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No ethnic consideration in NBA’s decision on El-Rufai, says Usoro

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El-Rufai

•As MULAN calls for withdrawal of Wike, Obasanjo from summit

As ethnic and religious passions threaten the success of the annual general conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN) has asked the association to dis-invite Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

MULAN’s demand followed the withdrawal of the invitation extended to the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai by the NBA National Executive Council (NEC).

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NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), had asked the Muslim lawyers to nominate another northern Muslim governor in the wake of the discontentment they expressed over El-Rufai’s dis-invitation and the threat to boycott the first virtual conference to hold between August 26 and 29, 2020.

Usoro had, in his message to the group, said: “NBA will be willing to have any other northern Muslim governor feature in its conference. The issue as I understand and see it is localised to El-Rufai and not northern governors and/or Muslims. I guarantee that if we have any other northern Muslim governor who is ready to be featured at the AGC, he’ll be given a slot.”

But MULAN, is a statement by its General Secretary, Ismaila Alaasa, yesterday said their understanding was that the NBA did not want to allow any person tainted with disregard for rule of law to use its platform, and so wanted the same standard to apply to others slated to speak at the conference.

“In this respect, our view is that former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who never had any regard for the Supreme Court or respect for citizens’ rights cannot be allowed to speak at the conference. The same brush tars Governor Nyesom Wike who has unapologetically abused the rights of citizens, including demolition of hotel or other property without a court order in Rivers State and he is not entitled to speak on our platform.

“We don’t want to attach any ethnic or religious colouring to the decision of the NEC. We believe that the Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP) has enough clout to get untainted persons as speakers apart from El-Rufai, Wike and Obasanjo,” the group maintained.

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According to MULAN, the nomination of another Northern governor as a replacement for El-Rufai will send a very wrong signal to objective observers and therefore it is not advisable.

Arguing in the same line, immediate past president of MULAN, Prof. Funminiyi Adeleke, said it was unfortunate that the NBA finally succumbed to the pressure of a vocal minority in the association whose main objective was to foist a sectional, ethno-religious and political agenda on the NBA and indeed the nation at large.

“This quick resort to subterfuge and propaganda by this shadowy group within the NBA has generated unreflective actions capable of tearing the association apart.

“The NBA had in the past invited controversial figures including a Catholic bishop who is well known for his anti-Muslim and anti-Hausa/ Fulani rhetoric.

“It is worrisome that a distinguished and highly esteemed professional association of lawyers can rob itself the opportunity to hear from all sides to enable its members have a consolidated understanding of the topic – Identity Politics in Nigeria,” he stated.

Expressing worry over the unity of the Bar, Prof Adeleke said the Open Bar Initiative that championed the dis-invitation of El-Rufai did not see the reason Wike’s invitation should be cancelled for demolishing houses, mosques and declaring Rivers a Christian state in defiance of the constitution.

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Meanwhile, Usoro had continued to explain that there is no ethnic and religious consideration in the decision to drop El-Rufai.

“I have received several messages from our members that have attributed ethnic and religious considerations to the decision. That is not correct and is very far from the truth. Neither the NBA nor NEC belongs to any religious or ethnic group. We are lawyers and professionals dedicated to the ideals and the promotion and preservation of the rule of law, and we belong to one indivisible family of the NBA.”

He pointed out that neither the NBA nor NEC was set out to sit in judgment against El-Rufai and so, did not deny him a fair hearing. “I implore all our members to please not view this issue however from an ethnic or religious perspective. We are one united NBA with no religious or ethnic bias or predisposition and shall ever so remain,” he pleaded.

Reacting to the development, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Ado-Ekiti, Prof. Akin Oyebode regretted that for quite some time, fissiparous tendencies had become noticeable within the ranks of the NBA.

“The recent attitude of some lawyers from the North has carried things to a higher notch. This can permeate other sectors of our life with ominous and calamitous consequences for the survival of the country, as we know it,” he warned.

Also responding, Bar Muhammad Sani Umar stated that as long as El-Rufai’s invitation was not withdrawn because of his religion, the protest by MULAN is baseless.

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“Members of an association are critical stakeholders and if they decide that they are not interested in hearing from anyone, it should not be a big deal. It is not a right for El-Rufai to speak. It is a privilege,” he declared.

Warri-based lawyer, Chief Albert Akpomudje (SAN) described as strange the protest over the decision to withdraw the invitation.

According to him, due process was followed during the NEC virtual meeting where the decision was taken, even though he couldn’t attend as a member.

“NEC being the highest decision-making body apart from the Annual General meeting of the body, it is the competent body that can take such a decision be it right or wrong in the view of anybody.

I am also privileged to know that the motion to withdraw the invitation was moved and seconded by lawyers from the North, which is indicative that the NBA is not a sectional, tribal or a religious body.

“There is the presumption that he who has the power to appoint can also withdraw such appointment. It was the NBA that decided to appoint El-Rufai to speak at the conference and the NBA also has the power to withdraw the invitation if it deems it fit for good reasons or for no reason at all,” he stated

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Akpomudje stressed that nobody group of persons can question validly taken the decision of the body the way some of the Muslim lawyers are attempting to do and urged them to have a rethink.

A senior citizen of Lagos NBA, Chief Guy Ikokwu stated that El-Rufai is a governor in a multi-cultural and multi-sectarian religious state, but acts in utter denial of the precepts of rule of law.

“Kaduna State for the first time has a Muslim/Muslim Executive. Muslims occupy the office of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), the Speaker, the Chief Judge, Police Commissioner and critical ministries. MULAN should tell Nigeria if there are more Muslim Lawyers in Kaduna, otherwise, they should do the needful in a democratic system.

There are many cases to show that their Governor did not in multiple cases respect or obey court orders. A fact that shows his contempt of legal authorities in the State and a denial of the principle of separation of powers under the constitution, which disqualified him as an Executive who does not believe in a fair hearing,” he concluded.

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