Prior to the conduct of the 2019 general elections, Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation, who was the Director- General of the Muhammadu Buhari Campaign had visited Lagos in company of Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna state for an interaction with journalists. During the meeting held at Eko Hotels in Victoria Island, Governor El-Rufai handed out his complimentary cards to journalists, saying they are free to reach him if they have any questions bothering their minds. ‘But please, don’t send me text messages; send me an e-mail and you will get your response within 24 hours’.
After that encounter, several e-mail enquiries sent by Daily Independent to Governor El-Rufai on his official e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org on the situation in Southern Kaduna were not replied. That would have provided a veritable opportunity for the governor to give first-hand information on the crisis and steps he has taken so far to return normalcy.
The above scenario became necessary as a response to those faulting the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for the dis-invitation of el-Rufai, to their forthcoming conference after protests from lawyers across the country.
While those in support of El-Rufai said the event would have presented a golden opportunity for him to address questions on the issue, others agree with NBA, saying it has sent a strong lesson to him on public officials should conduct themselves.
Even though El-Rufai was initially listed as one of the guest speakers in a session entitled ‘Who is a Nigerian?… A Debate on National Identity, the invitation was withdrawn on the strength of a petition by a group of lawyers, Open Bar Initiative, who said the governor represents the very antithesis of what they profess to defend, citing his poor human rights record and his inability to stop the killings particularly in Southern Kaduna.
Others also billed to speak at the session are Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike; former Anambra State governor Peter Obi and a cleric, Tunde Bakare; former minister Oby Ezekwesili, and immediate past ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, Salamatu Suleiman.
In a separate letter titled, ‘Request to Withdraw the Offer of Platform at the 2020 Annual General Conference of the NBA to Mallam Nasir El-Rufai’, addressed to the Chairman, Technical Committee on Conference Planning, NBA, Prof Koyinsola Ajayi, the lawyers said the governor must not be allowed to speak at the conference.
The letter, which was signed by Silas Onu and Auta Nyada, listed 10 allegations against El-Rufai and his son, Bello, who is a Special Adviser to Kaduna Central lawmaker, Senator Uba Sani.
A former Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammad Sanusi had said rather than withdraw el-Rufai’s invitation, the lawyers should have rubbed minds with him to identify areas that need to be addressed for the purpose of governance.
“If you feel that the Governor of Kaduna State is not doing well, you should invite him to your conference and ask him, and let him explain himself on what he’s doing and tell him what you think he’s doing wrong. You will learn something from him and he’ll learn something from you,” he said.
“If you disagree with someone, having him in your hall and telling him your view is the best and he can defend himself. And if there are things he needs to improve, he’ll take them on board and if there are things you don’t know of, you’ll be better informed. I think NBA has lost an opportunity to interrogate the governor and collectively rub minds to identify areas that need to be addressed for the purpose of governance.”
Speaking in a similar vein, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), said the NBA should have allowed the governor to attend the conference so that the issues can be addressed on the spot. According to him, banning the governor aside creating unnecessary hostility will also reduce the chances of making El Rufai change his ways if guilty of the allegations leveled against him.
“I don’t know the basis of the rejection of his presence at the conference but honestly, my humble view is that even if they have an objection like that, there is nothing wrong in stating it so that he can explain it. He should have been invited and then they ask him on the spot”. “Even if there is truth in the allegations, the fact that a body like NBA will raise it with him, will make him have a rethink and improve on his philosophy of the problem”.
“But to alienate him completely and treat him like an outcast, I think that is not very wise because it eliminates dialogue, creates unnecessary hostility and reduces the chances of making him change his position which we are complaining about”.
However, some civil society organisations such as Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Afenifere, pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation have hailed the decision of the NBA.
SERAP also called on the NBA not to invite the representatives of the Federal Government until President Muhammadu Buhari began to obey court orders.
“We welcome the decision by the NBA to withdraw its invitation to Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai on grounds of poor human rights record. We also call on the NBA not to invite the Nigerian Government/its reps to its events until President Buhari obeys all outstanding court orders,” SERAP tweeted.
On its part, Afenifere praised the leadership of the NBA, for naming and shaming El-Rufai.
The organisation, through Yinka Odumakin, its National Publicity Secretary said by the NBA’s action, Governor El Rufai who has been acting with impunity will learn how to comport himself in public.
“NBA must be commended for naming and shaming El-Rufai. El-Rufai has governed in the last five years with impunity and total disregard for rule of law”.
“It’s a good thing that the NBA has done and they must be commended. It will serve as a lesson to him on how to behave in public life”.
Coming on the heels of its presidential election which is still generating controversy, the issue has already polarised the NBA with some state chapters such as Bauchi, Jigawa are taking sides with El-Rufai and have threatened to boycott the conference.
The Chairman of the Jigawa NBA, Garba Abubakar, said that the allegations against the governor which prompted the cancellation of his invitation had nothing to do with the national leadership of the association or the NBA at large.
Abubakar who also said the allegations made against the governor by Open Bar Initiative were frivolous, said “The decision is quite unfair as the allegation against the governor has nothing to do with the NEC or NBA at large”.
“Worse still, 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.
“The motto of the association is promoting the ‘Rule of Law’. Prudence and justice therefore demand that he be given the opportunity to defend himself before taking any decision that affects him.
“If complaints are to be judged on their face value and without due process, similar treatment is to [be] given to Governor of Rivers State Nyesom Wike who has serious allegations of abuse of human rights against him to the extent of the demolition of residential houses and place of worship without observing due process.
“On the strength of this, therefore, we call on the national body under President Usoro, SAN to reverse the decision with immediate effect, else the Nigerian Bar Association Dutse Branch will boycott the virtual annual general conference taking place in a few days to come.”
Also, the NBA in Bauchi State dissociated itself from the action of the national body which it said was “predicated upon unscrupulous and unfounded allegation(s) against the governor.”
It said the NBA should be “seen as promoting the principles of the Rule of Law and attainment of justice to all manner of people irrespective of cultural, tribal, religious or political inclination.”
“Consequent upon the above, we call on the National Executive Committee (NEC) as well as leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association to immediately rescind its decision and apologise to our teeming members for reaching such unpopular decision which affects the hard-earned image of and integrity of the Nigerian Bar Association as an impartial umpire.
“Furthermore, failure to rescind its decision, the leadership of our noble branch has resolved unanimously and unequivocally to boycott the forthcoming NBA conference scheduled for this 2020. We also call on all the members of our branch to comply with the same above”.