With uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the October 7 election of members of the state executive committee of the Lagos branch of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPoN), Safety Record Newspaper‘s, Otu Nkpoidet, who monitored the exercise, report issues that played out during the election. Some stakeholders also bared their minds on the acrimony that the process has been enmeshed in.
With incumbent Chairman, Lagos ISPoN branch, Engr. Timothy Iwuagwu emerging the new chairman unopposed after the election which took place at the institute’s national secretariat in Ikotun, not only are tongues left wagging in the last few weeks but the process has also elicited fears over the likely outcome of the contest.
Iwuagwu had won the election unopposed after his only opponent, Mr Lucky Oderhohwo, was disqualified for not meeting up with the required 75% attendance as stipulated in ISPoN electoral guideline.
According to reactions from some of the aggrieved members of the institute, who did not support Engr. Iwuagwu’s unopposed election, the bone of contention can be traced to the interpretation of Section 13 of the ISPoN Election Guideline, which bars any member of the body from contesting for any elective post unless they have met 75% of attendance at monthly branch meetings or provided substantial evidence why they could not do so.
For the avoidance of doubt, the section reads: “Persons vying for any position must have attended branch monthly meetings for not less than 75% in the calendar year of election, except where there is/are substantial evidence (s) why a person could not attend branch monthly meetings and also convincing evidence that he/she would attend branch monthly meetings after elections”.
Disqualification of candidates
Some past executives who spoke with our reporters fault the process leading to disqualification by the electoral committee of some contestants for ostensibly failing to meet 75% of attendance during monthly branch meetings.
A chairmanship candidate and one of those so disqualified, Mr Lucky Oderhohwo, faulted the action of the electoral committee in disqualifying him and others without listening to their explanations.
He said, “We had some mixed feelings about the election that took place in Ikotun on 7th of October, 2016 because before now there had been the rumour that went round that Mr. Lucky was going to be disqualified on the ground that his attendance wasn’t up to 75%.
“When you look at that, I believe that the electoral guideline specifies it that when you are unable to meet up to 75%, you must give us reasons why you are unable to meet up to 75%.
“Reasons were actually put forward and most of the reasons are cogent reasons in which one of it affects the institute positively. There’s one of the reasons for the grievances and if you were there that day, you will see so many things that happened. Also, some members were disqualified based on the ground that some of them did not attach their resume or credentials. The reasons they put forward were not just looked at.”
Elaborating on the circumstances that made him unable to meet 75 per cent of attendance, Oderhohwo, who is the Managing Director of Rholucks Services Nigeria Limited, said, “If you look at the electoral guideline, Section 13 of it specifically says that anybody vying for elective position should have met 75% or give evidence substantial enough why you were not able to meet up to 75% and also write a pledge that when you are voted in you will not miss the meetings.
“So with that if they have gone to look at the evidences, cogent reasons why this people were not able to meet up with this 75%, I believe it is fair enough for us. And that is why we are pushing it. Like I told you before now, one of the evidence I put forward was (that) I had a meeting with my client.
“There was an environmental audit I conducted and I found out that their fire and safety officers are not members of the institute. They had not even gone through meaningful safety trainings. So, I advised the management that their fire safety men must be members of the institute and they must attend the trainings.
“And based on that, I had a letter from the organisation for me to attend the meeting precisely 17th of September, 2015, to attend a meeting on 18th of September, 2015. And that 18th happened to fall on the day of our meetings.
“So, I sent an apology to the General Secretary which ordinarily should be done by somebody that has value for the organisation. Ideally, I would have gone without sending apology, but I am a professional, I am an exco. I was one-time vice chairman of the institute, Lagos state branch and now an ex-officio.
“So, it is well enough for me to have sent apology and the apology is: I am going to so, so place to ensure that this thing is done. After the meeting we arrived at a consensus where those people will be going to the institute to hold this trainings rather than pulling them out, which is not convenient.
“You cannot pull over 40 people from the company to go and attend ISPoN training. Over ten people attended the training already and out of the ten three have been accredited as members. They attended the September 2nd induction.
“So, they are newly-inducted members, three of them. Is that not cogent enough reason to help the institute to grow? And the second one I put forward was that my home was burgled. If the institute is well enough and they value the welfare of their members, of course you should know that is a valid point.
“The last one was that my mother was sick and I had to travel. And all these ones, I sent apologies. And unavoidably, my mother died. Is that not cogent reason enough?
“If you have three of those apologies out of the four I stated there, I have scored 77%, which is even well above it. And it is stated in the electoral guideline, if it was not stated at all I wouldn’t have any recourse to that.
“If you say you are the custodian of electoral guideline and you jettison it you looked at some and left some it is very unfair. I am not saying I must be the chairman, but let’s be fair, let’s conduct a credible election.”
Also, a candidate for position of secretary who contested unopposed because his opponent was disqualified, Mr Julius Akpong, condemned the process.
He said, “I was aspiring for the post of the secretary for the Lagos state branch and on the night before the election we were called by the electoral committee for screening and I found out my opponent alongside Mr. Lucky and few other persons were screened out and I was left unopposed for that position.
“I feel that, first of all, the irregularities that are there prior (to) election as a system should be removed. All the disqualifications and whatever it is that needs to be done should be done long before the day of election. This is one of the things that caused the problems that we witnessed on that day.”
Another former executive of the branch who did not want his name in print also condemned the disqualification of members without giving them the opportunity to defend themselves.
Responding to a question on whether the electoral committee had the right to disqualify members, he said, “Well, talking about right, by the introduction of the electoral committee chairman, the committee was constituted by the Board of Governors.
“By that alone, they have right to take decisions about the election. But that is not the issue. There are things that are glaring, very glaring. How should somebody be disqualified? Electoral guidelines are there. These provisions of the electoral guidelines were not followed.”
The vice chairman in the last administration, Mrs Monica Nwosu, also weighed in on the controversy, condemning the unwarranted disqualification of members and calling for a level playing field.
She said, “One thing I like about professionalism is that elections must always be free, fair, credible, transparent and professionally conducted. If you conduct a credible election, anybody who wins, wins the election; anybody who loses, has lost. You cannot be disqualifying people on the basis of electoral guidelines.
“All the reasons were presented and they said it wasn’t acceptable and we ask a simple question, what then is acceptable? Anybody can have excuses – it could be business, family vacation.
“It is possible that as a safety professional unexpected circumstances are bound to happen. It is also stated in the guidelines that a person must have substantial evidence why a person cannot make it and the evidence will be considered. Evidences were provided by various contestants and they were disqualified.”
Biased electoral umpire
Many of the aggrieved members blamed the controversy that engulfed the elections on a biased electoral committee and a concealed attempt to impose some candidates.
Mr Oderhohwo lamented the alleged partisanship and lack of autonomy of the electoral committee which he said led to the controversy. According to him, the committee was “compromised”.
He said, “Of course it compromised. Before now, there have been feelers as a risk assessor, you should assess the electoral environment and I know there are many risks involved.
“The first thing is that as an electoral body I believe that they should be autonomous. I believe that someone that is vying for a position should not have an undue influence over the electoral process.
“Initially when I observed that, I wrote an email to the committee that this is what I have observed, but there was no response from them. When I noticed that there was no response from there, I wrote to the Governing Board that this is what is happening and I suggested that the electoral committee should be reconstituted.
“I also heard no response from them. And so, it’s compromised. Imagine the incumbent chairman of a branch having an influence on the electoral committee. What do I mean by having an influence? Why should the electoral committee pass information through the chairman and when you know that he is also somebody vying for a position.
“And now electoral guidelines were not out and contestants did not have information about it. And most of them because they did not know exactly what was there on the guideline, they could not attach some of the documents and on that basis some of them were disqualified. Do you understand me? So, they are compromised. The same is happening in other states where they are complaining about it Delta, Rivers states. So, the electoral system was compromised.”
Mr Akpong, who is the HSE Manager at Cummins Energy Solutions Limited, reiterated his position that the electoral committee had the right to disqualify anyone found to have violated any rule but said there should not be double standards.
“To tell you the truth, there were some candidates even in that same exercise who were made qualified, but did not meet 75% (attendance).
“For example, the lady who was going for the (post of) Welfare Officer did not meet the 75%, but she tendered excuses and the excuses were accepted and her attendance was moved and she qualified.
Another member who pleaded anonymity also accused the electoral committee of bias.
“Obviously, certain decisions were taken because some people were involved and certain actions were deemed necessary for certain objectives to be achieved. So, it doesn’t augur well.
“So, if you talk about right, you have the right, but your right stops where my own starts. Disturbing me from enjoying my own right is where the problem starts.
“They have the right to set guidelines; they don’t have the right to contradict themselves. They have the right to implement the guidelines; they don’t have the right to be discriminatory about it. So, that is what is there. When it is obvious that certain procedures have been breached, unfairness has been introduced into the system,” the source said.
Suspecting foul play, Oderhohwo had approached a court to stop the election from going ahead.
He said, “I am a key professional in my fields and I believe resolving grievances in-house is better. But if you look at the ISPON Act of 2014, Section 1(b), it states that the institute may sue and may be sued in its corporate name.
“Like I told you earlier on, Prof I.F Okunamiri, the chairman of the electoral committee, told us that anybody that is aggrieved can go to court. And for an elderly man like him, one-time president, registrar and secretary of the institute, advising members to go to court, I felt it’s out of place.
“We are younger than them, and an elderly man of the institute coming to tell you that you can go to court rather than say please let’s look at how we can resolve it is really out of place.
“We knew that there’s a script somewhere that is ready to be played. So, for one, I don’t think going to the court would have been the right thing but I have gone to court to stop the election, just to stop the election.”
Reluctant to speak on a case that was already sub judice, Akpong said the election should have been stopped when the court papers were served.
He said, “There was a court injunction served the house. There was no point to force the election ahead.
“We are professionals; we’re supposed to have stopped that election at the point where the courts documents were issued. We’re supposed to stop that election and set up a caretaker committee to run the affairs of Lagos and then start the election process.”
But reacting to calls for the election to be stopped as a result of the court injunction, Fellow of ISPoN and Council President, National Industrial Safety Council of Nigeria, Dr. Reginald Anyanwu, described it as demonstration of democracy in action, adding that it was not necessarily sufficient to stop the electoral process.
“For you to demonstrate democracy in action there must be an election. I am not having any doubt that there’s going to be an election. Election has happened in other branches, other places.
“Even in other places where elections took place, there were summons but election went ahead.
“Just as I said in the house, the purpose of summons is to restrain you from whatever action, but if you proceed you can now take justice in court. Even if in the court, till the Supreme Court rules, election will still hold,” he posited.
A member of the institute who was present at the venue of the proposed election, Abebayo M. Olutayo, confirmed to Safety Record Newspaper that it did not hold.
“They have already dissolved the house and no election. Nobody will guide the institute for the next two years, that’s what they are telling us. There was no election here at all. No election! You can ask anybody here,” he said.
Also asked if the election held, Akpong affirmed that it could not have held as the electoral committee staged a walkout.
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