By OBINNA EZUGWU
Growing number of legal practitioners have continued to protest the choice of Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai as lead speaker at this year’s 60th Anniversary Annual General Conference of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), a virtual conference billed to hold from 24 to 26 August 2020.
The NBA’s Technical Committee on Conference Planning, headed by Prof Koyinsola Ajayi had chosen to invite the Kaduna governor as headline speaker to speak on insecurity in the country. Others also scheduled to speak at the session include Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike; a former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi; a former vice presidential candidate, Pastor Tunde Bakare; a former Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesili and a former ECOWAS Commissioner, Salamatu Hussaini.
However, the choice of el-Rufai has continued to generate intense opposition, with several lawyers opting to cancel their participation and pull out of the conference if the Kaduna governor’s name was not withdrawn, even as come have started petitions in that respect at Change.org.
Their reason being the governor’s alleged jailing of rights activists and his inability to take drastic steps to end the massacre of indigenous communities in Southern Kaduna by those said to be Fulani herdsmen.
“The senseless killings in Southern Kaduna must stop!! The political correctness of Gov. El-Rufai on national TV is diversionary. It is a reversal to have him speak to lawyers on security, when Gov. Zulum of Borno a better person to do so,” noted Usani Osum, a Lagos based lawyer who started a petition to the NBA on Tuesday.
“We may not be able to do anything to stop the killings, but we can stop the Gov. from speaking at the NBA-AGC to show our disapproval of the manner he has handled the situation!!”
Odum’s protest came on the heel of an earlier petition by a group, Open Bar Initiative (OBI), addressed to the chairman, Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) of the NBA, Prof Koyinsola Ajayi, SAN, where the petitioners asked for the withdrawal of the platform given to El-Rufai to speak at the conference.
The petition dated August 18 and signed on behalf of the group by Silas Joseph Onu and Auta Nyada as convener and co-convener, respectively, introduced the petitioners as “a collective of lawyers enrolled to practice in Nigeria and have duly subscribed for our Practicing Fees in 2020.”
The initiative gave 12 reasons why El-Rufai must not be allowed to mount the high moral podium of the NBA to address the conference, indeed Nigerians and the world in general, vowing that it would ensure that the conference “enjoys maximum disrepute” if its request was not met.
“We regret that our Association, whose Motto is “Promoting the Rule of Law” extended this invitation to a man who represents the very anti-thesis of what we profess to defend,” it wrote.
The group went ahead to list out series of allegations against Gov El-Rufai, his son and the government of Kaduna State; various utterances they reportedly made which according to it, ran against the spirit and motto of the NBA.
“As you may know, at the end of June 2020, Civic Media Lab, which monitors mortality in Nigeria’s many security crises, declared Kaduna State, which is governed by Mallam El-Rufai, as “the most dangerous state in Nigeria.” As recorded by the organization, Kaduna’s “record of 493 persons killed between January and June, is higher than the reported deaths in the Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorised territories of Borno; 290, Adamawa; 37 and Yobe; 5.” As at today, Southern Kaduna is the most active site of massacres and mass atrocities in Nigeria. Despite this, when the Governor met with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Kaduna on 17 August, Governor El-Rufai dismissed the atrocities going on in Southern Kaduna as “media hype”. The previous day, on 16 August, he informed Seun Okinbaloye on Channels Television’s “Politics Today” programme, that he had been unable to visit the sites of atrocity in Southern Kaduna nor extend empathy to the victims because of COVID-19. However, not having found time to show up for victims of mass killings in his own state, on 8 August, Governor el-Rufai found time to travel to Benin-City for the flag-off of the Campaign of his party in the Edo State Governorship elections. Apparently, COVID-19 did not preclude that,” the OBI petition reads in part.
“In April 2020, Bello El-Rufai, Governor El-Rufai’s son, who is also himself a special adviser to the Senator representing Kaduna Central in the Senate, Uba Sani, threatened another citizen who had criticized his father, the governor, with the gang-rape of the person’s mother. When Samuel Ogundipe, a journalist with Premium Times, reported the episode, Bello El-Rufai, parlaying his filial propinquity to a powerful governor, threatened to arrest or disappear Mr. Ogundipe.
“In the run-up to the 2019 General Election in Nigeria, Governor El-Rufai infamously threatened foreign observers that they would “go back in body bags” if they reported what he or his ruling party did not like. He suffered no consequences.
“As you may know, on 9 December 2019, Quartz Africa named Governor El-Rufai at the head of a “powerful” group of Nigerian state governors who “now regularly use security agents to arrest & intimidate journalists & activists who dare to question their actions or attempt to hold them accountable.” One of the most prominent victims of this is University lecturer, Abubakar Idris, better known as Dadiyata, who was abducted from the gate of his house in Barnawa, Kaduna, on 1 August 2019 and has not been seen since then. At 10:16 Hours on 23 December 2019, one of Governor El-Rufai’s sons, Bashir, issued a tweet gloating over the disappearance of Dadiyata, in which he signed off with the line “Dangerous lines in the public space have consequences.” The Kaduna State government has not much acted as if the disappearance of Dadiyata is of much concern to it.
“Many other critics of Governor El-Rufai have been luckier, but only because they ended up in prison or detention. These include university lecturer Dr. John Danfulani. Digital activist, Stephen Kefason, was abducted from his home in Rivers State on the orders of Governor El-Rufai and detained for over five months. Luka Biniyat, journalist with Vanguard Newspaper, was also detained and, at the instance of Governor El-Rufai, fired from his job for writing a report the Governor didn’t like. The same thing happened to Segun Onibiyo, another journalist with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN.
“A major focus of the intolerance of Mallam El-Rufai has been lawyers and the legal profession. In 2016, when he was visited by the then President of the Nigerian Bar, A.B. Mahmoud, SAN, Governor El-Rufai threatened to the NBA President to abduct Kaduna lawyer, Ms. Gloria Ballason, because she had criticized him in a news article, a perfectly lawful act of exercising constitutionally protected speech. Ms. Ballason sued to protect her rights and in May 2017, secured a judgment of the High Court of Kaduna State, which found that the Governor had indeed violated her rights. The High Court awarded also damages against the Governor. He refused to pay up. Instead, he instigated another round of violations of the rights of Ms. Ballason, instructing the Kaduna State Police Command to blockade her law office in Kaduna at the end of 2019. In July 2020, the High Court of Kaduna State presided over by Honorable Justice Hannatu Balogun again found Governor El-Rufai and the Police in Kaduna State under his direction, in violation of the right of Ms. Ballason to practice her vocation as a lawyer. The High Court specifically found that they had violated the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
“On the eve of the presidential elections in February 2019, Mallam El-Rufai took to the television to announce on 15 February 2019, that “66 Fulanis” had been massacred in an Adara settlement in Kajuru Local Government Area in Southern Kaduna. The Police as well as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), denied that any such incident happened. When Dr. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, one of our leading members and former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, challenged Mallam El-Rufai to provide proof of his claims, the governor sought to procure his abduction with an order in a case that did not have a suit number.
“You may argue that it is a good thing to offer Mallam El-Rufai the platform of the #NBAAGC2020 so that he may be subjected to some examination by the participants. However, as you can see, those who have criticized him so far, many of them well placed members of our Association, have suffered untold persecution from Mallam El-Rufai or his family. When these members of our Association fought for their freedom and against their own persecution by Mallam El-Rufai, neither the NBA nor its leadership showed up. If you ask our members to criticize him now, will you protect them when Mallam El-Rufai levies his inevitable retribution and persecution or will you offer us all balaclavas so that we will ask him question with our faces fully covered?!”
Despite the outcry, the NBA announced in a statement on Tuesday, that El-Rufai’s session, tagged ‘Am I a Nigerian – A Debate on National Identity, The Indigeneship – Citizenship Conundrum’, will be a showcase of the conference as it examines the subject of national identity.
“The session is designed to interrogate the apparent triggers of disunity in our nation and brings to the table speakers from different backgrounds who can contribute to the debate from various perspectives,” the body said.
“The session is interactive and affords participants to interrogate the panelists.”
In the meantime, many lawyers have continued to take to social media to berate outgoing NBA president, Paul Usoro over the choice of the Kaduna governor.
The nomination of gov. Elrufai to address lawyers at the NBA conference is a mockery of the NBA & lawyers is general. How can we sanitize the judiciary with such acts? A kingpin in the abuse & disregard of the rule of law to address lawyers? I will not be attending the NBA Conf😏
— BKNY (Buka) (@Buka_Inc) August 18, 2020
@elrufai doesn’t believe in the rule of law. That’s why he paid killers “to stop killing” instead of prosecuting them. How can the hypocrite now address lawyers? His indifference in the face of an unfolding pogrom under his watch should isolate him from humanity in saner climes.
— The Norland Health guy (@NorlandHealth) August 18, 2020
What would Elrufai be telling our lawyers? What positive influence would he be making on them. It's obvious we have lost every sense of decency and respect for rule of law. It's better giving audience to the commander of Boko Haram than Elrufai.
— Morris Sylva (@MorrisSylva) August 18, 2020
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 Elrufai's Government has illegally arrested & incarcerated people. I hereby withdraw my attendance from the Conference
— Lugard Tare-Otu (@Lugard_Tareotu) August 17, 2020
Paul Usoro SAN has really dragged the NBA backwards during his administration. His admin has rarely spoken against injustice meted out on innocent Nigerians – instead, he lends the bar as a platform to the powers that be to acquire legitimacy. https://t.co/zvzsO8CcAi
— Akanimo Ukpe (@akviktor) August 19, 2020
Amid the protests, however, another group of individuals have also sought support for the governor. Wednesday, Abdulbasit Suleiman started his own petition to the NBA to rally support for him.
As at 10:am on Thursday, had 200 signatures.
“In the history of Kaduna, we’ve never had a governor that’s responsive to the plight of Southern Kaduna and committed to ending the age-long crisis in the area than governor Elrufai, who conversely is also the most villified governor especially from the elite whose feeding bottle the governor threw away,” Suleiman wrote on his petition.
“What come to my mind is the crisis that erupted in southern Kaduna in 2018 when the governor was already airborne. He had to U-turn to Kaduna and spent 48 hours thereafter without sleep, going round the state for assessments and enforcement of curfew and intermittently having security meetings. But as usual some people are committed to hating him for what he does because it never favors them.”