NBA: Controversy rages over El-Rufai snub

•Bauchi, Jigawa branches threaten boycott of conference
•No ethnic, religious consideration in withdrawal of invitation – Usoro

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.
The Jigawa branch of the association on Friday denounced the cancellation of the governor’s invitation as unfair and threatened to boycott the annual conference if the national body refused to rescind its decision.
The NBA 2020 Annual General Conference’s National Executive Committee yesterday defended the action of the body in withdrawing the invitation to him.
It said only three members of the NBA National Executive Committee (NEC) backed a suggestion to retain El-Rufai as a speaker at the 60th Annual General Conference (AGC) when the matter was put to vote.
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.
But the NBA unexpectedly withdrew El-Rufai’s invitation on Thursday on the strength of a petition by a group of lawyers, Open Bar Initiative, who said the governor represents the very antithesis of what they profess to defend.
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, theBauchi 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, Shasuddeen 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.
In his own reaction to the action of the NBA, El-Rufai called it an “unfortunate embrace of injustice”.
The governor’s spokesman, Muyiwa Adekeye, in a statement in Kaduna, said the withdrawal of the invitation would not in any way stop El-Rufai from making his voice heard on the things the country needs to do to make progress.
The governor declared that he “did not seek the platform and is not agitated that he has one less speaking engagement.”
But he wondered why “a professional organisation has elected to endorse a one-sided narrative on a profound national issue.”
His words: ”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.”
On the security challenge in his state, the governor said he has taken several actions to restore sanity, including making “military and police bases a reality in southern Kaduna after close to 40 years of waiting.”
He said he has also “set up a Peace Commission to nudge communities to embrace their responsibility to live in peace and harmony”.
Why El-Rufai’s invitation was withdrawn
Defending the action of the NBA yesterday, the chairman of the NBA 2020 Annual General Conference’s National Executive Committee, Mr.Paul Usoro (SAN) said the association was not passing any judgment on the governor and the decision “had no ethnic or religious coloration or connotation howsoever and whatsoever .”
Usoro in a statement said: “This morning (August 21), 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 HE 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 NEC. The letter has been sent to Mr. Okauru, both in hard and soft copies. It is apropos that l reproduce in this release, paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 of the letter for ease of reference by our members:
‘ln 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 NBC, 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.
‘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 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.
“I truly would appreciate your bringing this letter to the attention not just of HE Nasir El-Rufai but also to all the other members of the esteemed Nigerian Governors’ Forum and in particular, the Chairman of the Forum, HE (Dr) Kayode Fayemi. Please, assure Their Excellencies that the Nigerian Bar Association holds all our governors, including HE Nasir El-Rufai, in the highest esteem and would do nothing intentionally to embarrass them collectively or individually.
“Once again, I offer my sincere and deepest apologies and regrets for the unintended embarrassment that may have been caused to HE Nasir Ei-Rufai by the aforereferenced decision of the NBA NEC and would appreciate your passing on my regrets and apologies to him personally.”
Usoro said he drew attention to those paragraphs in order to douse the “ethnic and religious passions that seem to have been inflamed amongst our members by the NEC decision.”
He said he had received several messages from lawyers that read ethnic and religious considerations into the decision.
“That is not correct and is very far from the truth. Neither the NBA nor NEC belongs 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.”
Usoro also denied claims that the NEC infringed El-Rufai’s right to fair hearing before withdrawing the invitation.
He said: “No, it did not. As I point out in my letter, neither the NBA nor NEC set out to sit in judgment against Mallam El-Rufai, and even from that prism, the principle of fair hearing does not apply.
“None of the persons or parties who are opposed to the invitation of Mallam El-Rufai to the AGC has been offered the NBA or AGC platform to advocate or propagate their viewpoints and positions and so, the issue of not hearing the other side does not arise…
“I implore all our members to please not view this issue howsoever from an ethnic or religious perspective. Those were not the issues considered by NEC yesterday.”

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