The Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN) has accused the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) of “selective justice and a slant application of the rule of law” in its dis-invitation of Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, as a speaker at its coming Annual General Conference.
The group, therefore, demanded that the NBA either “cancel the session on which Mallam El-Rufai was to speak, or disinvite any speaker(s) who has a record of human right violation and disregard for the rule of law or has been indicted anywhere for acts of war or other despicable conduct.”
This comes as one of the two branches of the NBA in Kano State threatened to boycott the conference if Mr El-Rufa’i was not reinvited to the virtual meeting
MULAN stated its position through a statement titled “Selective Justice is an Injustice, Human Rights and Rule of Law are Colour Blind: Awakening Call to the Nigerian Bar Association.”
The statement was signed by the group’s president, Abdulqadir Abikan (a professor) and its secretary, Ibrahim Alasa. It was made available to PREMIUM TIMES Monday night.
Clarifying that it was “not speaking on behalf of Mallam El-Rufai who is eminently capable of reacting to the unfortunate development,” MULAN said it was “concerned” that the decision of NBA on the matter seemed “not properly thought-out, reeked of unwarranted sentiments, is antithetical to the rule of law and inconsistent with the aims and objectives of the NBA.”
While agreeing with the NBA President’s earlier position that it is not for the association “to look into the veracity of the allegations” levied against the governor, MULAN said it is, however, “constrained to speak out against selective justice and a slant application of the rule of law to satisfy pre-determined goals as happened in this case.”
The Muslim lawyers said the NBA compromised its neutrality because “there are worse perceived violators of Human Rights and the rule of law both locally and internationally also speaking at the same conference.”
It said it observed, “after going through the proceeding that led to the disinviting Mr El’rufai, that some individuals in the NBA took advantage of the NBA platform to ventilate personal and political vendetta on behalf of some persons in the country.”
“The review revealed that few individuals who have personal and political differences with Mallam El-Rufai allied with some of the leaders of the Bar and took advantage of the eminent NEC platform to actualise their personal pursuit.”
It alleged that the NBA president “hurriedly overruled “the Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP)” without recourse to the “the grave danger of bad precedent to be set by the decision.
“He only relied on the number of people ‘selected to speak’ to reach a decision on a matter he acknowledged to be controversial.”
The group noted the comment by the NBA leadership that it was not judging Mr El- Rufai “on the weighty and unverified allegations levied by the petitioners,” but disinvited him to avoid getting the NBA embroiled in the controversy that trailed the invitation. MULAN, however, said it was “worried that the decision has plunged the noble Bar into deeper controversies than the presumptive one created by the petition.”
“This is because some of the local and international figures, having same or worse credentials in stirring controversies than the target, who are Speakers at the AGC were left untouched.”
MULAN said if NBA wants to live up to its mantra as indicated by the dis-invitation of Mr El-Rufai, it should also honour the petition sent to its Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) on August 23 by the Justice Concerned Lawyers’ Forum (JCL).
It noted that the petition by JCL demanded that “former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Governor Nyesom Wike should be disinvited as Speakers at the Conference.
“The Forum chronicled a barrage of Human Right violations and disrespect for the rule of law, including disobedience to Supreme Court order, perpetrated by the duo, especially the former. The Forum, like many other groups and branches of the Bar, threatened a boycott of the Conference if her demands are not met.”
MULAN said it views such demand as “legitimate and is in consonance with the cardinal aims and objectives of the NBA as enshrined in her Constitution to wit: maintenance of the highest standard of professional conduct, etiquette and discipline; promotion and protection of the principles of the rule of law and respect for the enforcement of fundamental rights, human rights, and people’s rights; and maintenance and defence of the integrity and independence of the Bar, among others.
“The petitions have created another array of controversies on the invitation of the personalities involved and, just like Mr President said in the case of Mallam El-Rufai, ‘it would not be in the best interest of the NBA to be engulfed in such controversies’. Justice demands that the duo should also be disinvited without the need to judge them.”
The Muslim lawyers further demanded that, using the standard by which Mr El-Rufai was disinvited, “Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom should also be on the list of Speaker to delist.”
It said Mr Blair’s country “has sufficiently indicted him in Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry Report (1House o Commons (UK), “The Report of the Iraq Inquiry”, (UK: Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 2016) in which he was said to have ‘deliberately exacerbated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein when there was no imminent threat’.
“He did that to justify his joining the USA in attacking Iraq and killing millions of innocent people.”
MULAN said dis-inviting the three mentioned personalities to speak at the NBA Conference “would do a great deal of damage control and show the whole World watching the ensuing drama that in the NBA, the rule of law and Human Rights are colour blind and know no class, tribe or religious affiliation.
“If the NBA and its NEC wanted to be just and not complicit, they do not even need these latter petitions to disinvite all persons tainted with controversy and be seen to live-up-to its mantra.”
While appealing to leaders of NBA to intervene before the matter degenerates and that MULAN members, especially those from the North, should sheathe their swords and allow damage control to be done, the Muslim lawyers made the following demands:
That the NBA TCCP should “Cancel the Session on which Mallam El-Rufai was to speak” as it believed that doing so would “partially take care of the demand of the latest petitioners.”
That the TCCP should “Disinvite any Speaker(s) who has a record of human right violation and disregard for the rule of law. And also to “Disinvite any Speaker who has been indicted anywhere for acts of war or other despicable conduct.”
MULAN said the way NBA leadership handles the issues it raised “in the next few hours would determine the level of participation of a substantial number of members.
“Our invited Speakers, especially the international ones like Brian Speers (President of Commonwealth Lawyers Association), Steven Richman (American Bar Association) amongst others, would also be observing how we handle the issues bordering on Human rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law.
“The integrity crisis is brewing up, thereby, especially if they found substance in the complaints of those calling for non-discriminatory justice and colour blind human rights, the rule of law application may determine their participation too.”
Also speaking on the controversy, the Ungoggo branch of the association in Kano said it would boycott the conference if the NEC of the NBA failed to reinvite Mr El-Rufa’i to the virtual meeting.
NBA has two branches in Kano State, Ungoggo and Kano.
In a statement on Monday by its acting secretary, Abdullahi Karaye, the Ungoggo branch called on the president of the NBA and NEC to rescind the resolution on the Kaduna governor in the interest of justice and fair play.
It said the withdrawal of the invitation of Mr El-Rufa’i violates the principle of fair hearing.
The statement reads in part:
“The Nigerian Bar Association Ungoggo Branch, Kano state received with shock, the news of the resolution of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of Nigerian Bar Association in its meeting held on the 20th day of August, 2020 wherein it withdrew the invitation sent to His Excellency Malam Nasir El Rufa’i, the Executive Governor of Kaduna state as a speaker/panelist in the forthcoming Annual General Conference (AGC) of the Association which is to be held virtually from the 26th – 29th of August, 2020.
“According to the resolution, the withdrawal of the invitation already extended to his Excellency was his alleged disrespect to the rule of laws.
“The resolution goes contrary to the sterling rule of natural justice which is enshrined in the maxim “Audi alteram partem” meaning, hear the other side.
“Consequent upon the above, the Nigerian Bar Association, Ungoggo Branch, hereby calls upon the president of the Nigerian Bar Association and the N.E.C to kindly rescind the resolution in the interest of justice and fair play, else members of Nigerian Bar Association, Ungoggo Branch, Kano state will not participate in the said virtual conference as a show of protest.”
The Bauchi and Dutse branches of the association as well as Kaduna branch of MULAN had announced their withdrawal from the conference in protest against Mr El-Rufai’s treatment.
NBA Kano branch complies with NEC resolution
However, the Kano branch said it will participate in the virtual conference despite its dissatisfaction with the NEC resolution on disinviting Mr El Rufai.
The branch chairman, Aminu Gadanya, told PREMIUM TIMES that the view of the majority of its members was that they should participate in the conference.
“We are part of the NEC. We attended the NEC meeting, we were there, we were fully involved in the matter. When the issue was raised, we were among the minority who protested against the withdrawal of El Rufa’i’s invitation.
“Our reason was since he is accused of disregard of court orders, give him the opportunity to hear his side. If you have any questions, challenge him on that platform. If you withdraw the invitation, you have shut him up, you will not hear his side. But at the end, the majority endorsed the withdrawal of the invitation.
“Being a NEC resolution, we are abiding by the decision because NEC is the second highest decision-making body after the Annual General Meeting. Since NEC has taken a decision, we have to abide by such a decision,” Mr Gadanya said.
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