Aggrieved aspirant seeks court’s annulment of voting procedure

A CRISIS of confidence has erupted in the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, ahead of its much publicised 2016 convention in which national officers of the body are billed to be elected on July 31. Immediate past assistant publicity secretary of the association and currently an aspirant for the national publicity secretary position, Mr. John Echezona Unachukwu yesterday dragged the NBA, its national president, Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN) and four others before an Abuja High Court to challenge the adoption of internet voting for the election and his disqualification to contest. Other defendants in the court action are the chairman of the NBA electoral committee, Mr. Ken Mozia (SAN), Grace Infotech Limited, Chief Joe Kyari Gadzama (SAN) and Mr. Abubakar Mahmood (SAN). In the suit with marked as CV/449/16 instituted on his behalf by Chief Chukwuma Ekomaro (SAN), the plaintiff applied for an order of injunction to stop the NBA, Alegeh and the chairman of the lectoral committee of the bar from conducting the elections for national officers using internet voting, pending the determination of his suit. Unachukwu, who is currently the judicial editor of the Nation Newspapers, also prayed the court for an order compelling
the NBA electoral committee to issue guidelines stipulating that the electronic voting (e-voting) for the NBA general election be conducted in all branches of the NBA and that results be collated at branch levels before transmitting same to the national secretariat. The plaintiff also applied for an order of the court nullifying his disqualification by the NBA electoral committee and to declare him as sole candidate for the office of national publicity secretary of the association. Besides, the plaintiff also asked the Abuja High Court for an order compelling the NBA electoral committee to issue guidelines allowing the use of manual voting alone in branches where available information technology infrastructure is clearly inadequate. In the originating summons issued out by Ekomaro and three other Senior Advocates of Nigeria, the plaintiff also prayed for 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 back-up for all branches across the country. He further asked the court to declare that the internet voting system as proposed by the NBA electoral committee was contrary to their powers under relevant provisions the NBA constitution. In a 16- paragraph affidavit in support of the originating summons, the plaintiff averred that he was a Lagos-based lawyer and currently the judicial editor of the Nation Newspapers. He averred that the NBA electoral committee had scheduled the 2016 general elections for Saturday, July 30, and Sunday, July 31, and that he had expressed interest to contest and actually emerged sole candidate for the office of national publicity secretary only to be disqualified by the committee. He claimed that his disqualification was neither warranted nor justified by the electoral committee, as he had met all eligibility conditions including payment of practicing fees. The deponent also claimed to be an associate of J.K Gadzama Law Firm and that since he was called to bar in 2004, he had never worked for any public body or government agency but in the private sector and in private law practice. The plaintiff also averred that it was never a stipulation of the NBA constitution or customs that only lawyers engaged in active practice could stand for NBA national election and that it was lawyers in the public sector that were discouraged and disallowed from contesting the NBA offices. The affidavit read in parts: “That I know as a fact that the NBA and its President are on my issue, applying double standard and desperately seeking ways to vent their anger and frustrate my desire to serve the NBA. “That I know as a fact that the only ground on which I was purportedly disqualified is that I am a Judicial Editor with the Nation newspapers.” The plaintiff further averred that he challenged his disqualification from the race but that his appeal was never considered. However, when the matter came up yesterday, the defendants prayed the court for a short adjournment to enable them respond to issues raised by the plaintiff in the originating summons. Justice Olukayode Adeniyi granted the request for adjournment and adjourned the matter till Monday, July 25, for parties to return to court.

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