By Mike Ozekhome, SAN
Some lawyers, a very tiny, negligible few, are frantically beating the ethnic and religious drums of disunity.
They should be immediately stopped dead on their track by their sponsors before their suicidal steps conflagrate us all. Their alleged grouse is the dis-invitation of the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, to speak at the just concluded 60th Annual General Conference (AGC) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
Following widespread protestations against Mallam El- Rufai’s invitation, the NBA National Executive Committee (NEC) had heeded to popular calls by majority of NEC members, by withdrawing the earlier invitation extended to Nasir.
This simple popular decision immediately brought to the fore, some melodrama by El- Rufai supporters, mostly of Muslim persuasion from the North. They decried the disinvitation and ascribed unproven ethnic and religious undertones to the NBA NEC’s innocuous decision.
Some branches of the NBA, notably the Bauchi and Jigawa branches, have gone ahead to “form” a “New Nigerian Bar Association”. I thought they should have been more creative and enterprising to look for a name without any semblance to the NBA that they now suddenly loathe.
With the existence of the African Bar Association (ABA), have they not heard of the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)? They mentioned the “Association of National Accountants of Nigeria” (ANAN), founded on 1st January, 1979, inspite of the existence of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), founded since 1st September, 1965?
Why the cutting and pasting? There is such a law known as “passing off”. By the way, ANAN’s split with ICAN was simply professional and ideological, not religious or ethnic.
That is why both ICAN and ANAN is populated by all Nigerian accountants, without reference to religion or ethnic background. IMMEDIATE AND REMOTE CAUSES We were taught good history in the secondary school. So sad history has been wiped out from our curriculum.
We leant about the ‘immediate’ and ‘remote’ causes of various wars; the rise and fall of great empires; and the slave trade that dehumanized mankind for over 500 years. Let us see the immediate and remote causes of the “storm-in-teacup” brouhaha concerning El-Rufai’s dis-invitation.
The remote cause of the “Northern lawyers” versus the entire NBA presumed face-off resides in the gaping fault lines of our fragile contraption called nation. The many nationalities that make up Nigeria are forever suspicious of each other.
Miss Flora Louisa Shaw, a journalist (later Mrs Lord Luggard- 1852-1929), gave Nigeria her name, in an essay she wrote on 8th January, 1897, in the London Times. She named Nigeria after “Niger Area”, to subsume earlier names such as “Royal Niger Company Territories” (the official name which was too long); “Niger Sudan”, “Central Sudan”; “Niger Empire” etc. The Royal Niger Company later sold its Nigerian territory to the British for £865,000.
Don’t forget that Nigeria herself was first discovered in 1472 by Portuguese researchers, Jao de Santarem, Lopo Goncalves, Pero Escobar and Fernao do po, all of whom were seeking a sea route to Asia. It was Flora Shaw’s husband, Lord Ferderick Luggard (Governor of both Northern Nigeria protectorate and the colony, and protectorate of Southern Nigeria), who amalgamated the two protectorates on January 1, 1914, to found Nigeria. Nigerian ethnic nationalities already existing as proud autonomous nations before this forced cobbling. This is why ever since then, Nigeria has never known peace.
The various Constitutions have not helped either – Clifford Constitution (1922); Arthur Richard’s Constitution (1946); Macpherson Constitution (1951); Littleton Constitution (1954); 1960 Independence Constitution; 1963 Republican Constitution; 1979 and the 1999 Constitutions. Nigerians are forever mutually suspicious of each other.
Divisional lines of religion, ethnicity, language, status, gender, nepotism, sectionalism – manifest everywhere. Otherwise, how come a mere dis-invitation of a sitting governor would lead to cries of religion and ethnic discrimination, when the governor was never first invited as a Northerner or a Moslem?
Incredible. In line with the Nigerian Bar Association’s age long tradition of inviting key note speakers from all works of life to speak at its AGM, the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai was invited.
However, this time around, this was one invitation too many, as the invitation drew the ire and overwhelming outrage from both lawyers and non-lawyers alike, especially on several social media platforms.
As a matter of fact, numerous lawyers had threatened to boycott the Conference if El-Rufai’s invitation was not withdrawn. As if that was not enough, an online petition for Mallam El-Rufai’s invitation to be withdrawn soon attracted over 3,000 signatures.
The outrage against the governor’s invitation centred on his now infamous poor handling of the Southern Kaduna blood bath, his ruthless disposition towards his critics and rights Activists, and most importantly, his blatant disregard for court orders and the rule of law. It had nothing to do with him as a Northerner or Moslem. No one said so.
For instance, Twitter user, “@Lugard_Tareotu”, tweeted: “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 El-Rufai’s Government has illegally arrested & incarcerated people. I hereby withdraw my attendance from the conference.
And I call on other well-meaning lawyers to also boycott the conference, except El-Rufai is withdrawn from speaking at the event. The Kaduna State Government does not have a track record of respect for the rule of law and protecting the rights to life and property.”
This was the line of rejection. The objectors also referred to Mallam El- Rufai’s insensitive and inflammatory comments with respect to the Southern Kaduna crisis. This further added momentum and zest to wide-scale calls for his immediate dis-invitation.
For instance, while speaking as a guest on Channels Television’s flagship program, “Sunday Politics”, Mallam El-Rufai infamously declared: “I have no time for nonsense. I will not appease idle people who have nothing to do but to raise a spectre of genocide.
They do that to get money into their bank accounts and get donations from abroad instead of standing up…” Oh really? So, the serial massacre and blood bath Nigerians as witnessed in Southern Kaduna for over 5 years is “nonsense”?
To say the least, Mallam El-Rufai’s notoriety and historic inflammatory disposition is well documented. It was for this reason that the NBA NEC debated, heeded to the outrage against his invitation and proceeded to dis invite him from speaking at the conference.
The tweet put out by the Nigerian Bar Association’s official twitter handle, “@NigBarAssoc” was simple: “The National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association at its ongoing meeting resolves that the invitation to the Kaduna State Governor, H.E. Nasir El-Rufai, by the 2020 Annual General Conference Planning committee be withdrawn and decision communicated to the governor.”
However, rather than establish normalcy, this popular decision of the NBA NEC merely brought to the fore, the deepened polarization and existing yawning fault lines, within not just the Nigerian State, but the NBA, along ethnic and religious lines. It is so shameful. So disgusting.
Within minutes of the withdrawal of El- Rufai’s invitation, different interest groups in the Northern part of Nigeria expressed their dismay at the NBA’s decision.
For instance, The Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria, SCSN, described the withdrawal of the invitation as irresponsible. It believed the treatment meted out to Governor Nasiru Ahmad El-Rufai of Kaduna State by the NBA, “has cast a terrible smelly smear on NBA, which until recently, was regarded as representing the best ideals of justice, equity the good conscience of the society.” Really?
So, dis-inviting El-Rufai suddenly made the NBA not to embrace ideals of Justice, equity and good conscience? Haba! Similarly, the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria, Kaduna State Chapter, and the Dutse branch of the Jigawa State Chapter of the NBA, followed with their decision to boycott the conference.
In a statement, the Jigawa State Chapter posited thus: “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. as the Nigerian Bar Association belongs to all.”
The Bauchi and Yobe State Branches of the NBA had also extended such threats. Their argument is that Mallam El-Rufai’s dis-invitation was done in bad light and was oppressive to Northern and Islamic interests.
With due respect, this line of argument is incredibly mean, low, and infantile. In saner climes, vituperations such as these would have been dismissed with a wave of the hand for being obviously dumb, unintelligent and simply ludicrous.
But this is Nigeria, where anything goes. This is a country where people place ethnic and religious considerations above reason, logic, facts and common sense. Such allegations, whatever their worth, must therefore be sufficiently and frontally addressed to assure all Nigerians that Nasir’s dis-invitation had no ethnic or religious undertones. I also personally attended the said NEC meeting.
The motion for El-Rufai’s exit was raised by Northerners and mostly propelled by them. Infact, it was Southerners, including a respected Pastor, Prof Koyinsola Ajayi, (SAN), who also chaired the AGC Technical Committee (which had invited Nasir), and even the NBA President, Paul Usoro, that argued fiercely for Nasir’s retention. But, they were greatly outnumbered. Ajayi, (SAN), and Usoro, (SAN), were forced to bow to the wishes of the majority.
That is democracy – prevalence of majority decision. In any event, many other speakers invited to the NBA conference included President Muhammadu Buhari; Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Mohammmed; Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, (SAN); CAC Registrar- General, Mr. Garba Abubakar; DG, Nigerian Law School, Professor Isa Hayatu Chiroma, among others.
This list of VIPs and speakers shows one common denominator: they are all Northerners and Muslims. The invitation extended to these other distinguished Northern Muslim speakers and panelists (aside Mallam El-Rufai) should therefore naturally lay to rest, the asinine allegation that Mallam El-Rufai’s dis-invitation had anything to do with his Northern pedigree or Islamic faith. Was El-Rufai ever invited to the conference because he is a Muslim and Northerner? I cannot understand what this childishness and flame-stoking is all about.
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
Fellow Nigerians, come along with me every week, to put our heads together on how to make Nigeria a better place. This, always on “The Nigerian Project”, by Chief Mike A. A. Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb., PhD, LLD
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