The storm trailing the obvious irregularities that characterized the just concluded elections into national offices of the Nigerian Bar Association is just beginning to boil. While there is no argument that the manner the election was conducted left much to be deserved, many believed that it was just a case of incompetence on the part of the electoral body and its chosen service provider – whose emergence has in any case since been variously described as dubious. My initial reaction was to consider the election done and concluded and look towards the future in the interest of a united and cohesive bar. Unfortunately, there has continued to emerge strong indications that indeed, the elections particularly that into the office of the president of the bar was fraudulently manipulated apparently to arrive at a pre-determined result. To lend further credence to this is a very disturbing mail which I suspect was sent not only to me but to thousands of other lawyers. The writer alleges incontrovertible evidence of electoral fraud implicating the service provider, the ECNBA and the incumbent president of the NBA himself. The mail titled “PRELIMINARY RELEASE ON IRREGULARITIES IDENTIFIED IN THE JUST CONCLUDED NBA ELECTIONS” is here reproduced verbatim without paraphrasing:
“One can confidently say the alleged victory of Paul Usoro SAN at the recently conducted NBA elections is the biggest embarrassment and robbery that members of NBA have ever experienced since the formation of NBA.
You would recall that there were serious reservations in some quarters about permitting Chams to participate in providing services in this election in any form or manner. As a result of these reservations a company known as CRENET was brought in to repeat the vilified verification exercise previously conducted by Chams. For some inexplicable reason Chams was retained to provide the voting platform despite it being established that the Chairman of Chams Plc and Paul Usoro SAN are co-directors of Access Bank and are members of same committees of Access Bank. Trusting in the assurances given by the President of NBA A.B Mahmoud SAN and the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) the other candidates decided to participate in the election with Chams involved.
ECNBA to its credit leading up to the elections adopted a somewhat participatory approach with the Presidential candidates and often sought their opinions before implementing decisions. Even then, the first danger signal and sign that there was a deliberate attempt to rig this election came when we discovered that close to 4000 names had telephone numbers assigned to them that were not the stated owners numbers but belonged to other persons. An example of this was in the list of eligible voters submitted by Abuja branch, the telephone number of one Blossom Barrakah Esq (2017 call set) was repeated as the valid telephone number of 41 other lawyers on the eligible voters list. Likewise the telephone number of Noah Ajare Esq a known and ardent supporter of Paul Usoro SAN appeared 15 times against different lawyers names. What made the danger signals more frightening was that Noah Ajare was the caretaker secretary of Abuja branch at the time of the submission of the Abuja branch list of eligible voters and he was the person that compiled and submitted the Abuja Branch list to ECNBA.
We have a comprehensive list of the nearly 4000 instances of duplicate telephone numbers that appeared in ECNBA’s original voter’s list and have attached same for ease of reference (Annex A ). We also have strong reason to believe that there were far more than 4000 of such instances. Rather than treat this occurrence as a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of the Elections and move decisively against the perpetrators, ECNBA for some reason chose to allow the perpetrators to still participate in the election, eg. our records show the said Noah Ajare despite his actions aforesaid was verified and cleared to vote in this election.
As the elections drew closer things started to go terribly wrong;
The first problem was that CRENET was not given enough time to perfect the excellent security procedures that they had put in place to ensure that members’ votes were not hijacked. The verification process became laboured and extremely difficult for members and as a result of extreme pressure from many quarters, especially from the President of NBA, ECNBA in consultation with the President of the NBA took a decision to relax the security procedures put in place by CRENET to make the verification process ‘faster’. This decision was fatal because it became the very reason why this election was so badly rigged.
The relaxing of the security procedures meant members were now allowed to go straight to the verification portal and enter any details they liked without restriction. It also meant that unscrupulous persons would also now be able to verify for other lawyers without them knowing and hijack their votes by inserting different email addresses and telephone numbers ; this is precisely what happened in this election. This is precisely what we had continually warned against but our warnings fell on deaf ears.
We eventually agreed to the relaxing of the security protocols by CRENET but we did so on the following conditions;
i. Any change effected in a lawyer’s details must be in line with data already in NBA’s database. i.e genuine mistakes can be changed but other changes should be cleared through bar services after satisfying itself that the rationale for such changes was genuine.
ii. The comprehensive list of verified voters to be uploaded on to the CHAMS voting platform by CRENET shall be given to candidates to peruse to enable them comment and give observations before uploading and before the commencement of the elections.
iii. All names associated with any form of duplication of telephone numbers and email addresses would be quarantined and only included in the final verification list if the lawyers concerned came forward and gave their true and correct phone numbers and email addresses which should conform with records already contained in the NBA database.
Conditions i) and iii) above were totally disregarded by ECNBA, while the verified voters list as specified in condition ii) above was not given to candidates until after the election had already started. This in effect meant that candidates’ agreement to remove the security protocols was obtained on false pretences and candidates were actually being led like lambs into a slaughterhouse.
A day before the election we discovered from the verification portal the incidences of some strange looking email addresses that surfaced as lawyers alleged email addresses for the first time. These email addresses predominantly came from three domains “Openmailbox.org”, “firemail.cc” and “airmail.cc”. We alerted ECNBA to the sudden existence of these strange email addresses in a meeting which took place between the Presidential Candidates representatives and ECNBA on 17th August 2018. We also suggested at the same meeting after watching Chams demonstration of the voting process that passwords to vote should be sent automatically to both emails and telephone numbers so that if a prospective voter’s email had been tampered with he/she would still know through SMS if somebody was attempting to vote on his/her behalf.
When we realised our concerns above were not being addressed by ECNBA we sent an email to ECNBA at about 1:53pm on Saturday 18th August 2018 reiterating our concerns and requesting that emails from such domains should be disallowed as our investigations had shown the email addresses did not belong to the lawyers indicated in the verified voter’s list (Annex B).When we still did not receive any response from ECNBA we sent another email on 19th August 2018 at about 7.54am giving full details of the suspected emails and the lawyers affected, (Annex C) . Details of the lawyers affected and the offending emails is attached. (Annex D)
The breakdown of the details of our initial investigations sent to ECNBA well before the conclusion of the elections shows that;
Openmailbox.org email addresses were fraudulently used to replace the email addresses of 196 Lawyers without their consent
Firemail.cc email addresses were fraudulently used to replace the email addresses of 203 Lawyers without their consent.
Airmail.cc email addresses were fraudulently used to replace the email addresses of 605 Lawyers without their consent.
The implication of the above is that there were a total of 1004 of these bogus email addresses used to harvest the votes of unsuspecting members. Further investigation has shown that two of the above mentioned domain names belong to closed user groups, whose members can only obtain email addresses in such domains if they are specifically invited to the group. The real owners cannot be traced, in fact a common feature of these closed user groups is that they are associated with scams, hacking, malware and ransomware. Did ECNBA not have technical advice? Why was this development not addressed or arrested when it came to the committees notice?
Abdullahi Karaye Musa Esq of Ungogo branch (No 213 on the Airmail.CC list) and Emmanuel Yokpe Nenmasha of Jos Branch (No 579 on the Airmail.CC list) have detailed their ordeals of having their right to vote hijacked (Kindly find attached Annexes E and F). A similar experience of hijacked voting was specifically documented by the following three members of Ahoada branch; Ogbobula Isaac Abbot (No 4 on the Firemail.cc list), Okpara Uchevenotu Ezor (No 1 on the firemail.cc list) and Lauretta U. Nwokaeze (No. 68 on the Firemail.cc list). All 1004 on the said list have a story to tell and we will soon release a branch by branch account of members whose votes were hijacked using the fraudulent emails above. We have so far identified the precise branches of 656 of the lawyers already mentioned in the list of 1004 (Annex G) and will identify the branches of at least 348 other cheated voters shortly.
We are also gathering information that shows that even email addresses from regular domain names were used to hijack votes and will release same soonest. Needless to say the 1004 incidences of glaring malpractice already identified are enough to show that in an Election that ECNBA claims was won by 80 something votes cannot stand. I have only stated facts in this report there is no conjecture or guessing there are just plain facts.
We still expect the current leadership of NBA to act and cancel this fault laden process that declared Paul Usoro SAN the winner of the election.
O. O. Olowokure Esq.
Leader A O O SAN Technical Team”
Should we sweep it all under the rug in the interest of moving the bar forward? I think not. There can be no real progress without peace. Neither can there be peace without justice. This election must be thoroughly investigated and the truth brought to light. There should be indictments and prosecutions where appropriate. The disciplinary organs of the NBA must also be activated to deal with the questions of professional misconduct that has arisen from the election. The ECNBA itself pronounced that electoral fraud is professional misconduct. If the same body turned round to connive in a manner that has exposed the bar to public ridicule and disgrace, I see no reason why a proper investigation of the matter should not follow. It is only a proper and unbiased investigation that can clear the names of those involved including the president of the NBA himself. Sweeping it all under the carpet will only leave the whole world with the impression that the NBA is a body bereft of civility and discipline. A body that prides itself as the premier professional body in the most populous black country in the word cannot afford to be identified with a toga of untrammeled fraud and criminality. Our future as a reputable professional body will largely be determined by our actions today. The foundation of the future is invariably laid by the present. This is one rule that admits of no exception.