Lessons from El-Rufai’s NBA dis-invitation
As Nigerians are very much aware, following a request by a coalition of lawyers to Prof. Koyinsola Ajayi (SAN) the Chair, Technical Committee on Conference Planning, of the NBA, the invitation to El-Rufai was withdrawn on many allegations bordering on poor handling of the insecurity of the state and wanton violations of the rule of law. Just as El-Rufai, a former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Maurice Iwu, also had his invitation withdrawn. A section of the NBA expressed misgivings and loss of confidence in the elections he conducted at the time.
Whilst many comments, even opinions from supposedly learned persons, have centred on the former FCT minister, the greater lessons to be learned are beyond this stormy petrel. Indeed, the NBA might have erred in its judgment, in the first place to have thought of him as a role model to speak at such a gathering. Whilst the NBA deserved some reprimand for this embarrassing faux pas, there was nothing unfortunate about a careful after-thought, which prevented a situation that would have sent a wrong message. The NBA would only have to express caution whenever they are inviting speakers for their events.
Notwithstanding the controversy and embarrassment generated by the incident, El- Rufai is merely a metaphor to pass on the lessons Nigerians can learn from. First, the event is a great lesson for duty beaters, especially high ranking public officers that all actions today have consequences tomorrow. Anyone who aspires to take up some leadership position needs to be mindful of the future consequences of present actions. It is foolhardy to assume that society will remain decadent forever and that power will cover deliberate acts of impunity and recklessness arrogantly carried out. If such aspirants were never standard-bearers of values of peace, justice, and compassion, they should not expect to launder their questionable personalities by taking front seats or assume key roles in fora whose values they blatantly negate through word and deed.
Furthermore, the event telegraphs the invaluable lesson that people cannot be reckless and be allowed to take places of honour. What the NBA has done is to show that there is a limit to hypocritical posturing and to demonstrate to the world that their podium will henceforth be for good taste. As one pundit has argued, the position of the NBA seems to be: “… that a senior public functionary who disobeys court orders with impunity cannot use their gathering, a law conference to advance the cause of reckless pontification. It would have amounted to a contradiction in terms.” It is on this argument that the criticism of El-Rufai’s dis-invitation on the grounds of violation of free speech is spurious. No one who has no business at a forum is entitled to use that forum for his personal advancement.
However, certain other positions have viewed this NBA posturing as a moral wild goose chase, cynically deriding the possibility of getting public officers who can speak on issues with moral authority. Others have faulted it as spiteful of certain interests, whilst also criticizing the dis-invitation on the grounds of violation of free speech.
It is the view of this paper that to discredit outright the possibility of having moral luminaries in the society is a hasty generalisation that leads to defeatism, for it is a slothful admittance of graft and corruption, and a gratuitous denial of the possibility for human development. It is even as an admission of the fact that any public forum seeking moral regeneration was useless. It is this form of defeatist arm-chair theorising that the NBA dis-invitation should seek to address: there should be and there are moral luminaries in our society; and they must be sought after. It does not make sense to feature a keynote speaker for the sake of mere speaking.
Moreover, the argument put forward to the effect that El Rufai’s ‘dis-invitation’ was spiteful of northern and Islamic interests is petty and ludicrous. It shows that even at the level of elite collegiality, the primordial sentiments of tribe and religion still prevail as a standard for conscious action. This is sad. It is also a vivid demonstration of the low mentality deplored in resolving conflicts and how the corrosive effects of primitive interests have pervasively overtaken the psyche of some learned Nigerians.
It is to this unfortunate reaction that a lesson on the complexities of conflict resolution is addressed. In a bid to make a point rather than solve problems we revel in conflicts. This proclivity for celebrating conflicts arises from deep-seated psychosis of the superiority complex of the elite. Often times this leads to arrogance. Privileges endowed by historical circumstances, institutional impositions, unfair opportunities, or even genuine personal efforts are generalised as instruments to pass harsh judgments on people and groups. Professional associations, like other groups, should cultivate some level of self-appraisal both in an individual capacity as members and at the collective level. The primary step towards resolving the conflict of this nature is to critically evaluate one’s justification for holding the position one holds and review it in relation to the other persons or groups one relates with. It is not to take a myopic political position.
The capacity to do this transcends the strictures and biases created by ethnicism and religion. It is a capacity grounded in our capacity for free, rational scrutiny. Since national organisations such as the NBA are a congregation of professionals of different ethnic leanings, religious beliefs, and ideological biases, this capacity for continuous critical self-evaluation, or what some intellectuals call reflexivity, should guide their actions at all times.
It is the conviction of this newspaper that reputable national professional associations, especially groups catering to social engineering, public morality, and matters pertaining to character and conduct, should be encouraged to set the tone for loftiness in high places and in the public space. Though an afterthought, the ‘dis-invitation’ might have been, in truth, the gathering of lawyers, who by their cultic roles are officers in the temple of justice, is not an appropriate forum for discourteous, impertinent, and pointlessly arrogant characters, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or status.
In the main, the few lawyers from the north who are campaigning for a new NBA, to serve a sectional interest because of this mere dis-invitation, are not serving the public interest, especially at a time perception persists that state actors have carelessly divided the country along with religion and ethnic lines.
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