Adebola Olarotimi Lema

Mr. Adebola Lema, Esq. has stated that there is an urgent need for electoral reforms in the body polity of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) having regards to her antecedents in recent times, wherein unending allegations of electoral malpractices always becloud the eventual electoral process.

This is contained in a statement issued by him which was made available to TheNigeriaLawyer(TNL), titled “REFLECTIONS ON THE NBA ELECTIONS OF 2016. 2018 AND 2020 RESPECTIVELY: IMPERATIVES OF THE AUDIT AND REFORMS OF THE ELECTORAL PROCESS PROMISED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NBA”.

Meanwhile, he recounted the several allegations that have trailed the National Elections of the Nigerian Bar Association in recent years, 2016, 2018 and 2020.

However, he noted that there is an urgent need for an electoral reform and noted the willingness of the Olumide Akpata led administration to ensure this is done. Thus, expressing his optimism that the outcome of the Electoral Audit & Reform Committee would be put into implementation.

The full statement reads:

REFLECTIONS ON THE NBA ELECTIONS OF 2016. 2018 AND 2020 RESPECTIVELY: IMPERATIVES OF THE AUDIT AND REFORMS OF THE ELECTORAL PROCESS PROMISED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NBA

Last week I published an article titled: ‘Hon. Isaac Kekemeke’s outburst and the dearth of political campaigns in Nigeria: My intervention’. I had also completed another article by Thursday last week on ‘Internal democracy in political parties in Nigeria: A critical assessment’. However, due to the swearing-in of the 30th President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olumide Anthony Akpata on Friday, the 28th of August, 2020 and issues arising from his inaugural speech I was compelled to halt the publication of the article and opted for “Reflections on the NBA elections of 2016, 2018 and 2020 respectively: Imperatives of the audit and reforms of the electoral process promised by the President of the NBA”

In retrospect, prior to 2015 the NBA operated the 2009 Constitution which was adopted in Lagos in the same year after a successful Annual General Conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) held at Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos State. Recall that it was at this AGM that the late Pa Tunji Fortunatus Gomez (who died in July, 2018, a few months after his 90th birthday celebration) moved a motion calling for the abolition of the rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria. He later formed the ‘Movement for the Abolition of the rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria’ (MARSAN). The said Constitution only permitted nominated delegates from each of the branches of the NBA to vote during our biennial Election to elect the National Officers to run the affairs of the Association for two years.

In 2014, the NBA delegates elected Austin Alegeh, SAN as its 27th President in accordance with the 2009 NBA Constitution and one of the key items in his manifesto was ‘universal adult suffrage’ where all lawyers in Nigeria will be able to vote provided he or she has paid his or her practising fee on or before the 31st of March of the year of election. As proposed, Austin Alegeh, SAN pursued vigorously the constitutional amendment and it was a successful endeavor. The subsequent outcome of the constitutional amendment and voting birthed the NBA Constitution 2015 (as amended in 2019). The said Constitution introduced the following innovations; a) Uniform Bye Laws for Constituent Branches of the NBA; b) Online Voting; c) Universal Adult Suffrage; d) Term Limitation; e) Reduction of the years of call for positions in the NBA; and f) Introduction of Welfare Secretary and Provost at the Branch level etc.

As much as the NBA Constitution 2015 (as amended 2019) introduced many forward-looking innovations, the online voting has posed a recurring challenge every election year from 2016, 2018 and now 2020. In 2016, the contest for the Presidency was between Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN and Chief Joe Kyari Gadzama, SAN. The Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA) returned Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN as duly elected President of the NBA and he was sworn in as its 28th President in Port Harcourt, Rivers State with pomp and pageantry. Even as Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN was savouring his victory, Chief J. K. Gadzama, SAN disputed the result. He thereafter followed his disputations of the result of the election with an action which he filed at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The matter was however struck out after the expiration of the disputed tenure of Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud SAN. It had become an academic exercise as a new President in Paul Usoro SAN had then been elected and sworn in.

Just as Chief J. K. Gadzama, SAN was vociferous about his allegations of manipulation of the electoral process, so were his followers who did not miss any opportunity to remind whoever cared to listen that the election was manipulated by the powers-that-be at the time. The extent of the manipulation was also pleaded in the processes that were filed in Court. However, the details of the manipulation were not vividly brought to the attention of members of the NBA, therefore many (including the writer) felt the allegations were not strong enough to overshadow the support the winner, Mr. Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN had and therefore wave off the allegation as unsubstantiated. So when the matter was struck out by the Court we thought that was the end of allegations of manipulations in the elections of our National Officers. We were however proved wrong in 2018 when the late Olumuyiwa O. Olowokure, Esq (may God rest his soul) released a damaging report of how the 2018 NBA election was officially manipulated by persons entrusted with the data (email addresses and telephone numbers) of members of the NBA.

Let me digress a little. The 2016 election was the most-friendly election thus far in the annals of online voting in the NBA. Apart from being the most-friendly in terms of actual casting of votes, it was also seamless during the verification exercise and data update. The NBA/ECNBA technical partner was LawPavilion as I was made to understand and the Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN’s administration would have engaged them again in 2018 but for the fact that the 2016 post election suit instituted by Chief J.K Gadzama was still in Court and the President felt that it would be wrong for the NBA to continue with the technical partner. What a grave error of judgement! LawPavilion needed not reinvent the wheel as it had been working with the NBA for a long time and therefore knew what the job of conducting online election entailed. Compared to the 2018 election which was problematic from the very beginning with a very cumbersome verification exercise coupled with the lack of trust in the service provider (Chams Plc) owing to the allegations of conflict of interest, the exercis

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