More facts have continued to emerge on how the 2018 election of national officers of the Nigerian Bar Association was rigged in favor of the outgoing President, Mr Paul Usoro SAN. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) carried out a detailed forensic investigation into the electoral fraud which it filed before a Federal High Court, Lagos for the prosecution of two persons.
The EFCC investigations of 2018 elections show similar patterns with the conduct of 2016, and 2020 elections, showing that some powerful cabal have seized the electoral process of Nigerian lawyers, thereby holding the association in the jugular towards personal ends. Although the anti graft agency did not investigate the 2016 elections, the case however went to court and was dismissed, two years after because it had become an academic exercise, as the winner, Mr A.B Mahmoud had finished his tenure while the case was pending in court.
However, the several complaints that have come into the public glare reveals that the fraud of 2020 elections may have been more grand and complex than the previous two.
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana SAN alluded to this in his reaction to the 2020 elections. He said: “It is common knowledge that the 2016 and 2018 elections of the National Officers of the NBA were marred by e-fraud. The refusal of the ECNBA to produce a credible voters register and disclose the name of the Service Provider to the contestants heightened suspicion that the 2020 NBA election might be electronically manipulated”.
On May 5, 2020, EFCC filed a 14 count charge against Sarah Omeigha Ajibola, and John Ozovehe Demide for knowingly altering email Addresses and telephone numbers of 1004 eligible voters. They were also accused of fraudulently using unique identification features of voters through Smile modem on IP address 22.214.171.124 to vote with intent of gaining electoral advantage in favour of Mr Paul Usoro SAN the outgoing president.
The EFCC investigation was sequel to the petition of Mr Olumuyiwa Olowokure who was the leader of the Technical team of Chief Arthur Obi Okafor, one of the contestants in the presidential election. After declaring Mr Usoro as winner, Chief Okafor after investigations petitioned the EFCC alleging gross cyber crime.
In the petition dated August 28, 2018, and signed by Olowokure, Chief Okafor stated: “The NBA 2018 National Elections which held from August 18 to 20 2018 has been mired in controversy following complaints of gross irregularities characterized by theft of members’ identities and data, internet fraud, interference/manipulation of the online portal…parties connived to fraudulently manipulate the electoral process to achieve a predetermined outcome”.
The NBA elections since 2016 when electronic voting was introduced by Augustine Alegeh executive have faced the same problems. In that year, Chief John Kyari Gadzama had contested against Mr Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud. At the end, Mahmoud was declared the winner. Gadzama challenged the election in court. The case was however still subsisting two years after Mahmoud finished his term. In 2018, the presidential race was mainly between Okafor and Usoro. Usoro was declared the winner. Like what happened before, two persons were just been charged to court in 2020 for electoral fraud, less than two months to the end of his(Usoro) tenure.
There have also been the same allegations of cyber fraud in the 2020 elections. At least, former candidate, Dele Adesina SAN has filed a petition before the Board of Trustees of the association alleging cyber manipulation. While another contestant, Olumide Akpata was declared winner, the third candidate, Dr Babatunde Ajibade while agreeing that the elections was marred by cyber irregularities, congratulated the winner.
But investigations into the 2018 elections have proved the actuality of election rigging, and from all indications, the 2020 election followed the same pattern.
In the statement he volunteered to EFCC, an Information Technologist with Smile Communications Nigeria Ltd, Mr Silvanus Chinedu identified four Smile modems provided by the anti graft agency as used in hacking into voters email addresses.
He stated thus: “The EFCC wrote letters of inquiry to Smile Communications of which we responded via a letter dated 11th October, 2019. In our response, we have responded to the information on the IP address and the time stamp given showing the sessions within which the time stamp provided fell into. The sessions our report proved, shows start date and end date of which the time stamp provided for the corresponding IP address (falls into) provided by the EFCC falls into.
From the information provided, users of the IP addresses provided by EFCC areas follow: 1) John Demide with account ID 1807005422. 2) Idaraechit Unoren with account ID 1805011521. 3) Ugo Ezimako with account ID 1503004064. 4)Edosomwan Francis with ID 1806000052.
Smile Communications will provide a consolidated report of the IP addresses in respect of each user”. The statement was dated 4th November 2019″.
Also, a staff of the service provider, Chams Plc, Mr Soji Egbowon narrated how the chairman of the 2018 Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA), Prof Auwalu Yadudu forced the technical team to upload 3578 voters into the election platform while voting was already on, contrary to the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Chams Plc.
Egbowon, a Chief Technology Officer with Chams Plc, in his statement to EFCC stated: “As an organization providing electronic voting system, we have a defined process which we recommend to our clients to follow for election though it is the client’s final decision to adopt or adapt the process in line with own procedures; As for NBA, we recommended the list of eligible voters should only be uploaded anytime before the election portal is opened. Also, we recommended that voters list should not be uploaded during election. It is also recommended that an audit be done before the election.
In the case of NBA, we uploaded when the election was to begin on the 18th of August 2018, we obtained voters’ list from the electoral committee but because of time pressure, the committee decided against data audit. Rather, the committee issued a covering letter authorizing Chams Plc to upload the data without audit. After the upload, the election began;
The ECNBA was chaired by Prof Yadudu and consisted of other members including a vice chairman, secretary, and others. On the second day of the election which was 19th August, 2018, the electoral committee made a decision to upload additional voters’ list. We advised against the practice, saying it was not in line with our recommended practice. They(ECNBA) decided to issue Chams Plc an indemnity letter absolving us of any wrongdoing or liability. We uploaded the additional data called Batch 2 into the voting platform. Out of the data received, 3578, only 1900 data was successfully uploaded. The indemnity letter to upload Batch 2 was dated 19th August, 2018;
Out of the total number of eligible voters’ uploaded, 16115, 77% which is 12484 voted, while 23% or 3631 did not vote. Of the suspicious emails, 1004, only 857 voted for presidential candidates while 147 did not vote. Of the 1900 voters uploaded in Batch 2, only 1296 voted while 604 did not vote”.
Mr Egbonwon, giving further statements, gave explicit details of how, when, and the exact time he uploaded the voters lists and the emails. The Batch 2 register, according to him, was uploaded on August 19, 2018, at 4.07pm while the election was ongoing.
However, the coordination of all these actions was given by a lawyer, Mr Andrew Osemedua Odum, the Executive Assistant (Legal Matters) to the governor of Delta State, who was at the time a member of the Arthur Obi Okafor team.
Odum in his statement said: “Forensic investigations revealed that the Chairman of Chams Plc, Mrs Ajoritsedere Awosika and Mr Usoro were Co- Directors at Access Bank Plc where both of them also belong to different committees. Investigations further revealed that Access Bank and AMCON jointly owned 11% of Chams Plc. Furthermore, Access Bank is the sole banker of NBA where the latter is one of the billionaire account holders;
Investigations clearly revealed a possible likelihood of bias by Chams Plc in favor of Mr Usoro. This led to an outcry by lawyers but A.B Mahmoud insisted on Chams PMC as service providers. As a truce and in order to make progress, it was agreed that another service provider should carry out pre-election verification while Chams Plc should still provide the e-voting platform;
Consequently, CRENET TECH LABS LTD was engaged for pre-election verification”.
According to Odum, the pre-election verification was “tortuous and untidy” owing to safeguards,which had to be removed to allow more lawyers to comply with the verification. “The NBA leadership then instructed CRENET to remove the safeguards. “It is suspected that it was the removal of the safeguards that those who rigged the presidential elections capitalized on to compromise and fraudulently change the email addresses of lawyers, using fraudulent email domains which enabled them to steal the votes of over 1000 lawyers for Mr Usoro in the election through a smartly orchestrated design”.
He added: “CRENET transferred data to Chams Plc for electronic voting. The earlier substitution of numbers and email addresses enabled the interception of passwords of voters whose passwords were then utilized to steal these votes to achieve a pre- determined outcome of the presidential election and other contested positions”.
The compromised emails used are firemail.cc, airmail.cc, and openmail.org.
At the end, the difference in votes between Usoro and Obi Okafor was 86 despite the over 1000 fraudulent votes and over 3000 lawyers who were unable to cast their votes.
The 2020 elections followed similar patterns and many lawyers have cried out about the fraud perpetrated in its conduct.
Falana believes that the ECNBA that conducted the 2020 elections have a lot of explanations to do. “The ECNBA should explain the basis for releasing the verified voters Register a few hours before the election contrary to the mandatory period of 28 days and why the verified register itself contained a list of voters far less than the number of verified voters for some branches of the NBA!”, said.
He added: “For instance, 2800 members of the Ikeja branch were duly verified to vote. But in the voters’ list released a few hours to the election the number had been reduced to 1770. NBA Ibadan branch had 1072 verified voters reduced to 833; NBA Jos had 699 reduced to 452; NBA Markurdi had 478 reduced to 288; NBA Ilorin had 721 reduced to 344; NBA Akure had 447 reduced to 320; NBA Gombe had 232 reduced to 132. On the contrary, NBA Obollo Afor had 39 names of verified voters increased to 662!;
The ECNBA may also want to explain how the system ensured that the percentage of votes recorded for the 3 presidential candidates was consistent for 24 hours. In other words, are we to believe that all the voters throughout the country voted at a regulated percentage ratio at the same time for 24 hours! Some concerned members are desirous to know when the Diaspora Branch of the NBA was created since its members participated in the election;
The ECNBA should equally explain why over 4,000 members without recognised branches appeared on on the List of Voters that was released a few hours to the commencement of the election”. Falana called it “pre-meditated fraud’
Another lawyer, Oluwaseun Akinde is still confused on the audacity of those who perpetrated the electoral fraud. Akinde, a staff of Lagos State Ministry of Justice,
said on an online platform, Lawyers in Nigeria: “Sir, I voted but I am sure someone intruded into my account without my consent. I shared the email I received here on this platform. I sent a message as directed by the email that alerted me that I logged into my account when I never did. Till this very moment, I am yet to get a response to the mail I sent.
I know of an Assistant Director whose name was pinned to a message here who never voted but his email was used to vote. He would have voted for the eventual winner but was deprived from doing so;
Let me tell you what played out, LASG MOJ was a major target of the hackers. They opted not to take a chance with anyone from MOJ irrespective of their preferred choice of candidates. That’s the truth, but we can continue to play the ostrich, since our preferred candidates won, then the election is free and fair;
There are those who are crying foul now but two years ago their candidates were the winners, so they weren’t ready to listen to any call for audit, calling those who are pushing for an evaluation of what transpired in the 2016 election as bad losers;
Posterity would judge all of us, if by that time this fledgling monster asks for more than votes but maybe blood and flesh.
It is well with us all. I have stated that none of the Presidential candidates may have been involved in the electorate fraud that played out but those who were may have done so with the aim of depriving the election of credibility; staining and denying the winners acceptance across all voters”.