The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) may be heading towards a split following its withdrawal of the invitation to Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State to speak at the association’s annual conference.
Bauchi State chapter members of the NBA, on Friday threatened to boycott the association’s forthcoming Annual General Meeting if the decision to withdraw the invitation extended to Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, to participate in the event was not reversed by the body.
This followed the threat by the Jigawa State chapter of NBA which had on Thursday vowed to boycott the conference over the same matter.
It would be recalled that on Thursday, the NBA had withdrawn El-Rufai’s invitation to the conference slated for August 26 to 29, following a protest by some lawyers under the aegis of Open Bar Initiative.
However, the Chairman of the Jigawa NBA, Garba Abubakar, said in Dutse that the allegations against the governor which prompted the cancellation of his invitation had nothing to do with the national leadership of the association or the NBA at large.
Abubakar said the allegations made against the governor by Open Bar Initiative were frivolous.
His words: “The decision is quite unfair as the allegation against the governor has nothing to do with the NEC or NBA at large.
“Worse still, the governor has not been given the opportunity to defend himself on the allegations raised against him by a group within the association before the resolution of this magnitude was reached against him.
”The motto of the association is promoting the ‘Rule of Law’. Prudence and justice therefore demand that he be given the opportunity to defend himself before taking any decision that affects him.
“If complaints are to be judged on their face value and without due process, similar treatment is to [be] given to Governor of Rivers State Nyesom Wike who has serious allegations of abuse of human rights against him to the extent of the demolition of residential houses and place of worship without observing due process.
“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 Nigerian Bar Association Dutse Branch will boycott the virtual annual general conference taking place in a few days to come.”
In a similar reaction on Friday, the NBA in Bauchi State dissociated itself from the action of the national body which it said was “predicated upon unscrupulous and unfounded allegation(s) against the governor.”
It said the NBA should be “seen as promoting the principles of the Rule of Law and attainment of justice to all manner of people irrespective of cultural, tribal, religious or political inclination.”
The action of the national body, the Bauchi NBA argued, “contravened the provisions of Section 36 (1),(4) and (5) of the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which envisage fair hearing and presumption of innocence.
“As lawyers, we should know the significance of the Constitution which is always binding on all its subscribers, now Section 3(6) of the Nigerian Bar Association Constitution & Bye-law emphasised on maintenance of the highest standard of professional conduct, etiquette and discipline.
“Furthermore, section 3(iii) provides for the promotion and protection of the principles of the Rule of Law and respect for the Enforcement of Fundamental Rights, Human Rights and People’s Right. By the singular act of withdrawing the invitation, we see the provisions above as being violated.
“Consequent upon the above, we call on the National Executive Committee (NEC) as well as leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association to immediately rescind its decision and apologise to our teeming members for reaching such unpopular decision which affects the hard-earned image of and integrity of the Nigerian Bar Association as an impartial umpire.
“Furthermore, failure to rescind its decision, the leadership of our noble branch has resolved unanimously and unequivocally to boycott the forthcoming NBA conference scheduled for this 2020. We also call on all the members of our branch to comply with the same above.
“Let us be promoters of rule of law and not to be driven by parochial sentiment.”
The position of the Bauchi NBA was made known in a letter to the national body by the branch chairman, Abubakar Abdulhamid, and the Secretary, Shansuddeen Magaji.
The Open Bar Initiative had branded El Rufai’s invitation to speak at the conference as a “reward for misrule.”
The group claimed that in addition to governing a state that has been described as “the most dangerous state in Nigeria in 2020, El-Rufai has on several occasions abused the rights of Nigerians.”
It also accused the governor of threatening to abduct Gloria Ballason, a lawyer, “because she had criticised him in a news article” in 2016.
The conference, the first virtual Annual General Conference, is scheduled for August 26 to 29 with 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 also 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.
Withdrawing El-Rufai’s invitation has no religious, ethnic colouration – Usoro
However, Paul Usoro, President of the NBA has apologised to el-Rufai over the withdrawal of the invitation extended to him as a speaker in the forthcoming conference of the association.
In a letter dated August 21 and addressed to Asishana Okauru, director-general of Nigerian Governors Forum, Usoro said he takes full responsibility “for the unintended embarrassment and tender my regrets and apologies.”
Usoro explained that he is answerable to the association’s national executive committee (NEC) which approved the decision and he cannot overrule it even if he has a contrary view.
The NBA president said the decision of the association’s NEC had no religious or ethnic colouration.
“As I also explained to you, the statutory membership of NEC is made up of all Past Presidents and General Secretaries and 3 (three) members each from each of our 125 Branches. There are also about 120 co-opted members,” the senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) said.
“NEC was deliberately made that large by the framers of the Association’s Constitution to accommodate all shades of opinion and thoughts.
“As I further mentioned to you during our teleconference, the invitation of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai was brought up by NEC members at yesterday’s meeting when the TCCP’s arrangements for the 2020 AGC was placed on the agenda for discussions and the preponderance of opinion was that His Excellency should be dis-invited.
“There was indeed a motion that was moved and seconded to that effect. Those who spoke in favor of his attendance, including me, were in the minority. I was personally placed in a very difficult and problematic position.”
Usoro said there was not thing he or the conference planning committee could do in the face of the NEC’s decision.
“Mallam Nasir El-Rufai is a friend that I have known as long ago as the early 1980s and we do have some other very close mutual friends. And yet, I am bound, as an elected President of the NBA, by decisions and directives of NEC to whom I am answerable in my official capacity,” he said.
“There truly was nothing that I or the TCCP could do in the face of NEC’s decision of yesterday.
“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.
“NEC’s decision yesterday had no ethnic or religious coloration or connotation howsoever and whatsoever. In discussing the issue at NEC, nobody talked about religion or ethnicity.”
NBA’s action is parochial, myopic and jejune – MURIC
As a counterpoise, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), has described the withdrawal of the invitation as “parochial, myopic and jejune.”
The group’s director, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, in a statement on Friday, said the NBA, as a learned group should know better, adding that it was high-level prejudice.
“The NBA yesterday removed the name of El-Rufai from the list of speakers at its 2020 Virtual Annual General Conference (AGC).
“I describe NBA’s action as parochial, myopic, and jejune. It is a high level of prejudice. NBA as a group of learned literati should know better.
“The fact that NBA took the ill-advised step on account of a petition written by a group, Open Bar Initiative exposes NBA’s impatience, intolerance and self-conceit,” he said.
MURIC, however, called on all lawyers from the North not to allow this to slide, adding that any action of injustice must spark a reaction if tyranny is to be stopped in the world.
What El-Rufai must learn from Makarfi – Hon Magaji
Meanwhile, a member representing Zagon Kataf / Jaba federal constituency of Kaduna State, Hon. Amos Magaji has lauded the stewardship of former governor of the state, Ahmed Makarfi for his politics of inclusion, saying the incumbent, Nasir El-Rufai has a lot to do in order to unite the northern and southern axis of the state.
Hon. Magaji who disclosed this in a chat with Vanguard also added that agitations in Southern Kaduna are partly fueled by the neglect of the zone in the scheme of things by El-Rufai since he became governor.
“The truth is that Makarfi was very sensitive to the needs of the people and he was not arrogant in his dealing with people. He listened to people very well. While he was governor, Makarfi discovered that there were some communities without chiefdoms and one of the things he did was the creation of new chiefdoms. The people were very happy.
“Many of the roads in Southern Kaduna today that people are still plying were done by Makarfi; so there was inclusion. Southern Kaduna people never felt left out whether they were right or wrong, whether they criticized him or not, Makarfi saw himself as the governor of the entire state. So I don’t think they needed to go and lobby before they got anything,” he said.
Faulting Governor El-Rufai’s governance style, the lawmaker came short of describing him as a sectional leader solely interested in the development of some parts of the state to the detriment of others.
“I can’t tell you that there is a road my local government that has been done in the past years. The only road currently being done in Zagon Kataf was initiated by the past administration. Recently I saw work done in Kachia and I think it is just within Kachia town. To be sincere, I have not seen much development in Southern Kaduna.
He also dismissed El-Rufai’s latest jibe at Southern Kaduna leaders whom he accused of looking for “brown envelopes”; thus fuelling the violent skirmishes that have characterized the zone for years.
“Governor El-Rufai did not give details of the people he feels are behind these killings. I don’t know how somebody from Southern Kaduna will now mastermind the killing of his own people. I am not saying people don’t do that but then the same way that the governor identified the people that killed and paid them (in the past), I think he should also identify the people that are killing their brothers and prosecute them if the assertions are right,” he added.