The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has offered behind-the-scene details of why the invitation to Kaduna Governor Mallam Nasir El-Rufai as a speaker at its Annual General Conference was withdrawn.
It said said only three members of its National Executive Committee (NEC) backed the suggestion to retain El Rufai as a speaker at its 60th Annual General Conference (AGC).
NBA President Paul Usoro, SAN, said of the trio, two were Southerners and the other was a Christian cleric.
The association announced el-Rufai’s exclusion on Thursday evening following protests by some lawyers, citing his alleged violation of human rights, disrespect to court orders and handling of the killings in Southern Kaduna.
The conference, a first-ever virtual AGC, is scheduled to hold between August 26 and 29 with the theme: ‘Step forward.’
It is expected to have Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), among others, in attendance.
El-Rufai was among the guest speakers slated to participate in a session titled ‘Who is a Nigerian?… A Debate on National Identity.’
Others also billed to speak at the session are Rivers Governor Nyesom Wike; former Anambra 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.
But following a petition by a lawyer, Usani Odum and the growing number of high and low profile lawyers for and against the governor’s dis-invitation, the NBA NEC withdrew its invitation.
In a statement, ‘Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) 2020 Annual General Conference’s National Executive Committee (NEC’s) decision to di-sinvite His Excellency Mallam Nasir el-Rufai as a speaker in a panel session’, Usoro clarified the circumstances of the decision.
He said: “This morning (August 21), I have had telephone discussions with the Director-General of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Mr. Asishana Okauru, on the issue and have tendered through him, to HE Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, my sincere apologies and regrets for any unintended embarrassment that he may have been caused by the NBA NEC’s decision.
“I followed up our telephone discussions with the attached letter which explains the circumstances of the decision by NEC. The letter has been sent to Mr. Okauru, both in hard and soft copies. It is apropos that l reproduce in this Release, paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 of the letter for ease of reference by our members:
“ln concluding, I must clarify two critical issues. First, NEC’s decision yesterday had no ethnic or religious coloration or connotation howsoever and whatsoever. In discussing the issue at NBC, nobody talked about religion or ethnicity.
“As I recall, there were no more than 3 (three) advocates for retaining the invitation of the NBA to HE Nasir El Rufai (not including me) and two of these three gentlemen are from the South of Nigeria and one is a reverend gentleman. Conversely, some of those who spoke against his attendance share the same faith with Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and some others come from the Northern part of Nigeria.
“The second point that I must clarify is that NBA NEC, by its decision was not passing any judgment on Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. NBA NEC is not in a position to pass such judgments without having all the facts and hearing from all the sides and it dld not set out to pass any such Judgment.
“NEC merely made a judgment that it was not in the best interest of the Association to be engulfed in the controversy that trailed the invitation of Mallam el-Rufai for the Conference and that it was best if the safety valve of dis-inviting the Governor was applied.
“Indeed, NEC did not howsoever or at all discuss the substance of the issues that have been raised against the Governor by the different groups and persons who clamored for his being dis-invited and there was very considerable clamor in that regard. I perhaps need to mention that, prior to the NEC meeting I had personally taken urgent and strident steps, working with the TCCP, to douse the clamor, but we had no success.
“I truly would appreciate your bringing this letter to the attention not just of HE Nasir e1 Rufai but also to all the other members of the esteemed Nigerian Governors’ Forum and in particular, the Chairman of the Forum, HE (Dr) Kayode Fayemi.
“Please, assure Their Excellencies that the Nigerian Bar Association holds all our Governors, including HE Nasir e1 Rufai, in the highest esteem and would do nothing intentionally to embarrass them collectively or individually.
‘Once again, I offer my sincere and deepest apologies and regrets for the unintended embarrassment that may have been caused to HE Nasir el Rufai by the afore referenced decision of the NBA NEC and would appreciate your passing on my regrets and apologies to him personally.’
Usoro said he drew attention to those paragraphs in order to douse the “ethnic and religious passions that seem to have been inflamed amongst our members by the NEC decision.”
He said he had received several messages from lawyers that attributed ethnic and religious considerations to the decision.
“That is not correct and is very far from the truth. Neither the NBA nor NEC belong 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.”
Usoro also rebutted claims that the NEC infringed el-Rufai’s right to fair hearing before withdrawing the invitation.
He said: “No, it did not. As I point out in my letter, neither the NBA nor NEC set out to sit in judgment against Mallam e1 Rufai and even from that prism, the principle of fair hearing does not apply.
“None of the persons or parties who are opposed to the invitation of Mallam el Rufai to the AGC has been offered the NBA or AGC platform to advocate or propogate their viewpoints and positions and so, the principle of not hearing the other side does not arise…
“I implore all our members to please not view this issue howsoever from an ethnic or religious perspective. Those were not the issues considered by NEC yesterday.”