The uncertainty trailing the troubled Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Elections climaxed when a lawsuit to stop elections was instituted by a former NBA Assistant National Publicity Secretary, Mr. John Unachukwu.
The defendants in the suit are the Registered Trustees of the NBA; NBA President, Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN; Chairman of Electoral Committee of the NBA (ECNBA), Mr. Kenneth Mozia, SAN as well as the two presidential candidates, Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama, SAN and Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN as 1st to 5th Defendants.
In the suit filed at an Abuja High Court, the plaintiff is asking the court to restrain the 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants, their agents, employees, proxies and anybody acting on their behalf from conducting the NBA National Officers’ Election by Internet Voting (I-voting) on July 30 and 31, 2016 or any other date pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
According to thenigerianlawyer when the matter came up on 15 July, 2016 for mention, the presiding judge, Justice M. E. Anenih granted the plaintiff’s ex-parte motion and ordered that the defendants be served by substituted means, while the matter was adjourned to Tuesday, July 19, 2016 for hearing. Chief Chukwuma Ekomaru, SAN led other lawyers to appear for the plaintiff.
There are strong indications that the court may experience legal fireworks on the adjourned date as at least five Senior Advocates may appear to argue the case of the plaintiff. They include Chief Bolaji Ayorinde, SAN; Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN; Chief Chukwuma Ekomaru, SAN; Mr. Kunle Ogunba, SAN and Mr. Sebastine Hon, SAN.
The plaintiff is seeking an order of court declaring that the system of voting over the Internet or Internet Voting (I-voting) proposed by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants for the 2016 NBA elections is contrary to and ultra vires their powers under relevant provisions of the NBA Constitution 2015 as amended.
Other orders sought by the plaintiff are “An order of the court upholding the principle of universal suffrage enshrined in the NBA Constitution by suspending the use of voting over Internet (I-voting) and ordering the adoption of electronic voting (with paper ballot backup) for all branches across the country in the 2016 NBA general elections;
“An order of the court guaranteeing the meaningful exercise of universal suffrage by directing the ECNBA to issue guidelines stipulating that the e-voting for the 2016 NBA general elections be conducted in all branches of the NBA and that results be collated at branch level before transmitting same to the Secretariat, and
“An order of the court, upholding the principle of universal suffrage enshrined in the NBA Constitution by directing the ECNBA to issue guidelines allowing the use of manual voting alone in branches of the NBA where available information technology infrastructure is clearly inadequate.”
The plaintiff who was the sole aspirant for the post of NBA National Publicity Secretary until his disqualification by the ECNBA is also seeking “An order of the court nullifying the decision of the ECNBA which disqualified the plaintiff and declare the plaintiff the sole candidate for the office of National Publicity Secretary of the NBA in the 2016 general elections.”
Several questions have been formulated by the plaintiff for the court’s answer, including “Whether the NBA’s constitution 2015 requires or even recognises Internet Voting or Voting over Internet (I-voting) in the 2016 NBA General Elections as currently proposed by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants” and “Whether the Electoral Committee of the NBA (“ECNBA”) can rightly judge and correctly conclude that the state of available technology and the information technology infrastructure of all branches of the NBA can adequately support Voting over Internet (I-voting) at the 2016 NBA general elections?”
Another legal puzzle for the court to answer is, “If question 2 is answered in the negative, whether it is just and proper to conduct the 2016 NBA general elections by Voting over Internet (I-voting) in view especially of the principle of universal suffrage enshrined in Section 9(4) of the NBA constitution?
“If the question is answered in the affirmative, whether the risks associated with a wrong exercise of judgment or an incorrect conclusion by the ECNBA does not negate and therefore constitute a violation of the spirit and purpose of NBA constitutional provisions regarding universal suffrage?”
Other posers are “Whether the effective guarantee and observance of every eligible lawyer’s right to vote behind the principle of universal suffrage does not outweigh any time saving or cost cutting concerns behind the adoption of Voting over Internet (I-voting)?” and ““Whether in view of the complete absence of voting over internet (I-voting) in the recently concluded branch elections and in light of the state of available information technology infrastructure in branches across the country, it is just and proper for the ECNBA to insist on voting over Internet (I-voting) as the only legally acceptable form of voting in all branches of the NBA in the 2016 NBA general elections?
The plaintiff also wants the court to unravel “Whether the plaintiff’s employment as a judicial editor of a private newspaper means he is not engaged in private legal practice, as contemplated by Section 8(3)(b) of the NBA Constitution 2015?”
The scheduled elections have been marred by many hiccups including missing names on the voters register and questions over the credibility of the electronic voting system. Gadzama’s campaign organization in an unprecedented move also sensationally accused Alegeh of partisanship, leading the influential Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) to intervene by directing the NBA President to convoke a meeting of all past NBA Presidents to fashion a roadmap to save the elections and the lawyers’ union. The meeting was convened yesterday by the NBA President.