Tuesday, February 10, 2015 1:49 pm
The credibility of last year’s Council election of the Institute of Chartered Accountants is brought to question as two panel reports reveal evidence of electronic rigging
In May 2014, 28 members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, ICAN, were voted into the Council of the institute. The election and previous others conducted by the electoral body of the institute was by all standard unique. While some experts are clamouring for the adoption of the electronic system of voting in the country, ICAN is already ahead of the game. On more than four occasions, the institute has conducted its council elections through the electronic voting system. Through the system, members of the institute residing within and outside the country are able to exercise their franchise by using a dedicated Personal Identification Number, PIN, to vote. Most of the votes are cast in block as members group themselves and vote for their choice candidate. A renowned information technology firm, Chams Plc, is responsible for the E-voting while the IT unit of the institute oversees the running of the platform.
To the envy of many other professional bodies, the ICAN E-voting platform appeared to be running fine until last year when some members of the institute suspected some foul play in the system. During the Council election which was conducted in May, some members could not gain access to the voting portal. Others, who managed to gain access after several attempts, were surprised to find that someone had voted on their behalf. From a few initial complaints, the number of members with same issue increase to hundreds. Although the election had been concluded and winners announced, the plethora of complaints received by the electoral committee was just too numerous to ignore.
As a body that prides itself highly on integrity and accuracy, the institute quickly moved to unravel the puzzle by setting up an Electoral Matters Special Investigation Panel, EMSIP. The mandate of the panel was simple: ascertain the veracity of the complaints and find the culprits. Unaware of the magnitude of the assignment, the committee which was chaired by a Past President of the Institute, Ayo Oni was merely given two weeks to submit its report. Other members of the panel were, Past President, Princess Adenike Adeniran, Past President, Emmanuel Ijewere and a fellow of the institute, Olubunmi Sowande.
Expressed lightly, the evidence brought before the panel was very shocking. To the surprise of the panel members, an electronic sham of a very huge magnitude had been perpetrated by an unknown person in the institute. Over 10 members of the institute were invited to give evidence during the panel’s sittings.
In its preliminary report dated June 9, 2014, the panel confirmed the suspicion raised by some members that the entire electoral process for the 2014 council election was compromised. The panel among other shocking revelations found that the membership list for the 2014 Council election had been deliberately altered. The panel also discovered that the altered list which contained fictitious names and details of alleged members of the institute was forwarded to Chams Plc which articulated the electronic votes. The list was subsequently used for voting in the election. The list according to the committee’s findings contained, a mixture of names of real and fake ICAN members. Specifically, the committee discovered about 575 fraudulent votes. Some records of voters were also updated with wrong E-mail addresses and phone numbers. PIN numbers belonging to some of the members who were shut out of the voting portal, were sent to these wrong phone numbers and subsequently used to vote without their consent.
Testifying before the panel, one of the victims of the scheme, Rufai Fatimat Adenike stated that before the election, someone called her from the institute and told her that there was a problem with the portal. She later got another call from the same person asking her for her pin. She gave out her PIN and when she wanted to vote, her PIN had been used. Several other members shared their challenge with the panel.
The panel in its report suggested that the fake phone numbers of members were serial and presupposes that SIM cards were purchased and entered into members’ records. The panel reasoned that it is not possible for members to have phone numbers that are serial. The panel also established that many of the candidates for the 2014 election were engaged in direct canvassing for votes which was against the electoral guidelines.
In its recommendations, the panel advised that Cham Plc should prepare a list of candidates whom each member voted for while the institute should try to establish those who benefitted from the infraction. It also suggested that a detailed forensic audit of the E-voting process be made while present members’ records should be updated as soon as possible to remove all the fraudulent changes already made. It further advised that members’ record update should be limited to as and when request is made by such member.
Though shocked by the panel’s findings, the institute was not satisfied with the report. After an extensive deliberation, the institute decided to constitute an expanded panel to further get to the root of the fraud. The initial four member panel was then expanded to seven. Apart from Past Presidents Oni, Ijewere, Princess Adeniran and Secretary Sowande who were on the original panel, three new members were added. They include Past President, Chief Dr. R.U. Uche, Past President Mrs C.G. Okpareke and Mr Bolaji Medesou who is a forensic expert.
Medessou’s inclusion in the team was in adherence to the first investigative panel’s recommendation that a forensic audit be carried out on the entire electoral process. Medessou however declined the appointment on the ground that he had sponsored one of the candidates for the election. He insisted that his serving on the panel might question the independence and integrity of the panel. Medessou was subsequently replaced by Mr. Ngozi Onweazu Keshi, a certified forensic investigation professional and fraud examiner. Keshi is also a member of ACFE Advisory Board, USA.
The mandate for the second investigative panel was to review the report of the first investigating panel particularly their conclusions and recommendations. Among other mandates, the panel was to also investigate and establish whether the 575 members list discovered by the first panel was indeed fraudulently altered, how it was done and by who. The panel was also tasked with the onus to ascertain and identify the contestants who benefitted from votes cast in respect of the falsified members’ record and the total number of such votes cast for each of the identified beneficiaries. The level of knowledge and involvement by each of the contestants who benefited from the falsified members record was also a task that the panel was to accomplish in one month.
At the end of its exercise, the expanded EMSIP submitted its report dated 1 December 2014 to the Council. Interestingly, instead of a single report, two reports were submitted to the Council. One of the panel members, Okpareke had a slightly different opinion from the overall panel’s recommendations. Both the majority and minority reports however concurred that the election was grossly compromised through cyber crime. The forensic investigation report conducted by Mr Keshi was also attached to the reports.
Specifically, the two reports maintained that there was a massive identity theft by someone possibly working in the IT department of the institute or by an outsider working in connivance with an insider in the department. The evil genius, who illegally gained access into the institute’s electronic warehouse, cleverly stole members’ data profile over a period. The purpose of this, the panel found, was to use the ID and profile of the unsuspecting members to vote illegally in the Council election. As confirmed by the panel report, some members who had intended to cast their votes in the 2014 election could not do so because someone had used their profile to vote. It was simply a clear case of cyber crime and scores of members were disenfranchised through the manipulation.
The second EMSIP panel further discovered that over 80 per cent of the fraudulent votes were specifically credited to nine winners of the Council election. It however noted that the ICAN rule that all voters must vote for all vacant seats made it impossible to separate the innocent candidates from the dishonest ones. The panel also noted that from earlier investigation over many years, it was apparent that there could be serving Council members who got there through the same fraudulent process.
The forensic investigation analysis report attached to the panel’s final report was more explicit with the actual figures of fake votes and which of the contestants benefited from the votes. Before embarking on its investigation, the forensic team first insisted on the suspension of three principal officers in the ICAN’s Information Technology Department. They were Mr Henry Iheacho, Assistant Director, IT, Mr Yemi, Deputy Manager, Web Development and Mr. Edet, a Supervisor.
After a painstaking exercise, the forensic team discovered over 1,191 fake votes. This was contrary to the first EMSIP discovery of 575 fake voters. The 1,191 fake voters cast about 10,719 votes representing 21.84% of the total 49,068 votes cast in the election. The forensic analysis first observed that there were two fake voters list sent to Chams Plc for the conduct of the election. While one of the lists contained 590 voters, the other had 768 fake voters’ names. However, not all the fake voters used their votes. The forensic team was able to uncover that of the combined 1,358 fake voters 1,191 voted. To get the authentic votes obtained by each candidate, the team subtracted the number of fake votes each of them got. According to the forensic report, all the candidates benefited from the fake voters list, making it difficult to ascertain the real perpetrators of the act.
Based on these shocking findings and in view of the fact that the motto of the institute is accuracy and integrity and the need to continue to uphold this at all times, the majority report recommended a total cancellation of the 2014. This though was slightly different from the forensic team recommendation which advised that the Council result be adjusted based on its’ discovery. The main panel however ignored the observation and rather advised that a fresh election be conducted as soon as practicable and that none of the 28 contestants should be allowed to remain in Council until such election was conducted and new members emerge. The panel observed that if the electoral process can be grossly compromised, other sections of the IT department might also have been compromised. In a very candid opinion, the panel said; “We are particularly concerned about the examination process where the stakes are by far higher. Therefore the entire IT personnel should be cleaned out and the department sanitised.”
On an interim measure, the panel recommended that the institute should immediately engage a reputable firm with strong IT department to review the electoral process and possibly temporarily take over the running of the running of the ICAN IT department until credible staff is recruited. It also suggested that the appropriate law enforcement agencies should be involved to carry out a comprehensive investigation of the fraud and possibly prosecute the culprit.
The minority report made by Dr Akparaeke however disagreed with the majority report in the area of sanction. Dr Akparaeke stated in her report that since no clear culprit had been identified, it would be wrong to impose any form of sanctions. Akparaeke observed that unless and until culprits are clearly identified, issues of discipline or punishment would be premature. She emphasised the fact that the panel by its own admission clearly stated that being a beneficiary of fake votes did not necessarily make such a candidate culpable.
On the implication of cancelling the entire election as recommended by the committee, Dr Akparaeke warned that such step would be ominous and detrimental to the institute.
She stated the implications thus: “The composition of Council will fall below the number prescribed by the ICAN Act. The composition of Council is clearly spelt out by the ICAN Act and Rules and is presently 30 persons, comprised of elected members in Practice and not in Practice and Government nominees. Cancelling the 2014 elections and withdrawing nine members will reduce this number to 21 which falls far short of the legal composition. The effect of this is that the entire Council will become dysfunctional as all its decisions would be null and void and of no effect by reason of faulty composition until that anomaly is rectified.”
Continuing she said: “It is certain that another election can only be in line with the timetable for the next AGM which is already in the corner and which will take us to the end of this Council year. What then would be the implication of this on issue of tenure, retiring members etc? The further consequence of this is that the entire institute would ground to a halt as all our processes vis-a-vis Council approvals would be suspended with serious implications for the institute’s examinations, annual accounts, the AGM and related matters.” Akparaeke also warned that the institution may also run the risk of legal action by persons who may feel that their election into Council has been annulled without any clear evidence of malpractice on their part.
Akparaeke also believed that the majority report should have seriously reprimanded Chams Plc for their suspicious role in the whole episode. The majority report was silence of the culpability of Cham Plc in electronic rigging, but Mrs Akparaeke expressed her though thus: “The majority report failed and or ignored to put the searchlight on Chams Pl, the IT firm that hosted the voting platform. They received an authentic voters list from ICAN, I cannot understand why their system could not screen out fake voters that permitted the level of fraud being alleged in the report. As per the report, they supplied the forensic auditor with ‘suspicious list’ containing 630 names which are begging so many questions. It is therefore not possible to rule out compromise and or incompetence on their part. I therefore recommend that they be sanctioned and they should no longer be engaged for future exercise.”
Akparaeke’s overall submission may have been a lone voice in the panel but the weight of her submission cannot be easily wished away. Currently the institute appears to be at a fix on how to proceed with the issue. On one hand, the institute wants to uphold its integrity by ensuring that the right thing is done to restore the confidence reposed on it by the public; on the other hand, the process of implementing the needed sanctions appears not so easy. The institution is also not unaware of the negative aspersion that cancelling the whole 2014 council election exercise would cast on its image locally and globally.
TheNews finding revealed that while the report of the EMSIP is still lying unattended to, the Institute has resorted to consulting senior lawyers on the appropriate legal step to take. So far, three law firms have been consulted on the matter. They include Bayo Osipitan & Co, Paul Ananaba (SAN) & Co, and Consolex Legal Practitioners. A reliable source told this medium that institute is still studying the legal advice and may decide on the next line of action in the coming week.