A former Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, has faulted the decision of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to withdraw its invitation to Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El’rufai, to attend its Annual General Conference. He described the decision as sad for freedom of speech in Nigeria.
Mr Sanusi spoke on Sunday during a visit to Kaduna, his first to the North-western part of the country since his dethronement earlier this year.
He cautioned the NBA against allowing the controversy surrounding the issue to take a religious or ethnic dimension.
The NBA had invited Mr El-Rufai to speak at the conference but last week withdrew the invitation after sections of the association kicked against it in protest against the governor’s handling of the protracted violent crisis in the southern part of his state.
The former emir who was on an official visit arrived Kaduna around 10:30 a.m. Sunday and was received by Mr El-Rufai at the Government House around 1 p.m.
Speaking inside the governor’s office, Mr Sanusi said he was aware that many NBA members were not happy with the decision to stop the governor from speaking at their conference.
According to him, the action does not portray members of the association as people who want progress for Nigeria.
Mr Sanusi said the governor is a nationalist and not a religious or ethnic bigot.
”I am aware that the vast majority of NBA members do not agree with those things. You know if you have an opinion, people will either agree with you or disagree with you. But a man who has an opinion that can be agreed with or disagreed with is always better than a man who has no opinion at all.
“Nasir always has opinions, he knows what his position is on things. He says that position very clearly, people will like it, some people will not like it and that is what some people call controversial and being controversial is actually having an opinion.
“If you don’t want to be controversial, you just be flexible, just flow with the wind and nobody knows where you stand. Then you will not have any friends or enemies, as the case may be.”
Mr Sanusi said he spoke to the chairman of the NBA technical committee who confirmed that he was the one that invited Mr El-Rufai.
“He (Mr El-Rufai) didn’t ask to come and speak and the technical committee didn’t support the call to dis-invite him.
“You know, If you are going to take action on people based on allegations, the president of the NBA himself has allegations against him that have not been proven. Nobody said anything about him because this is a matter that is before the court of law and people will wait for the court to decide.
“Everybody has a right to fair hearing and most important for me, if you feel that the governor of Kaduna State is not doing right, you should invite him to your conference and ask him to explain what he is doing.
“Tell him what you think he is doing wrong and you will learn something from him and he will learn something from you.
“I have seen the responses from different branches of NBA and I hope this matter will not be turned to ethnicity and religious matter, it should be a matter of principle.”
Mr Sanusi said he hopes the NBA will change its stance on the matter.
He described Mr El-Rufai as a nationalist.
“Anybody who knows him, knows he has never ever associated with any ethnic or religious bigotry. All our friends and people never know us as northerners because we are just Nigerians,” he said.
Responding, Mr El-Rufai said the former emir was in the state not only to visit him but also as the vice-chairman of the state’s investment promotion agency.
He said Mr Sanusi would spend a week in the state during which he would be briefed on the activities of the agency and interact with others in the state.
“As you know, His Highness is the vice-chairman of Kaduna Investment Promotion Agency chaired by the deputy governor.
“We hope by this visit he will be briefed on the activities of the investment agency and also interact with all the agencies that are working to attract investment in Kaduna.
“Kaduna State is lucky to have him as the vice-chairman of the state investment promotion agency because of his wide global network,” he said.
Following Mr Sanusi’s removal as emir and banishment to Nasarawa State, Mr El-Rufai openly embraced him. This was despite the fact that Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, who removed Mr Sanusi is of the same party with Mr El-Rufai and was believed to have secured the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari for the dethronement.
Mr El-Rufai later went to Nasarawa State after the Kano State government backtracked on the former emir’s banishment. He was there when Mr Sanusi relocated from Nasarawa to Lagos from where he flew to Kaduna on Sunday.