SELECTIVE JUSTICE IS AN INJUSTICE, HUMAN RIGHTS AND RULE OF LAW ARE COLOUR BLIND: AWAKENING CALL TO THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION

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INTRODUCTION

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.
DISCLAIMER
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.
APPEAL
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
Leadership.
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.
CONCLUSION
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!!!
Signed
Professor  Abdulqadir  Ibrahim  Abikan,
President
Ismaila  Alasa ,
Secretary  General

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