A group of prominent lawyers operating under the name of Open Bar Initiative (OBI) requested the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to withdraw the offer of platform given to Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai at the forthcoming 2020 Annual General Conference of the association.
The Technical Committee on Conference Planning if the NBA headed by Prof Koyinsola Ajayi had chosen to invite el-Rufa as a headline speaker to address the 60th Anniversary Annual General Conference of the association.
The choice of Rufai had unsettled the Nigerian Bar with some arguing that el-Rufai is not a proper person to address the largest gathering of lawyers in Africa whose motto is promotion of rule of law given the rights record of his administration.
Also joining forces with them, lawyers under the aegis of Open Bar Initiative wrote a letter demanding that Rufai’s name be dropped.
The group in a five-page letter addressed to the Chairman of Technical Committee on Conference Planning of the NBA, Prof Koyinsola Ajayi presented a 12 compelling reasons why NBA should act on its request
The letter was signed by past Publicity Secretary of the NBA, Abuja Branch & Coordinator of the Open Bar Initiative, Mr. Joseph Onu.
The Chairman of NBA Board of Trustees, Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) and the President-Elect, Olumide Akpata were copied.
Specifically, the group said whereas the motto of NBA is promotion of rule of law, El-Rufai “represents the very anti-thesis of what we profess to defend…
“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,” it added..
The lawyers therefore proceeded to justify why El-Rufai is adjudged in their estimation unqualified to be offered a platform at the biggest gathering in defence of the rule of law in Africa with instances of the governor’s action between 2018 and 2020 considered inimical to rule of law.
In what looks like a jab on the human rights record of the APC-led Federal Government, the group said NBA should not forget how it offered the same platform to President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018 and he “used it to advance an agenda that is against the motto of the NBA when he asserted that “Rule of law must bow before National Security”.
It however threatened that in the event the NBA is not persuaded to act on its request, the group said “we will take steps to make you and your conference popular and join you in ensuring that the Conference under your leadership enjoys maximum disrepute.”
The letter which appears like a dossier on El-Rufai regime in Kaduna in the last two or three years reads in full:
18 August, 2020
Prof Koyinsola Ajayi, SAN
Chair, Technical Committee on Conference Planning (TCCP)
Nigerian Bar Association, NBA
REQUEST TO WITHDRAW THE OFFER OF PLATFORM AT THE 2020 ANNUAL GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION TO MALLAM NASIR EL-RUFAI
We are a collective of lawyers enrolled to practice in Nigeria and have duly subscribed for our Practicing 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 qHaram/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 practice 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 thatb”Rule of Law must bow before National Security. That is still a very bad stain on the image of the Nigerian Bar even now. Let us not repeat such a reckless mistake as this is even potentially worse
This is why we have chosen to appeal to your professional conscience with a factually founded letter to withdraw this invitation that brings our cherished Association into irremediable disrepute. We hope that you will find our correspondence worthy of your time and our prayers deserving of your attention. If, however, it is the preference of the TCCP, to disregard our very reasonable request, we will take steps to make you and your conference popular and join you in ensuring that the Conference under your leadership enjoys maximum disrepute.
Silas Joseph Onu Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Ph.D.
CC: Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, Chair, Board of Trustees, NBA
Olumide Akpata, President-Elect, NBA