By NBF News

The ongoing Annual General Meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Port Harcourt was nearly marred yesterday as some lawyers alleged fraud in the handling of the association's electoral reforms.

Another source of the tension that engulfed the fifth day of the meeting scheduled to end today was the doubts raised over a whopping N256 million debt owed by the lawyers body. Crisis started in the morning at the Civic Centre, venue of the conference, when some of the delegates stormed in to protest the outcome of a vote conducted on the report of the Electoral Reforms Committee alleging that it was doctored.

The grumbling delegates, who said they voted on the proposed electoral reforms, had accused the chairman of the reforms committee of suspecious handling of the result of the voting exercise.

The Committee Chairman, Ibrahim Marku was alleged to have refused to announce the result of the exercise before the delegates.

Later, a member of the committee announced the results, showing 299 votes for 'yes' and 99 votes for 'no' and this angered the delegates, who insisted on a re-count because they suspected that it was the reverse.

The refusal of the committee members to re-count the votes angered the delegates who consequently stormed the conference hall insisting that the announced result should be thrown out.

One of the delegates, who identified himself simply as Gbenga, later told Daily Sun that their action was provokedby suspected foul play.  'We had voted on this electoral process and the result was known.  It showed that the popular view was 'no'.  But unfortunately, the Chairman of the Electoral Committee, Ibrahim Marku, refused to announce the result.  He said he was not going to announce it.  I do not know where this type of thing happens in the whole world, where lawyers are conducting election and chairman of the electoral committee would say he won't announce the result; that we should go and wait somewhere else.  We insisted that we want to count the result because they did not want to count the result.  We insisted that it must be counted.

'Now, after it was counted, we said announce the result, because they were reluctant to announce it.  We all have the result, because we all monitored it.  The chairman of the electoral committee refused; the secretary of the committee refused.  Then one of them said this was what the secretary gave him.  He announced the result.  He announced no, no, no…, when he got to the last one, which was on Electoral Reforms, he changed the result.  The result they gave him says 299 'yes'. And 99 'no', which was the other way round.'

The agitators, who resisted attempts by security agents to bar them from entering the hall, eventually disrupted proceedings for about 30 minutes with deafening shouts of 'no', 'no,' even as the NBA President, Mr. Joseph Daudu appealed for calm. It took Mr. Daudu's persistent appeal and the intervention of some other senior lawyers to calm frayed nerves.

Some of the senior lawyers later urged the NBA president to ensure that the allegation was looked into.

A renowned lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana who later to frowned at the alleged manipulation of the voting results, likened it to what obtained in Nigeria's political elections.

Earlier, eyebrows were raised when the NBA president demanded further clarification from the treasurer on a N256 million debt incurred by the association as contained in the latter's report.

The Treasurer, Mrs Olufunmilayo Oluyede had told the gathering that, 'the association is, however, currently encumbered with sundry debt and accrued but unpaid charges in the total of N256,387,255.'

Mrs. Oluyede explained that 'apart from rent received in advance and unexpired lease, the liability comprised of, advances made for undelivered stamps and seals, 10 percent practicing fees due to the Supreme Court, 10 percent practicing fees due to branches, allocation due to the B.C. Igwe Endowment fund and loans taken therefrom.'

But, the NBA President still said he did not know the source and who incurred the debt. He emphasized that what was incurred before he assumed office should not become his responsibility.

This portion of the treasurer's report generated much argument among the lawyers, some of who complained that the circulated copies were not as detailed as  the report she read out. Not a few delegates wondered how the treasurer could have prepared her report without showing it to the entire executive for clearance.

Before the reports of the treasurer and the Audit Committee were adopted, the delegates urged that the National Executive Council of the association should institutionalize the audit.