SAN FRANCISCO, July 11, (THEWILL) – The Nigerian Bar Association, without any iota of doubt, has been basking in the euphoria of being the largest professional body in Africa for quite some years.
The Association, whose membership is believed to be about 200,000, has also positioned itself as a very strong force to be reckoned with in the country.
But the controversies that always surround the conduct of its biennial elections are, really, not a good testimonial for a body that is supposed to be a bastion of democracy and the rule of law.
With barely two weeks to the July 24 date of the NBA 2020 elections, indications have emerged that the exercise meant to elect new executives to pilot the affairs of the Association for the next two years may have been doomed to fail.
Just as the Association was trying to put behind the ugly experience of the 2016 and 2018 elections, the excitement that greeted the inauguration of the Tawo Eja Tawo – led Electoral Committee of the NBA has since given way to suspicion, bickerings and acrimony, with accusations and counter-accusations that the election is about to be rigged as usual once again.
The prohibitive cost of participating in the vote has led to the monetary inducement of junior lawyers through the payment of their practising fees and branch dues, which are conditions for eligibility to partake in the elections. This is a vote-buying strategy that has been perfected by some of the contestants in the elections.
Obvious bending of the rules of the game as well as non-compliance with deadlines set by the Electoral Committee by chairmen of some of the branches have become big issues. Ethnic endorsement and adoption of candidates as well as grave errors in the initial voters list are just some of the other flaws in the process.
All these are coming as quite a good number of the 125 branches of the Association have exhibited the lack of adequate capacity to verify and confirm the financial status of most of their members.
It has therefore become apparent that preparations for the elections which are normally conducted through universal suffrage and e-voting have not, in any way been thorough, as they are being rocked with so many anomalies.
With barely two weeks to the election, there has not been any education on how the e-portal would be used by not only the voters but the members of the Electoral Committee as well.
The independence of the Electoral Committee is also questionable as members are believed to owe allegiance to the current NBA executive committee which appointed them, more so, as the Electoral Committee operates from the NBA Secretariat.
The attendant cacophony of voices and the expression of distrust in the entire process have gone further in fuelling the suspicion that the Electoral Committee which also has Mrs. Cordelia Eke as Secretary may have been programmed to fail.
From the initial problem of coming up with a credible voters list, which the Electoral Committee chairman, also confirmed to be the greatest challenge, to the perception of the e-voting portal as a rigging tool, the pre-election stage has been marred by complaints and dissatisfaction by some members.
The controversial issue of whether or not to allow junior lawyers who are not Senior Advocates from aspiring to lead the NBA as President is another contentious matter that is currently tearing the Association apart.
A letter recently written by a notable Senior Advocate suggesting that the NBA Presidency is exclusively for SANs, rallying other senior members to close ranks and block younger members from the leadership of the Association is already sparking a big fire within the Association.
The Electoral Committee Chairman, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, is already being seen to be an interested party that might manipulate the voting process to favour one of the SANs in the 3-man race for the NBA Presidency. Two of the aspirants are SANs.
The mess which the pre-elections process has become despite the assurances from Tawo, the Electoral Committee chairman, is a pointer to what the election proper would be.
This development is indeed sad, shameful and not too good for the image of the NBA. THEWILL is worried that an Association that should be leading by example has been unable to even organise a simple election that would be devoid of rancour and divisions over the years.
The corruption in the process is quite worrisome as Nigerians begin to wonder what the legal profession has become. The corruption of the NBA election process is truly a reflection of what is happening in the Nigerian political process. This is however highly condemnable, especially coming from an Association such as the NBA.
The resort to litigations by aggrieved members and those who feel they might be unduly disenfranchised from participating in the elections is even making matters worse.
THEWILL condemns the development and charges the NBA to put its house in order if it wants to continue to enjoy the respect of Nigerians and global citizens.