This is my response to Chidi Odinkalu’s article titled “The Unravelling of the “Brave New Bar” -How the NBA Elections were corrupted and rigged “.In responding to his article,I will tell an abridged story of how Paul Usoro won the election. I was involved in it.
It is unfortunate that some lawyers have decided to dance naked in the rain since the winner of the election of the Nigerian Bar Association was announced. The amazing thing is that the people who are leading this dance of shame are Senior Lawyers who are still struggling to recover from post-election trauma and are determined to burn down the association because they lost an election.
While the younger lawyers who lost in the election conceded defeat to their opponents, the senior ones who contested for the presidency have taken to the streets of the media to unfairly discredit the election. They have been promised many positions and largesse by their candidates but that will not come to pass.
If one should ask me if the election was rigged, my answer will remain consistent as it has- Paul Usoro did not rig or try to rig the election but I have reasons to believe that one of the candidates who lost in the election tried and failed.
Before I tell the story of how the election was won and the story of the vote surge shortly before the election was concluded, I will address some of the issues raised by our esteemed Dr Odinkalu whose presidential candidate in the election came third. He highlighted four important areas that border on Afam Osigwe’s disqualification, Implausible Incompetence, Mass Disenfranchisement and Digital heist-
- Afam Osigwe’s disqualification: It is really funny that since Afam Osigwe was disqualified, the esteemed Dr Odinkalu has waited up till now to condemn it. The reasons are understandable. One, he needed it to garnish his article mentioned above in other to give it a slant of balance. He feels that condemning Afam’s disqualification will make his article look unbiased. That did not work.
The second reason why he waited this long to speak the truth about Mr Osigwe’s’s disqualification is because Osigwe’s’s disqualification gave his candidate an advantage at the time. The permutation at the time was that if Afam Osigwe being an Igbo Man was disqualified leaving the two other Igbo contestant in the race to run against Paul Usoro,it will give any of them a higher chance of victory. That did not happen. Instead, Osigwe’s supporters who have accused Arthur Obi-Okafor of engineering his disqualification decided to join forces with Paul Usoro. This Paid off. The support given to Paul Usoro by Osigwe’s supporters is a major factor in the emergence of Paul Usoro as the President of the NBA. This is called coalition not rigging.
Odinkalu’s attempt to fan sentiment in his article with Afam Osigwe’s disqualification is very belated. He should have condemned it when it happened not now that his candidate lost
- Implausible Incompetence, Mass Disenfranchisement and Digital heist– I will take all these three highlights from Odinkalu’s article together.
I agree with Dr Odinkalu that there was a certain level of disorganisation in the process especially in voters’ education. Consequently, I am in agreement that the election was not perfect but I hold firmly that the alleging of rigging is very uncharitable. However, Dr Odinkalu’s reference to the time of the election, Chams propaganda and disenfranchisement shows that he does not have proper knowledge of how the process started and ended. He has alleged that the results were announced at an unholy hour when witches and wizards return from an overnight encounter in a coven. He has also alleged that it required a very dark wizardry to manufacture the outcome that the ECNBA announced in the process.
I do not know when Witches and Wizards return from whatever encounter Dr Odinkalu is talking about but I know for sure as someone who wakes up by 4:30 am every day and leaves for my office at 5 am that I have never ran into witches or wizards at those times. However, i am guided by his seeming expert knowledge of same and shall reconsider my routine.
The voting was stopped at 6 am on Monday 20th of August 2018 after it was extended from 12 midnight as a result of the hitches which delayed the election for six hours. In my view, the ECNBA actually extended the end of election from an unholy hour of 12 midnight to a holy hour of 6am. Which can be justified.
Dr Odinkalu has mentioned and criticised the procurement process of the service providers and the status of Chams in the election. Raising those issues again are belated because they were properly laid to rest before the election. At the time these issues came up, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, A.B Mahmoud summoned meetings of stakeholders where all the candidates were in attendance. The issues were properly trashed and an understanding was reached with all the candidates in agreement as to the way forward. It is dishonourable for any of the candidates at this point to argue his case along that line especially when all of them were given the opportunity to appoint their ICT representatives to monitor the process as agreed.
For further understanding, it is important to refresh our memory on how the election was conducted and how rigging may not have been possible on the part of the winner.
On the 10th of July, the Election Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association(ECNBA) began verification exercise for the election slated for 27th and 28th of July 2018.The verification was slated to end on the 15th of July. At the end of the verification which was seamless and easy about 12,000 Lawyers were verified. As the ECNBA was preparing for the next stage, the supporters of Arthur Obi-Okafor, a presidential Candidate in the election raised what they tagged chamsgate alleging that Paul Usoro another Presidential candidate was a director in Access Bank where the Chairman of Chams was also a director. They called for the cancellation of the verification exercise. Lawyers will later realise what the whole purpose of the call for cancellation was all bout. The Arthur Obi-Okafor support group felt that if the 12,000 lawyers were allowed to vote, they will lose the election because Lawyers from their branches where they had a strong base showed apathy to the verification process. They succeeded in cancelling the election.
Prof Ernest Ojukwu(Odinkalu’s candidate) did not oppose the conduct of the election by CHAMS.
Another Company called CrenetTechlab was appointed to conduct a fresh verification which began at 8pm on the 31st of July. This second verification experienced a lot of hitches and many lawyers could not verify within the time allocated for it hence another meeting of stakeholders where the verification and election was shifted to 19th and 20th of August to accomodate an improvement to the verification process. All the candidates agreed to this new development.
The verification process came with hitches at that time.It was only Paul Usoro’s supporters who cried out .All the other candidates kept a deafening silence thinking that that the hitches will work to their advantage. It did not.
The verification process was just a process of data update by voters. Voters were required to correct their details and submit to the database. It was at this time that the supporters of one of the candidates who lost in the election started manipulating the identity of voters. They edited voters’ details and inserted fake emails just get them into the database (not knowing that emails will play a part in the election) They also used their contact in the NBA secretariat to insert names of lawyers who were not qualified to vote into the list given to Crenet. Paul Usoro’s supporters raised an alarm and urged the ECNBA to use the Statement of Account of the Supreme Court to compare the names of those who paid their practicing fee on or before 31st of March. Again, all the candidates kept mute still believing that the process will work in their favour. Their supporters even accused Paul Usoro’s supporters of fomenting trouble for raising the issue.
By the time the accreditation began, the supporters of the candidates who tried to manipulate the election got the shock of their life. Initially, when voting started, voting passwords were being sent to mainly phone numbers. Though there was another option of email, many lawyers preferred SMS to email which was not working though at the beginning of the exercise. Arthur Obi-Okafor’s vote began to rise. News had it that his representatives in the control room started hailing the ECNBA for a job well done and parties erupted at different parts of the country among his supporters. This was just about 24 hours into the election which was supposed to last for 48 hours. While the election was going on, many lawyers were having difficulties with voting. Their passwords were no longer coming in promptly. The network became congested. Shortly after, news came in that Crenet has perfected the email option which will now be the main source of password receipt. This broke the hearts of Arthur Obi-Okafor’s supporters for one reason. They had verified many of their supporters with fake emails just to get them into the data base of verified voters. It dawned on them that many of their supporters will not be able to receive their password since the email addresses they used were fake. By this time, the network became decongested, Paul Usoro’s supporters began to receive their passwords and began to vote. The statistics started rising in his favour at about 11pm on Sunday 19th of August.(The results were real time and the representatives of the candidates were seeing the results live as the voting was taking place)
It is important that we know that at the time the verification ended, it was no longer possible for anyone to edit or manipulate emails, phone numbers or any other data so identity theft was not possible at the time the accreditation began.
At 12 midnight news from the control room showed that Paul Usoro was in the lead. The election was supposed to end at that time but the ECNBA extended it to 6am because the election started six hours late. That extra six ours will reveal the astonishing level of perseverance and determination among Paul Usoro’s supporters. This is where my story about how Paul Usoro won will begin and probably explain the vote surge Arthur Obi-Okafor referred to in his letter of withdrawal.
Dr Odinkalu rightly observed that voters’ education was poor in the election. The campaign team of Paul Usoro observed it too but they did not sit down to wait for ECNBA to do their job which may never be done. They set up what they called “The situation room” all over the country with the sole aim of communicating to the voters all the information concerning voting as released by ECNBA. This situation rooms had a headquarter which operated from Victoria Island with about thirty Lawyers enlightening voters on how and when to vote. No other candidate had this kind of solid and robust structure.
On the morning of Saturday the 18th of August, these thirty lawyers resumed in the V.I office before 8am. They will stay there until the morning of 20th of August with no sleep.Other candidates had a similar set up but they fell asleep at a point.
The election was scheduled to commence at 12noon that Saturday but It did not commence until 6pm. By the time the voting started, all the candidates had their representatives at the control room where they monitored the progress of the election from a screen that displayed real time the votes that were coming in.
One woman was at the center of the activities of the situation room, she was the campaign director of Paul Usoro. She exhibited an infectious industry throughout the campaign. In the last 48 hours of the election, she did not blink her eyes to sleep and so did the other lawyers who worked with her. Her name is Mfon Usoro
At 12midnight on Sunday the 19th of August 2018, the ECNBA extended the voting to 6am to make up for the six hours lost. At that time, information leaking from the control room had it that Paul Usoro was leading with about 70 votes. The parties stopped. Before 2am, news also leaked that Paul Usoro was leading with less than 10 votes; at that time, panic set in among the thirty lawyers in the control room and they stood up and prayed that God should take them to the Promised Land which was in sight already. God answered their prayers.
The Lawyers in the situation room in Victoria Island, Lagos began to make desperate calls to friends and colleagues who at that time were fast asleep. Many slept off thinking that the voting ended at 12 midnight.The calls that went out of the situation room in the last four hours of the election if measured will be unprecedented. Lawyers were called up from their sleep to remind them that voting was still on. No one shouted at the lawyers who called them as that was the biggest fear of the lawyers in the situation room. The votes began to rise in favour of Paul Usoro as people woke up to vote. In the last four hours of the election, Paul Usoro’s supporters who have suffered ridicule malicious propaganda and insults from the supporters of other candidates worked like wounded lions. They exhibited that determination that looked like the desperation of a man behind enemy lines. They had a point to prove and by 6.04am on the 20th of August when the voting stopped, that point was proved. Paul Usoro won the election.
Paul Usoro emerged the winner with a total vote of 4509 votes, Arthur Obi-Okafor got 4423 votes and Dr Odinkalu’s Candidate Professor Ernest Ojukwu got 3313.
Of all the factors that aided Mr Paul Usoro’s victory,3 stood out. Apart from the fact that he was eminently qualified,
- The Eastern Bar Forum adoption greatly annoyed a lot of lawyers across the country and the widespread resentment positively affected Paul Usoro’s candidacy.
- The malicious Bribery allegation orchestrated by Dr Odinkalu himself failed woefully and made lawyers to see Paul Usoro as a victim. This helped his rise.
- Afam Osigwe made it clear that Arthur Obi-Okafor was instrumental to his disqualification and a lot of his supporters joined the Paul Usoro’s campaign after his disqualification. This changed the dynamics of the election in favour of Paul Usoro.
Dr Odinkalu in justifying that the election was rigged has stated the following under Mass disenfranchisement
“One of the consequences of this incompetence was the massive disenfranchisement of voters. In all, 12,245 votes had apparently been cast in what looked like a very spirited contest according to Yadudu’s declaration. In fact, 32,228 lawyers had threshold eligibility to participate in the elections. The 12,245 votes cast represented a mere 37.99% of the eligible voters. Voter verification was deferred at least four times, extended thrice, suspended twice and lasted over a fortnight. This degree of uncertainty had to have been either willful or caused by incompetence. Characterised as it was by frustration, only 14,215 lawyers in the end managed to accredit to vote. In other words, through the manufactured frustrations of verification, 55.89% of voters were firmly disenfranchised before even voting had started.”
I find Odinkalu’s reasoning above very funny. Yes, about 32,000 lawyers were eligible to vote but only about 16,000 (not 14,215) verified to vote. The questions at this point becomes – Is it the duty of ECNBA to force lawyers to verify? So the ECNBA should stay the election because some voters refused to verify?
What Odinkalu is saying about 55.89 % of voters being FIRMLY disenfranchised suggests that lawyers who did not verify were deliberately prevented from verifying. That is an unfortunate narrative coming from a Dr. The 55.89% of lawyers who did not verify simple chose not to.
If Dr Odinkalu is familiar with elections all over the world,he will know that it is usual for a fraction of qualified voters to actually vote in elections.
A look at the 2016 election of the Nigerian Bar Association shows thus,
According to official figures issued by the NBA, a total of 24,305 persons were eligible to vote by paying their branch dues and practicing fees as at the 31st of March 2016. Of this number, 47.92 percent or 11,646 actually updated their records on the voting platform, enabling them to participate in the ballot. Of the number that updated their records, 59.52 percent or 6,932 were accredited to vote. The 5,439 votes cast represented a turnout of 22.38 percent of the eligible electorate; 46.7 percent of those with updated records or 78.46 percent of the accredited voters.
I cannot be persuaded to align with Dr Odinkalu that it was just the incompetence of the ECNBA that led the statistics he provided about the election. In fact the last election had more participation for having more than 75% of all verified candidates voting in the election unlike in 2016 where only 46.7 of verified voters participated. This year’s election was a significant improvement.
I will not join issues with his analysis of hacking because I believe that should be addressed by the candidate whose supporters used fake emails to register their supporters. They are in a good position to affirm or deny it.
DESTROYING THE BAR:
Dr Odinkalu under the heading above has criticised NEC ratification of the election on the 26th of August 2016 without a post-election audit. That sounds ridiculous. What Odinkalu a Doctor of Law is saying is that an election will be held, the announcement of results kept on hold then the ECNBA will now embark on a voyage of discovery. That has never happened anywhere in the world and will never happen. The cardinal principle of a free and fair election includes that results of elections must be announced immediately after the election. Dr Odinkalu a former sage of Nigerian Human Rights Commission has forgotten that.
He also forgot that It is not the duty of Paul Usoro to conduct a post-election audit if indeed there is anything like that.
The remarkable thing about this election is that those who tried to rig the election are those who lost. It is shocking to them.Apart from those who lost the election who are presently on rampage, there is no one who is trying to destroy the Bar.
Dr Odinkalu’s article smells of malice and bias. Discerning lawyers will definitely perceive it.