Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State lashed out at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on Saturday for de-inviting him as guest speaker at the association’s 60th Annual General Conference (AGC).
By Yusuf Alli, Managing Editor, Northern Operation/ Duku JOEL, Damaturu/AbdulGafar Alabelewe, Kaduna
He called the action of the NBA scandalous, strange, politically motivated and a violation of his right to fair hearing.
A group in the NBA, Radical Agenda Movement, asked the association to withdraw the invitation of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State as speakers at the AGC for the same reasons it is keeping El-Rufai out, while more lawyers threatened to boycott the conference unless the Kaduna governor’s invitation was restored.
El-Rufai, in a protest letter to the NBA through his counsel, Mr. A.U. Mustapha (SAN), said the association which ought to serve as the conscience of the nation had descended into the realm of partisanship.
He said: The news of the withdrawal by the Annual General Conference Planning Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association its earlier invitation to Governor Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai as a guest speaker in the forthcoming NBA 60th Annual General Conference was received by my humble self with rude shock and bewilderment.
“It is utterly scandalous, to say the least. My response is principally dictated by the strange circumstance leading to and surrounding the said withdrawal of the invitation, which is based on one-sided allegations contained in a petition by the so-called Open Bar Initiative, which was believed and acted upon by the Annual General Conference Planning Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association without any reference to Governor El-Rufai.
”The decision taken by the NBA to withdraw their invitation to Governor El-Rufai on the basis of the wild and unsubstantiated allegations contained in the Open Bar Initiative petition without any reference to the governor is not only a naked affront on the rule of law but also a contradiction of the NBA’s motto which held itself out as the custodian, defender and guardian Angel of the rule of law in Nigeria.
”The implications of this grievous decision by the NBA demonstrate a total disregard for the basic constitutional provision of fair hearing which is the foundation and bedrock of the rule of law designed for the safeguard of fundamental right and freedom in any civilised and democratic society.
“It therefore beats all imagination that an elitist professional body like the NBA could take a decision that negates the very essence of this fundamental constitutional provision, no matter how tempting or appealing the reason may be.”
He said NBA’s decision negated the Rule of Law, especially the right to fair hearing for El-Rufai.
He said it would not be out of place to insinuate political motives behind the de-invitation.
He added: “Going further, it is also instructive to note that the NBA sat down, constituted itself unto a court and adjudged Governor El-Rufai guilty of all the allegations contained in the said petition without hearing a word from the governor and thereafter proceeded to apply the sanction requested by the petitioners, which is a withdrawal of the invitation. What a “court!”
“Can this be called justice and fairness? Is this exemplary? It would certainly not be out of place to insinuate political motives behind this unfortunate decision as the NBA as a professional body, which is supposed to be in the forefront of the protection and promotion of the rule of law in Nigeria, should know better than this.
“After all, members of the NBA Executive and Annual Conference Planning Committee as constituted can be counted among the brightest legal minds in Nigeria.”
He advised NBA to remain apolitical instead of taking actions that can cause discord.
“This attitude of the Association drives home the point that our beloved country still has a long way to go. The Nigerian Bar Association is not just an association; it is an association that is expected to serve as the conscience of the nation.
“If such an association now descends into the realm of partisanship, parochialism, unfounded hearsay and one-sided justice, then the country is lost indeed.
“I consider it important to advise that the Association maintains its hitherto apolitical nature. It should not lend itself a tool of vendetta in the hands of unscrupulous people who want to use the NBA to fan the embers of discord.”
Pressure mounts on NBA to disinvite Obasanjo, Wike
A group in the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is putting pressure on the association to withdraw the invitation of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State as speakers at its 60th Annual General Conference (AGC).
The Radical Agenda Movement in the Nigerian Bar Association (RAMINBA) claims that Obasanjo and Wike have at one time or the other acted against the rule of law.
The group apparently took a cue from another group of lawyers Open Bar Initiative, whose petition against Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State led to the withdrawal of the invitation extended to the governor as one of the guest speakers.
Open Bar Initiative had accused the governor of representing the very antithesis of what they profess to defend.
Kaduna Muslim Lawyers and the Damaturu branch of the NBA yesterday joined the Jigawa and Bauchi branches in threatening to boycott the AGC unless the treatment given El-Rufai was reversed.
In a statement yesterday, RAMINBA chairman, Adesina Ogunlana, and the secretary, Ayo Ademiluyi, alleged that Obasanjo masterminded the1999 Odi massacre and attempted to tamper with Nigeria’s constitution for a third-term agenda.
Wike, on the other hand, it said, destroyed some properties during the COVID-19 lockdown in his state despite a court order against his action.
“He is the same governor who ordered the demolition without a court order of two hotels in Rivers State recently. The Rivers States task force under the control of Governor Wike is an agency notorious for violation of the human rights of citizens in carrying out their tasks,” the lawyers said.
Wike himself is a lawyer.
The group said it was “baffled” that the list of speakers at the conference still retains the names of Ex-President Obasanjo and Governor Wike.
It added:”We are persuaded that these men, by their antecedents vis-a-vis respect for and promotion of the rule of law and due process, are not fit for an invitation as speakers in a function such as the conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, whose mantra remains promoting the rule of law.
“Balogun Obasanjo is known in Nigeria’s most recent history to have launched some of the most brutal assaults on the concept of rule of law. Kindly recall that it was Obasanjo, who swore to uphold the constitution of the land, who refused to obey the Supreme Court order for the release of the N21 billion Lagos State local governments funds illegally and oppressively withheld by his administration.
“Despite the popular outcry that the Supreme Court is obeyed, President Obasanjo arrogantly declined obedience. He remained adamant all through his administration and it was President Yaradua who later complied with the judgment.”
NBA Damaturu rejects El-Rufai snub, threatens boycott
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Damaturu Branch, yesterday rejected the decision of the national body to withdraw the invitation of Governor El-Rufai as guest speaker at the AGC.
The Damaturu NBA said through its Chairman, Barr. U.N Lukman, that the invitation of the governor be restored immediately, failing which members of the branch would boycott the forum.
It also asked that an apology be sent to the governor.
It said: “The decision of the NEC is against the pillars of natural justice on the presumption of innocence and fair hearing as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and equal opportunity to all citizens of this country.
”At no time during the meeting were our NEC members from Damaturu branch afforded the right to vote on this resolution which we consider as thin air, lies and deception against the person of Mal. Nasir El-Rufai.
“The purported NEC meeting is a somber affair that is a mockery of professionalism and equal treatment which our resolution is sincerely concealing hatred and disunity amongst the Association.
Kaduna Muslim lawyers also to boycott conference
In a similar protest, the Kaduna State Chapter of the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN) yesterday directed its members to boycott the AGC over the withdrawal of Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s invitation as speaker at the conference.
The group, at a press conference in Kaduna, also asked Muslim lawyers across the country to boycott the conference, saying the decision of the NBA NEC smacked of what it called parochialism, favouritism and ethno-religious considerations.
The Vice Chairman of the association, Abbas Ma’sanawa, who read MULAN’s position, said the same NBA had kept mute over the “genocide going on in the North East, banditry and kidnappings in Katsina, Zamfara, Niger, and Kebbi States, and Giwa and Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State,” while also ”giving surreptitious ethnic cover to Southern Kaduna as if lives matter more in some parts of the country over the others.”
The group said: “Lives lost in Batsari, Katsina State far outnumber that of eight local governments of Southern Kaduna put together. This isn’t to say MULAN Kaduna justifies loss of lives anywhere and in any guise. MULAN Kaduna wonders where was the posturing of NBA at the many lives Iost in Borno State.
“Without mincing words, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 precisely, Section 10 states in clear terms that “the Government of the Federation or of any state shall not adopt any religion as a state religion.
“We are witnesses to how Governor Nyesom Wike demolished a mosque and came out openly to say, ‘I repeat once again without apologies, Rivers is a Christian State. That is why nobody can touch us.’
“We believe that NBA NEC deemed these utterances glorious, hence the lofty invitation to Nyesom Wike to use our hallowed platform to propagate his governance inklings and dis-invitation of Governor El-Rufai.
“MULAN Kaduna Branch believes that what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.
“The President of the Nigerian Bar Associaticn, Paul Usoro, SAN said NEC’s decision yesterday had no ethnic or religious colouration or connotation howsoever and whatsoever.
“MULAN Kaduna Branch asks Mr. President if the topic: Who is a Nigerian? has anything to do with Southern Kaduna. An honest answer in this direction would reveal the clandestine motive of the NBA.
“Paragraph 7 of the letter of Mr. President requesting the Governors’ Forum to communicate the dis-invitation to His Excellency, Mallam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai is certainly sinister as MULAN Kaduna wonders if the letter inviting him was routed through the Governor’s Forum in the first place!
“What stops Mr. President from sending the letter of dis-invitation to Governor El-Rufai directly?
“There is certainly more to it than meet the eye in the circumstances, and to be modest, the NBA President’s assertion as contained in the letter to the NGF cannot be far from the truth as to the ethnic-religious drive in the whole of what have played out.
“In view of the unfortunate decision of the NBA NEC, MULAN Kaduna Branch is left with no option but to instruct its members to withdraw their participation in the forthcoming NBA AGC and enjoins all Muslim lawyers in Nigeria to join in the boycott.”
Also reacting, the Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria described the action of the NBA as irresponsible.
Secretary General of the council, Nafi’u Baba-Ahmed, also a lawyer, said: “The unfortunate development has cast a terrible smelly smear on the NBA, which until recently, was controversially regarded as representing the best ideals of justice, equity the good conscience of the society.
“The decision taken by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to delist Mal. Nasiru Ahmad El-Rufa’i, the Executive Governor, Kaduna State, as one of the speakers at its virtual annual national conference is, to be charitable, regrettable and irresponsible of an institution of which I had hitherto been a proud member for over 40 years.
“We want to believe that the decision is not representative of all its right thinking members. For clearly, it has already taken sides in the Southern Kaduna crises, contrary to its members’ training and what it loudly preaches, without listening to the narrative from the other side.
“Clearly, lowly, narrow political and religious sentiments have beclouded the judgment of the leadership of the NBA, forgetting the most basic principle of their training and that its members cut across all sides of the divide.
The virtual AGC is scheduled to run from Wednesday to Friday.
It has the theme, ‘Step forward.’
It is expected to have Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), among others, in attendance.
El-Rufai was initially listed as one of the guest speakers in a session entitled ‘Who is a Nigerian?… A Debate on National Identity.’
Others billed to speak at the session are Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike; former Anambra State governor Peter Obi and a cleric, Tunde Bakare; former minister Oby Ezekwesili, and immediate past ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, Salamatu Suleiman.