Tobi Soniyi in Lagos, Alex Enumah in Abuja and John Shiklam in Kaduna
President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Paul Usoro yesterday stated that the decision of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the NBA to withdraw its invite to Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai was not based on ethnic or religious considerations.
Governor el-Rufai was billed as a guest speaker in the first-ever virtual Annual General Conference of the NBA slated for August 26 to 29, 2020.
The inclusion of el-Rufai among other speakers at the event drew the ire of some members of the association, who threatened to boycott the conference if he was not dropped.
The pressure was said to have compelled the leadership of the NBA to announce the withdrawal of governor el-Rufai’s invite on Thursday, but this move seems to be dividing the association.
Explaining the rationale for the NEC’s action yesterday, Usoro, urged members to remain united as the decision was taken in the interest of the association.
The president of NBA has, on behalf of members, tendered an unreserved apology to Governor el-Rufai and other governors in the country, stressing that the dis-invite was never intended to embarrass el-Rufai or the governors as a whole.
Usoro, in a statement, noted that his explanation and apology had been conveyed to the governors through a letter to the Director General of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Mr Asishana Okauru.
In the letter dated August 21, the NBA President clarified: “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 Nasir 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,” he said.
Usoro further pointed out that, NBA NEC, by its decision, was not passing any judgment on the governor, as the body is not in a position to pass such judgments without having all the facts and hearing from all the parties, adding that the NEC 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 – and there was very considerable clamor in that regard.
“I perhaps need to mention that, prior to the NEC meeting I had personally taken urgent and strident steps, working with the TCCP, to douse the clamor, but we had no success,” Usoro explained.
He stated that the explanation was necessary to douse the ethnic and religious passions that seem to have been inflamed among members by the NEC’s decision.
He disclosed that he had received several messages from members that have attributed ethnic and religious considerations to the decision, “which is not correct and is very far from the truth.”
He said, “Neither the NBA nor NEC belong to any religious or ethnic group. We are lawyers and professionals dedicated to the ideals and the promotion and preservation of the Rule of Law and we belong to one indivisible family of the NBA.”
On the issue of fair hearing, Usoro stated that none of the persons or parties opposed to the invitation of Mallam el-Rufai to the conference had been offered the NBA or AGC platform to advocate or propogate their viewpoints and positions. So, the principle of not hearing the other side does not arise.
“I am hoping that this release would assist in clarifying issues for our members and placing the NEC decision in its correct perspective. I implore all our members to please not view this issue howsoever from an ethnic or religious perspective. Those two were not the issues considered by NEC yesterday. We are one united Nigerian Bar Association with no religious or ethnic bias or predisposition and shall ever so remain,” he added.
Dutse Branch Threatens to Boycott Virtual Conference
Meanwhile, the Dutse branch of the Nigerian Bar Association in Jigawa State has asked the NEC of the NBA to re-invite el-Rufai, to the conference or it would boycott it.
The threat was contained in a statement by the Chairman of the Dutse branch, Garba Abubakar, which said the governor should have been given the right to respond to the allegations against him.
The Dutse branch said it was strange that the NBA could exclude el-Rufai and retain Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State who has also been accused of several human rights infractions.
The branch said it would not allow a section of the country to take the organisation for a ride as they all had a fair understanding of the law.
The statement read in part, “If complaints are to be judged on their face value and without due process, similar treatment is to be given to the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, who has serious allegations of abuse of human rights against him to the extent of demolition of residential houses and place of worship without observing due process.
“A section of the country cannot, therefore, take us for a ride as we all have a fair understanding of the law. On the strength of this, therefore, we call on the national body under President Usoro, 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.”
IMN Commends NBA for Withdrawal of Invite
Regardless, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) has commended the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for withdrawing its invitation to el-Rufai.
The leader of IMN, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, who has been in detention since his arrest following the December, 2015 clashes between his followers and the Nigerian army, is being prosecuted by the Kaduna State government.
In a statement yesterday, spokesman of the Islamic group, Ibrahim Musa said “El-Rufai is the most unsuitable person to talk to a body of learned men, considering his legendary disrespect for the rule of law, blatant abuse of fundamental rights and intolerance to opposing views.”
Musa alleged that “El-Rufai has been an agent of impunity and division who supports extra-judicial killings and building of mass graves.”
The statement alleged further that, the governor in collaboration with officers of the Nigerian army, attacked members of the IMN, without recourse to law.
He said 347 members of the IMN were murdered extrajudicially in December 2015 and were hurriedly buried in mass graves.
Musa said, “Despite the open confession by the Secretary to the Kaduna State government, Alhaji Lawal Balarabe Abbas before a Judicial Commission of Inquiry, governor el-Rufai has refused to prosecute the criminal elements who perpetrated these crimes, but paradoxically filed charges of conspiracy and culpable homicide against over 250 members of the IMN at Kaduna State high courts.
“Although the Kaduna high courts have since discharged and acquitted all of them, governor el-Rufai has continued to seek further ways to subjugate and persecute the members and leadership of the Movement in contravention of his oath of office to ‘do right to all manners of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will’…
“Certainly, such a person must not be promoted or allowed to address an association of learned men, whose motto is “Promoting the Rule of Law.”
The IMN commended the courage of the NBA for standing “firmly on the path of what it professed to promote and stamp out – impunity and gross abuse of human rights in our beloved country, which loudly proclaims to operate under the rule of law.”