The Masterstroke of Olumide Akpata’s Election Reforms Committee -By Raymond Nkannebe

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If there were any doubts about Mr. Olumide Akpata’s campaign promise of hitting the ground running from the first day of his administration, they were cleared last Friday, 28th August, 2020 as he took to the rostrum to deliver his inaugural address as the 30th President of the Nigerian Bar Association.

 

By all accounts, it was not the typical kind of address. It was in many respects, a statement of action. Nothing vindicates this more than his announcement of the Election Audit and Reforms Committee to audit the last three elections conducted in the current regime of electronic voting, and to advise recommendations on how the Nigerian Bar Association can elevate the quality of her elections to the extent humanly possible to avoid the glitches that characterised the recent elections of the Association. Of course, including the election that brought him to power.

“One major complaint about the last election was the issue of the database of lawyers and resultant difficulties in coming up with a credible voters’ register. To address this, my administration will improve upon the membership portal introduced by the President Paul Usoro administration. Additionally, I am immediately constituting an Electoral Audit and Reforms Committee, comprising distinguished practitioners of the highest standards to audit our 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections and recommend reforms for our electoral systems and processes” the address read.

After the ugly outcome of the referenced elections manifesting in the polarization of senior members of the Association and incidentally, the unity of the Bar, the timely constitution of the Election Audit and Reform Committee is a bold step towards an improved election management template befitting an organization like the NBA, as a model for other professional Associations. But that is not all. The frame of mind that informs the decision merits our collective credit. If anything, it proves that the new leadership of the NBA under Akpata, is not interested in unnecessary sanctimony or self adulation, but institutional reforms of the organization so that it can deliver more value for its teeming membership.

It reminds one of a similar decision taken by former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (of blessed memory) whom after he took over the ship of the Nigerian State, acknowledged the deficiencies in the elections that brought him to power, and pledged a commitment to electoral reforms as one of the planks of his famous Transformational Agenda. A strategic move that would give birth to the famous Justice Muhammed Uwais Report that remains a model for election management in Nigeria.

 

With eminent members drawn from different branches of the NBA as well as interest groups within the Association such as Ayo Ayotunde, SAN reputed for overseeing the highly acclaimed elections that brought in the current excos of the Lagos Branch of the NBA led by Yemi Akangbe; Ama Etuwewe, SAN; Andrew Odum, a renowned supporter of Deacon Adesina, SAN during the last elections and Ibrahim Altine, a popular supporter of Dr. Babatunde Ajibade, SAN and the Chairperson of the  Federation of  International Women Lawyers (FIDA) to name a few, it is safe to say that the Committee is a bi-partisan and inclusive one whose work would not be influenced from any quarters contrary to the insinuations of some commentators.

Perhaps, more than anything else, the commitment of Akpata to implement “whatever recommendations they come up with well ahead of time to ensure that the 2022 election is devoid of those glitches that we noticed in the 2020 election” is reassuring to the extent that it demonstrates thorough understanding of the problem with a clear vision and roadmap of enacting the needed change which has eluded the NBA for too long.

If democracy has taught us anything, it is that the quality of the electoral process to a great extent informs the legitimacy of any government that proceeds from it. Examples abound of how nations snowballed into theaters of conflict arising from controversial elections.  Thus, while periodic elections matter, how they are conducted matter most.

For the NBA as a foremost professional organization, sadly, the story of her elections both at the branch and national levels, over the years leave much to be desired. However, it is within this context that the masterstroke of Akpata’s Election Audit and Reforms Committee resonates. God forbid that in 2022 the NBA would be seen reinveting the wheel in the conduct of her elections. And in the context of Akpata’s campaign mantra, perhaps it should be said that the Bar cannot work for All, if her leadership is not reflective of the sentiments of her membership.

 

Raymond Nkannebe, a legal practitioner writes from Lagos.


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