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El-Rufai, NBA decision and the backlash

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Fola Aiyegbusi

SIR: I have been a keen observer of events in the Nigerian Bar Association since 1978, under the presidency of Chief B.O. Benson. The Nigerian Bar Association has contributed immensely to political development of contemporary Nigeria more than any other professional body in this country. The closest to it in my opinion is the Nigerian Medical Association of the Beko Ransome-Kuti years. All through the tenure of past NBA presidents, the presidency of late Mr Alao Aka-Bashorun in 1987-89 was remarkably special and widely acclaimed for its human and democratic rights campaign. He was an activist even as president. His NBA leadership took on the military administration of General Babangida on all known infractions.  The NBA became the voice of the common man under him. Aka-Bashorun had good companies in late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Olisa Agbakoba, Femi Falana and other courageous colleagues who fought the government to standstill on all issues ranging from increase in fuel pump prices to labour issues.  It was like the NBA and NLC were Siamese twins.

This is in no way a prejudice or disrespect to the tenures of Fadairo, Prince Bola Ajibola, all through to Ebele Nwokoye before Aka-Bashorun. But the tenure of Aka-Bashorun was distinctly different.  Maybe because he was Fela’s friend and lawyer, his life was dedicated to the common man just like Fela’s. Therefore, the interest in NBA issues grew beyond lawyers who are technically the only qualified members of the Nigerian Bar Association.

In my humble opinion, the presidential tenures of Mrs Priscilla Kuye, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, Mr Olisa Agbakoba SAN and Mr Rotimi Akeredolu SAN also endeared the public to the NBA and its activities. As it stands today, the issues of the NBA is beyond the NBA, especially its elections, conduct and annual conferences. It will be foolhardy for the NBA not have seen that the association has been politicised as it stands today.

And one could ask why it should not, when it is its members that are the dramatis personas in the current Nigerian political space. So if, or when the current political dispensation collapses, God forbid, the NBA should be partly held responsible. Suffice to say that the association should also be duly credited too if the political dispensation succeeds and flourishes.

Now to the issue of the annual conference invitation extended to politically exposed persons. The NBA to me is right in the first instance to have invited Governor Nasir El-Rufai to deliver a key note address at its annual conference. Almost all professional bodies do equally invite the governors of the state where their annual conferences are scheduled to hold. It is a honour done in good faith in regards to due protocols. Whatever qualifications required for other invited speakers are exclusive to the NBA. I am therefore shocked that the NBA did not envisage the backlash its decision to withdraw the invitation given to Governor El-Rufai has generated within the association. Any close watcher of events around Nigeria’s political sphere in the last decade of our democracy should expect this reaction.  And the big questions are, whether NBA was right in its action to withdraw the invitation based on a petition against the invitation?

Is a person not presumed innocent until found guilty again? If the petitioners against his invitation claimed that El-Rufai has violated human rights, has he been convicted yet? Are the petitioners themselves not acting based on “ethno-tribal-political- religious bigotries”?

Are some of them not apologists of a particular opposition party and former political office holders in the previous administration?

Are their intentions genuine in restoring piece to Southern Kaduna if that were to be the main reason for the petition?

I have read the reaction of the NBA president in the media and I sympathise with the innocent man while I am shocked and surprised that he didn’t expect what he got as backlash. The association stirred the hornets’ nest with the invitation and much more with the withdrawal. I am not a lawyer, but the petition against the invitation should have been thrown out in my opinion. This would have saved the association the unnecessary distraction it had found itself. I am still at cross roads that the NBA as an association does not know it is a MINI NIGERIA, where every issue under the sun is now seen from ethno-tribal-religious and political “eyes”

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