Nigerians have continued to express anger over the decision of the Nigerian Bar Association to withdraw an invitation to Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State to its 2020 conference, in connection to the governor’s alleged human rights violation and handling of the crisis in Southern Kaduna.
El-Rufai, who was billed to speak to the association’s 2020 Annual General Conference, had his invitation withdrawn Thursday by the national body of the NBA after protests by Lawyers.
Also invited to speak at the virtual conference holding from August 24-26, 2020, are former governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and a former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili.
The theme of the conference is: ‘Am I a Nigerian – A Debate on National Identity, the Indigeneship-Citizenship Conundrum.’
The cancelation of the invitation to El-Rufai was greeted by condemnations by senior lawyers from across the country, with some of them alleging that due process was not adhered to in arriving at the decision.
Other lawyers who opposed the action of the NBA questioned the logic of shutting out the governor, while at the same time the bar is opening its arms to Governor Wike, whom they said equally had human rights violation allegations hanging on his head.
A member of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Professor Auwalu Yadudu, described the decision as “unfortunate”.
Yadudu told Daily Trust Saturday that the move “sought to deny freedom of expression,” adding that “even if you have an issue with someone regarding his views or his actions” you should not shut the person up.
Yadudu, a former legal adviser to former military Head of State, late General Sani Abacha, said because the decision was taken at a virtual meeting he did not think due consultation and consideration were made and that it had set a wrong precedence.
“It is most unhelpful and has further fed into the divisive tendency rearing its head in the association. As a commentary on the happenings in Kaduna, it’s most unhelpful. l attended part of the virtual meeting but didn’t stay to the end. l do not support the decision,” Yadudu added.
On calls to replace El-Rufai with another Muslim governor from the North to douse tension, Prof. Yadudu said, “With respect, that is not the issue. The principle involved is what worries me and not whether a Muslim governor from the North can replace him. The issue isn’t about Muslim vs Christian northerners. l must caution that it would sound patronizing and religiously insensitive to even make such a suggestion.
The chairman of the NBA in Kano, Barrister Aminu Gadanya, said as a NEC member, he attended the virtual meeting where the decision was taken and that the matter was raised during the Any Other Business (AOB) session of the meeting.
He said a lot of people spoke on the issue when it was raised and majority of the participants was in line with the decision taken by the NEC but that some of them also argued against the decision to withdraw the invitation.
Gadanya said he aligned himself with the argument of the chairman of the conference planning committee whom he said argued that since the governor had acknowledged the invitation, the association should give him the opportunity to explain himself and that it would be an opportunity for members of the association to hear his own side of the story and even get to ask him questions.
This, he said, was because the issue was related to security and it is not all information that would come out except through such a platform as that provided by the NBA.
“A number of us were taken by surprise because we were not aware of any petition presented to the NBA. Unlike the previous procedure being followed by the executive, usually, notices would be sent to NEC members that there is a petition which is going to be debated. None of that has been presented to us.
“The procedure of presenting a petition or any motion before any NEC meeting has not been followed. NEC members are not even aware of any petition that has been presented to the executive of the NBA. So, it was only at that meeting under the AOB that the petition was announced by the president. So, we were taken by surprise,” Gadanya added.
The Dutse Branch of the NBA in Jigawa State has threatened to boycott the Virtual Annual General Conference if the decision of NEC on Governor El-Rufai is not reversed immediately.
The chairman of the branch, Garba Abubakar, in a press release made available to Daily Trust Saturday, said the branch disagreed with the position of the NEC, adding that the decision was “based on frivolous allegations” and was “unfair as the allegation against the governor had nothing to do with the NEC or NBA.
“If complaints are to be judged on their face value and without due process, similar treatment is to be given to Nyesom Wike who has serious allegations of abuse of human rights against him to the extent of demolishing residential houses and a place of worship without observing due process.
“A section of the country cannot therefore take us for a ride as we all have fair understanding of the law.
“On the strength of this, therefore, we call on the national body under President Usoro (SAN), to reverse the decision with immediate effect, else the NBA Dutse Branch will boycott the virtual Annual General Conference taking place in a few days to come,” Abubakar added.
The Kaduna State branch of the Nigerian Bar Association said it would rather remain silent on the matter.
The branch chairman, Samson Audu, when contacted for comment, said the matter was a decision of the NEC which automatically becomes binding on the state branches.
However, senior lawyers in Kaduna faulted the decision, describing it as appalling and tantamount to the NBA succumbing to “mob action of physical quarrels.”
The immediate past chairman of the branch, Suleiman Shuaib, said the decision was a total disrespect to the office of the governor, adding that El-Rufai being one of the few governors in Nigeria who had embraced the idea of lack of disenfranchisement with regard to indigeneship of state would have contributed immensely to the discussion on national identity.
“That is why you can see in his cabinet, he has tribes from the other parts of the country and that is one of the issues that are being unified by some parts of the state,” he said.
He said though the NEC decision was binding on lawyers, they had every right to criticise it and knock the NBA for its double standard by inviting Wike who “publicly came out to say there is no single Muslim in his state, making the state a Christian state.”
He said if the NBA felt strongly about the petition, they should have sent a fact finding mission to get the true position of things in Kaduna State and the role of the governor in the Southern Kaduna crisis.
Oladepo Tolani, a legal practitioner with over 30 years on the field, said the NEC had succumbed to what he described as a “mob action of physical quarrels” and wondered how an issue as crucial as settler/citizen dichotomy suddenly turned to a debate on El-Rufai.
“Yes, El-Rufai has very strong views and was invited to come and talk, my position would have been that rather than disinvite him, those with strong, contrary views should have insisted on his participation so that there can be a fertilization of ideas, but to kill someone’s views by disinviting him because you do not want to hear him, is a wrong decision and as lawyers, we have a duty to listen to others and tolerate dissenting views,” he said.
“El-Rufai may have his own faults and holds tenaciously to his views and if you want to dislodge someone who is as intelligent as El-Rufai, you must also come up with superior argument and not to keep him shut. What NBA has done is to allow those that do not want to hear others to have their way.”
Northern lawyers should boycott confab—MURIC
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has called on lawyers from the northern part of the country to boycott the conference over what it called ‘parochial’ and ‘myopic’ decision on El-Rufai.
MURIC in a statement by its director, Professor Ishaq Akintola, urged lawyers of northern extraction to protest the action by staying away from the conference.
“MURIC calls on all lawyers from the North to boycott NBA’s AGC in protest against this open declaration of war on Northern Kaduna. Every little action of injustice must spark a reaction if tyranny is to be stopped in the world,” Akintola said.
“NBA has crossed the red line in human relations and conflict management. No single lawyer from the North should participate in the AGC either as a resource person or as a participant unless NBA rescinds its decision to drop El-Rufai from the list of speakers. Injury to one is injury to all.
“How justifiable is NBA’s decision to exclude Governor El-Rufai from the virtual conference when people like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of Odi and Zaki Biam fame and Governor Nyesom Wike are among the speakers? Who bulldozed the hotels of innocent people despite court orders? Who visited unspeakable violence on political opponents? Should NBA hobnob with people linked to genocide and undemocratic practices? So why demonise El-Rufai where killers of innocent people and enemies of democracy are idolised?”
‘Principle of natural justice jettisoned’
Criticising the NBA’s decision, Hardy Akus Esq said the outgoing president of the NBA, Paul Usoro (SAN), was availed the constitutional presumption of innocence when he was allowed to continue in office despite allegations against him.
“Something is patently wrong when some lawyers believe that their perception of a person’s behaviour and or conduct should be enough to elicit sanction on such a person without even hearing the person out. What is different between the above mindset of some lawyers and mob mentality or mob rule?” he asked.
“I hope we are not unlearning our learning as lawyers in the full glare of cynical Nigerians. Even the alleged kidnap kingpin and murderer Evans had his day before a judge.”
In a statement, Emeka Uche Edu Esq, said it was the tradition of the association to invite people with divergent persuasions and views, adding that the conference would have afforded lawyers the opportunity to clarify issues with the governor.
“It is unfortunate and sad that the NBA has allowed itself to be used for mischievous and political ends. By that singular resolution, the current NBA leadership has not only damaged the credibility of the NBA, but has also done an incalculable harm to the image and brand of NBA,” he said.
But in a letter on the issue, Femi Falana (SAN), argued that the withdrawal of the invitation was the proper thing to do.
“You will agree with us that Malam El-Rufai’s penchant for disobeying court orders is inconsistent with the aims and objects of the Nigerian Bar Association which includes promotion of rule of law,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein, E.M.D. Umukoro Esq, submitted that the withdrawal of the invitation was in order since the NBA is a private association answerable to its members.
“The argument that he should have been granted fair hearing before de-inviting him makes no sense at all. NBA is not a court of law. The NBA is the organiser of this event, and members felt aggrieved that going by the killings in Kaduna State and the Middle Belt, and with the way the government is dealing with the whole issue, it would be wrong to have El-Rufai speak to them,” he said.
The Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) while commending the NBA NEC for withdrawing the invitation, described the governor as the most unsuitable person to talk to a body of learned men considering his legendary disrespect for the rule of law, blatant abuses of fundamental rights and intolerance to opposing views.
The IMN in a letter written to the NBA signed by the president of the movement’s Media Forum, Ibrahim Musa, stated: “El-Rufai has been an agent of impunity and division who supports extra-judicial killings and building of mass graves. He, in collaboration with officers of the Nigerian Army, attacked members of the Islamic Movement without recourse to the law, leading to the gruesome extrajudicial murder of at least 347 members of the movement (by the government’s own admission) in December 2015 and hurriedly buried them in mass graves.”
It would be recalled that El-Rufai in his reply to the NBA decision said he did not seek the NBA platform and was not agitated that the association withdrew its invitation.
“While the decision about who speaks at its event is entirely the NBA’s, Malam Nasir El-Rufai wishes to make clear that he did not seek the platform and is not agitated that he has one less speaking engagement,” said the governor’s Special Adviser on Media and Communication, Muyiwa Adekeye.
The NBA President, Paul Usoro (SAN), yesterday said the decision was to pull the association’s conference out of controversy over El-Rufai’s invitation, adding that he had since apologised to the governor over any embarrassment from the dis-invitation through the director general of the Nigerian Governors Forum.
“I must clarify two critical issues. First, NEC’s decision had no ethnic or religious coloration or connotation howsoever and whatsoever. In discussing the issue at NEC, nobody talked about religion or ethnicity.
“As I recall, there were no more than three advocates for retaining the invitation of the NBA to El-Rufai (not including me) and two of these three gentlemen are from the south of Nigeria and one is a reverend gentleman.
“Conversely, some of those who spoke against his attendance share the same faith with Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and some others come from the northern part of Nigeria.
“The second point that I must clarify is that NBA NEC by its decision was not passing any judgment on Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. NBA NEC is not in a position to pass such judgments without having all the facts and hearing from all the sides and it did not set out to pass any such judgment.
“NEC merely made a judgment that it was not in the best interest of the association to be engulfed in the controversy that trailed the invitation of Mallam el-Rufai for the conference and that it was best if the safety-valve of dis-inviting the governor was applied.”