Fallout from NBA Conference

0

Ifa tin śè!

Ifa tin śè! (the words of the Ifa oracle are already coming to pass!). In my piece of 14/7/2020, “Before the NBA Elections”, I discussed the qualities of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) office holders as provided by Section 8(3) of the NBA Constitution, particularly Section 8(3)(e) which mentions the need for the quality of ‘proven integrity’ in all our officers. I went on to state that, if those vying for offices lack the requisite integrity and therefore, may have no regard for the rule of law: “Do such people have any moral standing to call out the Government or any of its agencies for disrespecting the rule of law, when they themselves are law breakers too?”

The recent invitation and disinvitation saga of Governor Nasir El Rufai to speak at the 2020 NBA AGC and the fallout therefrom, that is, some members of some Branches of the NBA in Northern Nigeria angling to start their own offshoot, the ‘New Nigerian Bar Association’ (NNBA), is just a sample of the problems that the NBA may face in the days to come.

I am not a fan of Governor El Rufai (and many of his counterparts/colleagues in Government for uncountable reasons), and while it is my prerogative to invite you to my party and decide to disinvite you, the question that lays sniggeringly on the lips of many is, where does the Executive Committee of an Association that breaches its own Constitution several times over, most especially during its elections, showing a total disregard for the rule of law which it is mandated to uphold, get off criticising and disinviting Governor El Rufai for showing contempt for the rule of law et al? Admittedly, some may argue that their objection to Governor El Rufai has to do with what they perceive to be his lackadaisical/nonchalant attitude concerning the loss of human lives in Southern Kaduna, but the bottom line is that, just as he may not have lived up to expectation regarding the lives of the people of Southern Kaduna which he swore to protect, likewise, it is also arguable that the NBA has also not lived up to upholding the rule of law as the Aim and Objectives of its Constitution have mandated it to do – therefore, that NBA is not in a position to judge Governor El Rufai.

And whether or not those who seek to form a parallel Association can or cannot be taken seriously, the sad part is that, this voice of dissent is coming from within the NBA, which we are told is a united Bar – really? It certainly doesn’t look like it.

We will probably see more of these types of disagreements with the NBA in various ramifications; and while the NBA Executive can always try to make peace with warring members, as it has been doing with the Northern Branches (with Mr Akpata meeting with them in Abuja last week), in terms of Government and the society at large, the complications may simply translate into some sort of gag on the NBA, that is, the inability of the NBA to take a clear stand when it is necessary, for fear of being condemned/ridiculed because of its own inadequacies.

The Clamour for the ‘New NBA’

Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution) certainly guarantees our right to freedom of association for the protection of our interests, and therefore, the proponents of NNBA are entitled to form their own group.

Governor El Rufai and President Obasanjo

It is however, interesting to hear some of the arguments, that have fuelled this desire to form a parallel Bar Association. The disinvitation of Governor El Rufai which they believe goes against the principles of ‘audi alteram partem’ (let the other side be heard as well) embodied in Section 36(1) of the Constitution, tops the list of grouses. While I’m a firm believer in the right to fair hearing, we must not forget that the NBA is not a court of law or tribunal for the determination of people’s rights as stated in Section 36(1), unless of course, for issues like when Lawyers are brought before the Disciplinary Committee to defend allegations of infractions; and just as Section 40 of the Constitution guarantees the rights of the proponents of the NNBA to form their Association, so does it accord the NBA the right to decide whom it wants to associate with or have as a Speaker at its event. ‘Ba dole ba ne’ (Its not by force/not necessarily)!

Another grouse of the NNBA, is tribalism – that the North is not well represented in the major organs of the NBA. It is sad that this malaise of tribalism which has eaten so deep into the fabric of our society, has been extended to a professional association like the NBA that should certainly know better; but, it would have been ideal if the protagonists of NNBA had provided specific details about these organs of the NBA where the North has been deliberately and unfairly excluded, so that the Akpata led administration can address it, as I do agree with their statement that the NBA “should live above sentiments, regionalism and discrimination on any basis and of any kind”. The truth of the matter is that, it was some Northern members of NBA NEC who suggested that Governor El Rufai be disinvited because of the Southern Kaduna matter; two Southern Senior Advocates defended the Governor’s invitation roundly; the matter was put to a vote, and majority – which said the Governor should be disinvited – carried the vote.

Strangely, in the ongoing outcry by Nigerians that most of the law enforcement/security agencies, NNPC and the heads of the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary are all manned by Northerners contrary to Sections 14(3) and 42(1)(b) & (2) of the Constitution which provide for federal character and the right to freedom from discrimination respectively, these NNBA upholders of justice, human rights and the rule of law have been silent! What about the over 300 tribes in Nigeria who feel marginalised to an overwhelming extent by the North and to a lesser extent by the South West – have they opted out of Nigeria for this reason? However, the bright side of this saga is, with the NNBA, the Promoters will be free to populate its organs and positions with whoever they deem fit.

Another reason for the clamour for secession from the NBA, is that President Obasanjo and Governor Wike should also have been disinvited like Governor El Rufai. The allegations levelled against President Obasanjo regarding the massacre of the people of Odi in Bayelsa State, is also weighty, and I agree that he should have been tarred with the same brush as Governor El Rufai. While the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people (Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution), Section 33(1) guarantees every person’s right to life save in specified circumstances which do not include the occurrences in Odi or Southern Kaduna.

Governor Wike

However, comparing incidents involving the loss of many precious human lives with Governor Wike allegedly demolishing the foundation of a Mosque which was yet to be built on a land that has been the subject-matter of a court dispute which is said to have so far been won by the Rivers State Government, or a hotel in Port Harcourt during the Covid-19 pandemic, is almost like comparing apples to oranges, in the sense that, while physical buildings can be rebuilt to an even better standard than what was destroyed and damages awarded to the injured parties by courts of competent jurisdiction, lost human lives can never be resurrected or replaced. In any event, Governor Wike is a Lawyer and a member of the NBA unlike the other two, and if he registered, it was his right to attend the conference, even if he was disinvited as a Speaker.

I even saw a write up, which scathingly mentioned the fact that Governor Wike declared Rivers State as a Christian State. Section 10 of the Constitution prohibits the adoption of State religions, but if 12 or so Northern States believe that they are above the law and can breach the grundnorm by adopting Islam as their State religion, Governor Wike can also do the same. After all, what is good for the goose, is certainly good for the gander; at least, until the highest court of the land decides to implement Section 10 to the tee.

How will the NNBA Operate?

How and to what end does the NNBA hope to set up and operate? The NBA was not established by statute, but is registered as an Incorporated Trustee by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Will the CAC register a body with the name of NNBA which is not just similar to that of the NBA, but gives the impression that it is a better/new and improved version or possibly successor-in-title of the NBA? I think not. But, this problem is a minor one – the proponents can easily choose another name. Does the NNBA seek to be just a pressure group, or one that also has a say in the regulation of the legal profession like the NBA? The Legal Practitioners Act which regulates the profession, accords the NBA with some recognition – see the case of Nigeria Bar Association v Kehinde (2017) 11 NWLR (Pt.1576) 225. Will the Act be amended to recognise the NNBA too? Will the NNBA have its own Rules of Professional Conduct?

In conclusion, it seems that the reasons for the clamour by some Lawyers for the formation of the NNBA, are not particularly cogent enough to warrant such a move. However, it is the NNBA’s right to form another association, but dialogue and reconciliation to make a stronger NBA, may be a better option.

P.S.

Nigeria should take a cue from Sudan’s transitional Government, which last week signed a peace agreement with rebels, ending about 30 years of Sharia Law imposed by the ousted government of Omar Al-Bashir by separating religion from the State, stating thus: “For Sudan to become a democratic country where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the Constitution should be based on the principle of separation of religion and State….”. Why should Nigeria then be regressing, because our leaders choose to selfishly use religion as a divisive political tool to control the people for their own selfish gains, when the world has mostly embraced the secular system? Religion is one of the most major causes of disagreement in life – even at a dinner table amongst friends, let alone in a multi ethnic and multi religious society. True democracy can never be achieved, if religion is not separated from the State.

Dear Editor

Re: Citizen Aminu, Sharia and the Constitution

Dear Editor,

I am a Muslim, but I must say that some of the leaders of our faith prefer to keep their people in a perpetual primitive era and blindfold, because of their selfish and political reasons. Even if the Prophet (SAW) were to be alive today, he would not order the execution of Mr Aminu, but would forgive him. The Prophet (SAW) forgave others for more grievous acts, according to the Holy Quran and Hadith. It is a pity that many Northern Lawyers and educated Northern elders etc have kept mum about this, while the agitation against the decision of the Sharia Court is coming from other quarters.

Thank you for your comprehensive and educative write up; it is brilliant for people of reasoning.

T.O.

Dear Editor,

Thank you for shedding light on this thorny issue. It is unbelievable that those that we look up to as being well versed in the matters of our religion, can make such decisions which are at total variance with the teachings of the Holy Prophet (SAW), without a second thought that their perverse decision involves the wrongful deprivation of the life of an individual.

I have come to the conclusion that many of our leaders are simply selfish and evil, and I pray that Allah metes out the harshest punishment on them. Many of our leaders, whether Muslim or Christian, are kleptomaniacs who have more or less stolen the country blind; and yet, they feel no shame in confirming an unconstitutional death sentence that is not supported by the teachings of Islam, on Sharif Aminu.

I salute your courage, in stating the true position of blasphemy in Islam. And, for the record, I am a Moslem and a Lawyer.

K.B.

Dear Editor,

Salam Alaikum. I hope the Governor reads your article today! I have enclosed an article from a Sharia Journal which corroborates your position. You may well be saving a life today.

Well done.