Former Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Bauchi Branch Saidu Abubakar, Esq has threatened to sue the Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association if it fails to rescind its directive to lawyers to submit their bank teller as a prerequisite for voting in the forthcoming National Election.
He made this known in an open letter titled to the NBA President and stakeholders titled “The Conduct Of Nigerian Bar Association (Nba) Election Should Not Be Manipulable Or In Flagrant Breach Of Law”
Abubakar who raised about 19 salient points, noted that the move by the Electoral body is unconstitutional, unnecessary and likely to disenfranchise prospective voters.
The open letter is instructive. Read below:
My decision to write this open letter to the Electoral Committee (ECNBA) was prompted by a worrisome much publicized Notice from ECNBA directing all lawyers to furnish to their branch with copies of their current Annual Practicing Fee and Branch dues tellers/receipts, email account and phone numbers. Branches are mandatorily required to do this on or before May 11, 2018 (the extended date). The ECNBA claimed it issued the directive pursuant to power granted to it by Paragraph 2.3(d) of 2nd Schedule of NBA Constitution, 2015.
My worry was further heightened by part of the Notice which stated that these details are necessary to enable lawyers vote in the NBA election. I have carefully searched through the NBA Constitution for the legal basis for this requirement but could not find one.
I HUMBLY STATE as follows:
- Paragraph 2.3(d) of 2nd Schedule of NBA Constitution, 2015 does not empower ECNBA to issue such a guideline. The paragraph merely requires the ECNBA to publish “the full list of all legal practitioners qualified to vote ….. inconjunction with the National Secretariat of the NBA at least twenty eight (28) days before the date of the election”.
- ECNBA can only request branches to furnish it with the names of their members who have paid their Branch Dues as and when due.
- Paragraph 2.2(f) of 2nd Schedule of NBA Constitution empowers all members of the Association to vote at the general election for National Executives, provided that such members must belong to a branch and must have paid both their Practicing Fees and Branch Dues as and when due, and are duly registered to vote at that election.
- There is no legal or logical basis for requiring lawyers to submit copies of Annual Practicing Fee tellers to their branches as NBA has a comprehensive record of all lawyers who paid their Practicing Fee as and when due.
- All lawyers who paid BPF did so with their branch code which clearly records them as belonging to specific branches.
- From the data gathered from over 42,000 verified lawyers, NBA already has the phone numbers, email addresses and physical addresses of verified lawyers.
- If the phone numbers, email addresses etc of lawyers contained in the NBA database is not sufficient, these details can be obtained when these lawyers register to vote at the election pursuant to Paragraph 2.2(f) of 2nd Schedule of NBA Constitution.
- NBA National Secretariat makes use of the database of verified lawyers to process applications for NBA stamp and seal.
- The registration referred to in Paragraph 2.2(f) of the 2nd Schedule of NBA Constitution, is the only registration a lawyer who has paid his BPF and branch dues is required to go through to ultimately vote.
- The registration stipulated in Paragraph 2.2(f) of the 2nd Schedule of NBA Constitution will take place after the ECNBA has opened the election portal and members go online to register.
- The ‘full list of all legal practitioners qualified to vote’, generated from data obtained from the Registration process is what the ECNBA will publish “in conjunction with the National Secretariat of the NBA”.
- ECNBA has already rightly requested all branches to submit names of their members who paid their branches as and when due. As branches have these records or issued the receipts, what is the need of requesting members to submit copies of the tellers and or receipts to the branches.
- It is not a constitutional requirement for a potential voter to submit these documents and details before he/she can vote. Potential voters are to supply details like their email address, phone numbers etc, by registering to vote in the election.
- The Guideline seeks to disenfranchise not only lawyers who may not be able to submit the requested documents, but especially lawyers from branches in crisis, where there are factional leaderships.
- Requesting lawyers to submit their BPF tellers to their branches as one of the pre-conditions for eligibility to vote amounts to imposing an extra-constitutional provision that may give a wrong impression about the intention of ECNBA.
- The essence of the constitutionally stipulated election by electronic means (E-Voting) which mandatorily requires ECNBA to conduct elections electronically whereby eligible voters shall cast their vote electronically, will be defeated. What if the lawyers are not within the country, are sick or otherwise indisposed.
- The power given to ECNBA under the NBA Constitution is merely to make regulations for the actual electronic voting and not to constitute branches into electoral agents to collect tellers of those who can vote in the election if they do so by a stipulated date.
- It is an open secret some aspirants are alleged to have paid BPF for some young lawyers and in fact withheld their tellers. It is therefore not surprisingly this is perceived as a requirement that will enable such aspirants to put these tellers to wrong use.
- Any attempt to prevent any lawyer who neglects, fails and or refuses to submit his/her Bar Practicing Fee teller, Branch Dues teller/receipt, email address and phone number in the manner directed by ECNBA from voting, will be ultra vires.
ECNBA should avoid a looming electoral crisis by not creating extra-constitutional hurdles as well as doing the right thing. The whole world is watching. ECNBA MUST do the right thing to bring about confidence and integrity in the NBA electoral process. The Committee has so far failed to do this.
I believe the Committee (ECNBA) is made up of lawyers of integrity, therefore we expect nothing but an electoral process that will be perceived by all as being free and fair. The present unconstitutional directive which has all the trappings of an intention to disenfranchise lawyers, should be withdrawn.
I therefore respectfully request that the directive be reviewed to remove the highlighted requirement as it will greatly impinge on the integrity of the NBA electoral process.
TAKE Notice Therefore that if ECNBA does not rescind this decision, I shall proceed to court to challenge this obnoxious and unconstitutional requirement. Time is of essence.