The Muslim Lawyers’ Association of Nigeria (MULAN) received with rude shock the news of the dis-invitation of His Excellency, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai as a Speaker in a Panel Session at the forthcoming 2020 Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual General Conference (AGC).The decision was said to be that of NBA National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting held on 20th August, 2020 based on a petition dated 18th August 2020 written against Mallam El-Rufai by two lawyers without recourse to the former. As a responsible apex association of all Muslim Lawyers throughout the Federation,
we are concerned that this decision seems not properly thought-out, reeked of unwarranted sentiments, antithetical to rule of law and inconsistent with the aims and objectives of the NBA.
Let it be known that MULAN is not speaking on behalf of Mallam El-Rufai who is eminently capable of reacting to the unfortunate development. Like the NBA President said in his release, it is also not for us to look into the veracity of the allegations levied against him. Rather, as a stakeholder in the NBA, we are 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.
This is especially so, when there are worse perceived violators of Human Rights and rule of law both locally and internationally also speaking at the same conference.
THE PETITION AGAINST EL-RUFAI AND THE NEC MEETING
We have carefully gone through the proceedings as reported by those who attended the NEC meeting held on 20th August, 2020 and critically studied the petition upon which the convoluted decision was based. 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 actualize their personal pursuit. How else would one explain the hurried passage given to a petition signed by an avowed critic of Mallam El-Rufai, targeting him alone, when, as a revered body of learned people, the NEC does not need to be prompted to know that the rationale of the petition suits a number of other invited Speakers who are former or serving political office holders!. Rather than having a holistic view of the petition, the NEC was simply railroaded and ambushed by not being afforded foreknowledge of the petition and its contents. Yet, it unwittingly submitted to the entrapment.
Aside the fundamental breach of the established procedure of publishing the agenda to members before NEC meetings, the decision was irregularly taken without calling for vote, NOT EVEN A VOICE VOTE, on an issue of such importance and controversy? Mr. President, with all due respect, appeared to have been in a hurry to overrule the Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) even when its Chairman cautioned on 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. RATIONALIZATION OF THE DECISION In a letter addressed to the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and published in the public space, Mr. President rationalized that the NEC, by her decision, did not judge Mallam El-Rufail on the weighty and unverified allegations levied by the petitioners. He said that the decision was reached to avoid getting the NBA embroiled in the controversy that trailed the invitation. As a stakeholder in the NBA, we do not have problem with that justification.
However, we are 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.
NBA MUST LIVE UP TO HER MANTRA Just yesterday 23rd August, 2020, MULAN received copies of petitions submitted to the TCCP by Justice Concerned Lawyers’ Forum demanding 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 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. We are of the view that such demand is 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. Using the standard by which Mallam El-Rufai was disinvited, Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom should also be on the list of Speaker to delist. His country has sufficiently indicted him in Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry Report. In that Report1, 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.
We strongly believe that doing so would do a great deal of damage control and show the whole World watching the ensuing drama that in the NBA, 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.
RELIGIOUS, TRIBAL OR POLITICAL COLOURATION: NEED FOR CIRCUMSPECTION It must be stated that the leadership and critical stakeholders of MULAN had to seriously constrain itself to downplay the religious, tribal and political undertone of the petition upon which NBA NEC placed its decision. That was needed to assist the NBA in achieving its overall objectives and to deescalate any ethno-religious tension created by the ill-informed NEC decision especially in Kaduna State. The NBA cannot claim ignorance of the complexity of the over four (4) decades Southern Kaduna ethno-religious crisis upon which the petition was based. Its Fact Finding Mission (FFM) of 16th and 17th of January 2017 to the region produced a comprehensive report2 that could help to provide solution than allowing herself to be used to worsen the situation. Ironically, one of the petitioners was a critical expert participant in the FFM.
That leaves one to wonder if this is not a case of the Nigerian elites feeding fat from our adversity. The panel from which Mallam El-Rufai was delisted is to discuss: “Who is a Nigerian? … A debate on National Identity and the Citizenship v. Indigenship Conundrum”. The other Speakers on that panel namely, Governor Nyesom Wike, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili and Pastor Tunde Bakare represent only a section of the country. The line of thought of the panelists is already known to the Nigerian public. The NBA platform will only be used to project such and there will be no debate thereby defeating the purpose. In saner climes, the other speakers on the panel would have delisted themselves as there will be nothing national in the discourse. That panel was to be the high point of the conference in terms of discussing ways of finding solution to our national challenges. Unfortunately, we have missed a golden opportunity to take a lead in that direction.
We therefore implore the leadership and well-meaning stakeholders of the NBA to intervene and ensure that few individuals are not allowed to take us back to our inglorious past. We also appeal to members of MULAN throughout the Federation, particularly those of northern extraction to sheath their swords and allow damage control to be done. For the avoidance of doubt, all State branches of MULAN are directed to desist, forthwith, from making pronouncement on this matter without getting clearance from the National
We are hopeful that the leadership of the Bar would also not allow the NBA branches threatening boycott to effectuate their threat. We believe that our profession is a noble one and we need to make sacrifices to preserve its image. OUR DEMANDS: We strongly align with the demands of the petitioners above referred believe that in the overall interest of the Bar and the nation, leaders of the Bar should do the following: 1. Cancel the Session on which Mallam El-Rufai was to speak. That partially takes care of the demand of the latest petitioners. 2. Disinvite any Speaker(s) who has record of human right violation and disregard for the rule of law. 3. Disinvite any Speaker who has been indicted anywhere for acts of war or other despicable conduct.
How these issues and concerns raised and suggestions made by different sections of the Nigerian Bar are handled in the next few hours would definitely 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 rule of law. The integrity crisis brewing up thereby, especially if they found substance in the complaints of those calling for nondiscriminatory justice and colour blind human right and rule of law application may determine their participation too. God bless MULAN! God bless NBA!!
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!!!
Professor Abdulqadir Ibrahim Abikan,
Ismaila Alasa ,