Several Nigerian lawyers have registered their discontent over the decision of the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to include Governor Nasir El-Rufai as a guest speaker in the association’s forthcoming annual general conference.
Mr El-Rufai, the Kaduna State governor, is one of the speakers at the conference which holds August 26-29. He is billed to speak in a session titled ‘Who is a Nigerian?… A Debate on National Identity.’
Others billed to speak at the session include Nyesom Wike, the governor of Rivers State; Peter Obi, the former governor of Anambra State and vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party at the 2019 election; Tunde Bakare, a cleric and chairman, African Advisory Council of the Royal Commonwealth Society; Oby Ezekwesili, an activist and former federal minister; and Salamatu Suleiman, the immediate past ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, peace and security.
Other speakers at the conference include Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of the House of Representatives; and Tanko Muhammad, the Chief Justice of Nigeria; Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president; Ike Ekweremadu, former deputy senate president; and Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation.
The 60th NBA annual general conference, its first-ever virtual event, is themed ‘Step Forward.’
The decision of the NBA leadership to include Mr El-Rufai among the speakers has, however, been greeted with disapproval by several lawyers, some of them announcing their withdrawal from the conference.
“If the association has value for her motto, respect for rule of law, democratic norms and values, it won’t take more than 24 hours to humbly write to Kaduna State governor, El-Rufai, informing him of his substitution as a guest speaker at the AGC,” said Godwin Odimabo, a Port Harcourt-based lawyer.
“If he paid to speak, we should refund him his money. If we paid him to speak, we should bear it as the inconvenience caused him by our withdrawal.”
I am super proud of this awakened Bar. This is the NBA of our dream. Thanks to all those boycotting the Conference. The Bar is for wine and drinks, not for flesh and bloodthirsty fellows.
— M. M. Obono (@martobono) August 18, 2020
As a lawyer, I join my colleagues in condemning d decision to invite Gov @elrufai of Kaduna State to address the virtual conference of NBA. Kaduna has the record of the highest mass murder & extra-judicial killings in the country. #BoycottNBA -AGC. @AloyEjimakor@ChidiOdinkalu
— nnamdi asomugha snr (@nnamdi1961) August 18, 2020
Governor @elrufai has no business addressing lawyers at the @NigBarAssoc conference. As lawyers, it is our duty to uphold the rule of law. Courts have found that Elrufai's Government has illegally arrested & incarcerated people. I hereby withdraw my attendance from the Conference
— Lugard Tare-Otu (@Lugard_Tareotu) August 17, 2020
The nomination of gov. Elrufai to address lawyers at the NBA conference is a mockery of the NBA & lawyers is general. How can we sanitize the judiciary with such acts? A kingpin in the abuse & disregard of the rule of law to address lawyers? I will not be attending the NBA Conf😏
— BKNY (Buka) (@Buka_Inc) August 18, 2020
On Wednesday, the Open Bar Initiative, a voluntary advocacy and justice initiative for lawyers across Nigeria, wrote to the NBA’s Technical Committee on Conference Planning demanding the withdrawal of Mr El-Rufai as a guest speaker at the conference.
The group listed the reasons for its decisions to include the governor’s alleged lack of “empathy” for the continued spate of killings in Kaduna State; Mr El-Rufai’s controversial statement that any invaders “will go back in body bags” ahead of the 2019 election; the threat by his son, Bello, to support gang-rape of a Twitter user’s mother, which he later apologised for; and the accusations that the governor routinely arrests and intimidates his critics, among others.
“You may argue that it is a good thing to offer Mallam El-Rufai the platform of the #NBAAGC2020 so that he may be subjected to some examination by the participants,” the group wrote in the letter signed by Joseph Silas and Auta Nyada, its convener and co-convener respectively.
“However, as you can see, those who have criticised him so far, many of them well-placed members of our association, have suffered untold persecution from Mallam El-Rufai or his family.
“When these members of our association fought for their freedom and against their own persecution by Mallam El-Rufai, neither the NBA nor its leadership showed up. If you ask our members to criticise him now, will you protect them when Mallam El-Rufai levies his inevitable retribution and persecution or will you offer us balaclavas so that we will ask him questions with our faces fully covered?”
The group noted that in 2018, the NBA platform was ceded to President Muhammadu Buhari who used it to “advance an agenda that is against the motto of the Nigerian Bar Association when he asserted that ‘Rule of law must bow before National Security.’ Let us not repeat such a reckless mistake, as this is even potentially worse.”
Mr Silas told PREMIUM TIMES his group is insisting on the withdrawal of the invitation issued to the Kaduna State governor.
Already, a petition on change.org seeking 1,000 signatories to stop Mr El-Rufai from speaking at the NBA conference has garnered nearly 909 signatures as of 7 p.m. Wednesday.
PREMIUM TIMES’s attempt to reach Mr El-Rufai was unsuccessful as the phone number of his spokesperson, Muyiwa Adekeye, was unresponsive. He also did not reply to an SMS sent to his phone.
Kunle Edun, the NBA national publicity secretary, when contacted, requested that the questions be sent to him through Whatsapp.
After the questions were sent, he responded with the NBA’s statement announcing the annual general conference. When a copy of the Open Bar Initiative’s petition was then sent to him, he did not respond.
Ahead of the 2015 NBA conference, a similar event played out when NBA members from Rivers State protested the inclusion of the transport minister, Rotimi Amaechi, who was the governor at the time, among the guest speakers. The event, however, went ahead as scheduled.
Mr El-Rufai has governed Kaduna State since 2015 and introduced far-reaching reforms in various sectors including education and health. He has also spearheaded massive infrastructural projects in the North-western state.
However, the state has continued to face attacks by armed bandits as well as ethnoreligious violence, mainly in the southern part of the state.
Critics have accused the governor of not being an impartial arbiter and not doing enough to stem the ethnoreligious violence in the state.
He has repeatedly rejected that allegation, saying since he became governor, he has implemented measures to address the violence in that area and other parts of the state.
“We have been consistent in saying that beyond boots on the ground, military bases and police stations, the ultimate guarantee of peace is the willingness of communities to live in harmony and their resolve to settle differences through lawful means,” the governor told the leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria, who visited him Tuesday.
“Some people do not want to hear this because it imposes responsibilities on individuals and community leaders to keep the peace and obey the law, but it is the civilised way to go.”