Cacophony of rhythms waltz through the air as invitation and dis-invitation of El-Rufai, Kaduna State Governor, as keynote speaker to the forthcoming Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) threatens the law body’s longstanding unity. ONYEKA AJUMOBI ONOCHIE reports
The recent invitation of Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, as a keynote speaker at the forthcoming Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is presently eroding the very foundation of unity for which the lawyers’ body is known over the years.
While some senior members of the bar, mostly human rights activists, say allowing the governor to stand on their podium is antithetical on account of El-Rufai’s seeming gross abuses of human rights and insensitivity to plights of the human specie, others, mostly of the governor’s Ismamic religious faith from his state, saw it as being parochial and high handed, threatening to boycott the confab.
The islamic barmen under the aegis of Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN) in Kaduna State, at the weekend, specifically said the decision of the NBA NEC is deemed by MULAN Kaduna Branch “as being parochial, sentimental, disuniting and tainted with favouritism and ethno-religious considerations.” They expressed disappointment over the decision of the NBA NEC in de-inviting Governor El-Rufai.
Abbas Masanawa, Chairman of MULAN in Kaduna State, in a statement on Saturday, asked why the NBA was mute in the face of genocide going on in the North East, banditry and kidnappings in Katsina, Zamfara, Niger, Kebbi States, and Giwa and Birnin Gwari.
In the statement entitled “MISSIVE TO THE MONSIGNORS OF NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION NEC,” it stated that “the MULAN Kaduna Branch is bewildered and disappointed at the unfortunate dis-invitation of Mallam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, Executive Governor of Kaduna State to the Annual General Conference (AGC) of the Nigerian Bar Association, 2020.
Said Masanawa, “The MULAN Kaduna Branch has watched with dismay how the NBA has kept mute in the face of genocide going on in the North East, banditry and kidnappings in Katsina, Zamfara, Niger, Kebbi States, and Giwa and Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State with the NBA giving surreptitious ethnic cover to Southern Kaduna as if lives matter more in some parts of the country over the others.
“MULAN Kaduna makes bold to say that lives lost in Batsari, Katsina State far outnumber that of eight local governments of Southern Kaduna put together. This isn’t to say MULAN Kaduna justifies losses of lives anywhere and in any guise,” he said, continuing, “MULAN Kaduna wonders where was the posturing of NBA at the many lives lost in Borno State?
“Without mincing words, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 precisely, Section 10 states in clear terms that “the Government of the Federation or of any State shall not adopt any religion as a State Religion.”
But a concerned citizen and learned observer, Ahmad Tijani Balori, on Saturday, stated that the lawyers’ protest against invitation of el-Rufai was far from religious considerations. He said in a statement, “during the week some lawyers protested the inclusion of Governor Nasir el Rufai as one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming conference of the Nigeria Bar Association. They premised their protest on: his constant disobedience of court orders; his persecution (not prosecution please) including imprisonment and possible disappearance of critics, notably Dadiyata, Dr John Danfulani, Steven Kefason, Segun Onibiyo, Gloria Ballason, etc; his attitude to and inaction on the massacres going on in Southern Kaduna; his utterances even from before he became governor to date which are rather unpatriotic and unstatemanly, to say the least. etc. The protesters further suggested the replacement of el Rufai by Professor Babagana Zulum, the Executive Governor of Borno State.
He said, “I supported them and actively contributed in my own little way. Nowhere in the petition is religion or ethnicity mentioned or even implied. Interestingly, both el Rufai and Zulum are governors of states in the north. They are both Muslims and are both non lawyers who have post graduate qualifications.
“The biggest deal is that both their states have serious security challenges and their citizens are suffering but this is where the joker comes in.
“Governor Zulum is doing everything within his capacity to deal with the crises and help his people. He is usually in the thick of battle and has come in the line of gun fire at least twice. You will always find him in the worst hit crises prone areas and while he has not succeeded in ending the problem, he daily dishes out hope and succor to his people. My people, our people; NO ONE in Borno state feels left out or abandoned and even if you don’t like Zulum or are not on his political side you cannot help respecting the man and admiring his style. You feel the deep desire to want him to succeed and earnestly pray for his success. That is how leadership is and how a leader should be.
“I am from Borno State and very proud of Gov Zulum and daily pray for his success.
“As for el-Rufai, his records abound and the very fact that a section of the people he is supposed to be leading feel he is against them is a harsh verdict on him and his style of governance.
“Even while the protests against his participation in the NBA conference were going on, Gov el-Rufai had the police in his state evict a man and his family from a house in contravention of a valid court order on Tuesday.
He further stressed, “The protest against el- Rufai was, essentially about: leadership, governance, statesmanship, constitutionality and the rule of law, respect for the fundamental rights of citizens, and then service. It was not about religion and ethnicity and we should not reduce it to that.”
It would be recalled that two frontline lawyers, Silas Joseph Onu and Prof Chidi Odinkalu , had on August 18, 2020, directed a protest to the NBA’s Chairman, Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP), Prof Koyinsola Ajayi, SAN, titled “REQUEST TO WITHDRAW THE OFFER OF PLATFORM AT THE 2020 ANNUAL GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION TO MALLAM NASIR EL-RUFAI”, in which they laid grievous allegations on undesirability of the governor to stand on the NBA’s podium as a keynote speaker. The protest reads inter-alia:
- We are a collective of lawyers enrolled to practise in Nigeria and have duly subscribed for our Practising Fees in 2020. We have learnt that the TCCP under your leadership has chosen to invite Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State, as a headline speaker to address the 60th Anniversary Annual Conference of our beloved Association. 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. We, therefore, write as members of the NBA and citizens of Nigeria to request that this invitation should be withdrawn. We set out our reasons below.
- 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.
- 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 practise her vocation as a lawyer. The High Court specifically found that they had violated the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
- As the proceedings were pending in February 2017 in Ms. Ballason’s case, Governor El-Rufai arranged to abduct one of her clients, Audu Maikori, from Lagos. Mr. Maikori, himself a lawyer of some distinction, was transported to Kaduna on the orders of Mallam El-Rufai, where he was detained and tortured, first at the police before being sent into detention. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal have found that the conduct of the Governor constituted egregious violations of the laws and the constitution. There is presently pending an award of N10.5 million against the Governor for the violations inflicted on Audu Maikori. Governor El-Rufai will not comply or pay up.
- 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?!
- We have set these out factually because we do not wish to be presumptuous. This then is the person that you have decided to elevate and offer a platform at the biggest gathering in defence of the rule of law in Africa. As Governor, Mallam El-Rufai has shown no regard for the rule of law, for human rights or for human beings. He has been reckless in his utterances, hubristic in his outlook and irresponsible with power. Offering him the platform of the NBA Annual General Conference 2020 is reward for misrule.
- Recall that in 2018, this very platform was given to the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and he used it to advance an agenda that is against the motto of the Nigerian Bar Association when he asserted that “Rule of law must bow before National Security”. That is still a very bad stain on the image of the Bar.
Silas Joseph Onu
Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Ph.D.
Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, Chair, Board of Trustees, NBA
Olumide Akpata, President-Elect, NBA.
- Pix: Gov Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, Nigeria