The removal of Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State as one of the key speakers in the forthcoming virtual conference of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) after over 4,000 lawyers threatened to boycott the event has taken a new twist, causing divisions along ethnic, religious and political lines in the country.
The association has however denied ethnic, religious or political motives for the exclusion of the governor as speaker at the conference. NBA has also apologised to El-Rufai for any embarrassment its decision might have caused him.
The National Executive Committee of the NBA took the decision to remove the governor at a pre-Annual General Conference (AGC), Thursday. The decision was sequel to calls by some lawyers to de-platform the governor over allegations bordering on killings in southern Kaduna, violation of human rights, disobedience to court orders and others.
The lawyers demanded El-Rufai’s exclusion from the list of speakers and even threatened to boycott the conference if the leadership of NBA failed to listen. However, some lawyers believed the hullabaloo was unnecessary and uncalled for.
Following the decision of NBA on the controversy, the governor in a quick response, described the association’s move as unfair and unjust.
El-Rufai accused the NBA of embracing a “one-sided narrative”.
In a statement late Thursday by Muyiwa Adekeye, the governor’s spokesman, El-Rufai disclosed that he had accepted the invitation to participate in the conference as part of his commitment to having a national conversation and the evolution of a national consensus.
“When lawyer friends requested Malam Nasir El-Rufai to accept the invitation of the NBA to participate in a panel discussion on national identity, he accepted as part of his commitment to having a national conversation and the evolution of a national consensus.
“NBA platform or not, these worthy conversations must continue. He will continue to make his voice heard on the things our country needs to do for its progress. While the decision about who speaks at its event is clearly the NBA’s, Malam El-Rufai wishes to make clear that he did not seek the platform and is not agitated that he has one less speaking engagement.
“However, the circumstances of the last few days warrant some comments. That a professional organisation has elected to endorse a one-sided narrative on a profound national issue is something that its members may wish to reflect upon. For an association, whose bread and butter is about justice to make a ruling based on the stridency of people who lampoon judicial processes against certain individuals without hearing the other side is odd. It bears noting that in its response to pressure, the NBA leadership has signaled an unfortunate embrace of injustice, unfairness, absence of fair hearing and total disregard for the rule of law. The defamatory statements in the petition is another matter entirely, and they will get the appropriate response,” the statement read in part.
Likewise, the Dutse, Jigawa branch of NBA in a statement also agreed that the withdrawal of the invitation extended to the governor, to speak at the conferences was unfair. Garba Abubakar, chairman of the Jigawa NBA branch, said if the decision to withdraw the governor’s invitation is not rescinded, they would boycott the annual conference.
While describing them as frivolous, Abubakar argued that allegations against the governor had nothing to do with the national leadership of the association or the NBA at large. The statement read: “The Nigerian Bar Association Dutse Branch disagrees with the position of the national executive committee of the association held this (Thursday) evening, in its resolve to withdraw the earlier invitation sent to Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the executive governor of Kaduna state to participate as a guest speaker in the forthcoming annual general conference of the association scheduled to take place from August 26-29, 2020 based on frivolous allegations.
“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 as the Nigerian Bar Association belongs to all.
“The motto of the association is promoting the ‘Rule of Law’ prudence and justice, therefore, demands 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.”
However, when the NBA, Assistant National Publicity Secretary, Habeeb Akorede was contacted to react on the position of the Jigawa branch, he said Garba Abubakar, who issued the statement was not the recognised chairman of the branch and he could not be taken serious. “Besides, Annual General Conference participation has nothing to do with branch but individual lawyers across the country, and it is free”, he said.
The controversy has also drawn two Islamic groups, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) , otherwise known as Shiites, into the fray with each taking opposing positions.
While MURIC is calling on Northern lawyers to boycott the Annual General Conference over NBA’s decision to exclude El-Rufai as speaker, the Shiites have commended the body’s leadership, for withdrawing its invitation to the governor.
The Shiites’ position was contained in a letter written to NBA and signed by the President of the Movement’s Media Forum, Ibrahim Musa, on Friday.
MURIC stated its own position in a statement by its founder and Director, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, who described the NBA’s action as parochial, myopic and jejune.
However, the NBA President, Paul Usoro (SAN) has given reasons for withdrawing El-Rufai’s invitation to speak at the conference.
In a statement yesterday, he clarified what led to the decision of the association to exclude the governor. The NBA president apologised to the governor for any embarrassment the decision of his association might have caused him.
The statement reads: “ At its meeting that was held yesterday, 20 August 2020, NEC took the decision to dis-invite Mallam Nasir el-Rufai as a speaker in one of the panel sessions that is planned for the NBA 2020 AGC holding from 26-29 August 2020. This morning, I have had telephone discussions with the Director General of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Mr. Asishana Okauru, on the issue and have tendered through him, to Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, my sincere apologies and regrets for any unintended embarrassment that he may have been caused by the NBA NEC’s decision.
“I followed up our telephone discussions with the attached letter which explains the circumstances of the decision by NBA. The letter has been sent to Mr. Okauru, both in hard and soft copies. It is apropos that I reproduce in this release, paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 of the letter for ease of reference by our members:
“In concluding, I must clarify two critical issues. First, 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. As I recall, there were no more than 3 (three) advocates for retaining the invitation of the NBA to HE Nastr El-Rufal (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. Indeed, NEC did not howsoever or at all discuss the substance of the issues that have been raised against the Governor by the different groups and persons who clamored for his being dis-invited”
Among the lawyers who spearheaded El-Rufai’s exclusion include former chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, former chairman, NBA, Ikeja branch and leader of Radical Agenda Movement in the Nigerian Bar Association (RAMINBA), Mr. Adesina Ogunlana, Open Bar Initiative (OBl) led by Mr. Silas Joseph Onu, and Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga.
Odinkalu in the petition domiciled on Change.org condemned the ongoing alleged genocide in southern Kaduna, stating that El-Rufai’s comment on the happenings was ‘diversionary’ and as such was not qualified to be on the panel of speakers lined up for the event. The petition was titled: “Help stop Nasir El-Rufai from speaking at NBA AGC.”