness unbecoming for his position. That is more than worrying.

”It seems clear ECNBA has not done its homework & is not looking very independent. The degree of transparency expected of this ECNBA has been lacking. When did they advertise the bids for solution providers? Where? How? Who curated and managed the bids? How was the bid process governed? What is the scope and spec of the contract? What are the data management and data protection responsibilities of the contractor?” he asked.

Ifeanyi Okeke said Usoro might not have the knowledge about the relationship that exists between Mrs. Awosike and CHAMS. He may also not know that Mrs. Awosike is the Chairperson to CHAMS. The fact that a person is my colleague does not mean I will know every business dealings about him, what he owns and what he does not. The fact that I attend meetings with someone does not give me any right to pry into his matters or does it give me the right to expose my personal business dealings elsewhere. Board members are appointed from different spheres to sit on a board of a particular company, therefore it does not mean I should know every one of your dealings. So, in this case, it is not enough reason to affiliate Usoro to ICT partner for NBA 2018 election, however, it should be investigated”

Based on the comments so far, it is not in dispute that legal practitioners are already nursing doubts about the Prof. Auwal Yadudu led Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association, hence, the call for his resignation as stated in the petition. But in all, the question is: Does Paul Usoro SAN and Dr. (Mrs) Ajoritsedere Awosika membership of the management team of Access Bank touches on the integrity of ECNBA? Is there any law or provision of any law that speaks of such a conflict of interest so far as the objectives of ECNBA are concerned?

To answer this, TheNigerialawyer (TNL) perused the NBA Constitution to know whether the law provides anything of such. Article 12 of the NBA constitution mentions the Electoral Committee as one of the Standing Committees of the Association, while the establishment, appointment, and duties of the Electoral Committee is provided in the Second Schedule to the Constitution. However, a look at the second Schedule does not in any way provide for guidelines of contractual regulations with the Electoral Committee.

Thus, so far as this matter is concerned, the likely area of law that relates to the issue is the contract violation. Can it be said that CHAMS has violated any of the terms of the agreement between it and the committee? Although we are not privy to the terms of the contract, it is crystal clear that there are some burning issues.

Is CHAMS aware that its board’s chairman is closely related to an NBA presidential aspirant? Was NBA aware that CHAMS’s chairman is a member of the management team of Access bank? Will NBA terminate the contract between it and the committee in the light of the above?

It is in the quest to answer these burning questions that TheNigerialawyer (TNL) has decided to conduct an independent poll to know what members of the legal community think about the matter

ECNBA should rescind the contract with CHAMS

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