Memo to NBA on Governor El-Rufai

The perceived ‘exodus’ and self-deregistration on the part of some members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) from the upcoming Annual General Conference, in what appears to be presumptive indignation over the inclusion of the Governor of Kaduna State, Gov. Nasir El-Rufai as one of the keynote Speakers at the annual bar conference, is a matter that stridently calls for concern and intervention. In deference to individual idiosyncrasies and perspectives, I am not in the position to cast a stone on the rightfulness or otherwise of Governor El-Rufai’s attendance at the 60th Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association.  However, having consulted with the leaders of this great institution, I am constrained to dispassionately analyse the issues at hand and weigh in on this burning issue matter as a concerned member of the bar. Before proceeding further, I must confess to a subjective opposition to the inclusion of some personalities designated as speakers at the conference but I cannot say I was tempted to deregister myself from participating in the conference thereby.

Further and without prejudice to the various allegations levelled against Governor El-Rufai which includes, among others, the sentiment that he is opposed to the rule of law, I am of the view that it is pertinent to accord him the right of hearing at the conference whereat opportunity will be presented to all to prod, question and appraise at close range, the genuineness or otherwise of the man’s democratic credentials especially as ours is a learned and sophisticated body of people who are expected to be custodians of the law. It would seem to me that even famed activists, assumed sworn democrats, tend to be somewhat changed when they assume executive offices and one must wonder if there is anything peculiar about those positions that causes such a major shift in a person’s earlier perceived character and disposition. “Ohun to koju senikan, eyin lo ko s’elomiran” (one single situation may raise irreconcilable opposing views in different people) is an age old Yoruba wisdom to counsel caution and to encourage dialogue between contending parties.

Hear each other out, they say! That is the voice of the Ages, the infallible voice of the elders from time immemorial.  While the issue at hand is not res integra, it would not be out of place to recall a similar scenario which played out not too long ago at the Annual Conference when the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar was announced as one of the speakers at the conference. His attendance generated a lot of synchronized obloquy due to his alleged involvement in the suspension and undue trial of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen. Although he later could not attend the conference as scheduled, I, and I am certain many more colleagues, had actually looked forward to his presence as I had scribbled down several questions to satisfy my inquisitiveness concerning the intrigues that attended the suspension of the former CJN.  For the selfsame reason, I want to appeal to all to give Governor El-Rufai a chance to defend himself and his policies just as I have counselled myself to do with the other speakers whose inclusion my heart had revolted against. They must have something to say which may be worth hearing.

On Governor El-Rufai and others like himself, permit me to say, there is no doubt that the distance of power between the ruler and the ruled regularly undermines and re-shapes reality as represented to the ruler. We cannot but bring that Yoruba wisdom to mind. Let’s hear him out.  It is therefore imperative in the circumstance that assuming but without stating that Gov. Nasir El-Rufai is guilty of the varying allegations levelled against him, and it would definitely be in the overall interest of the people if a budding dictator is quickly, preferably prematurely, cut to size, it would be a step in the right direction to give him an opportunity to be heard and to attempt to understand in the lucent perceptive, the workings of his mind and the circumstances in which he found himself to occasion such a sharp departure from our expectations of his earlier presumed democratic tendencies rather than giving him up to the stakes. We cannot forget that we are  priests in the temple of justice in which “audi alteram partem” is one of its strongest pillars. To pull that pillar down for one, is to pull it down for all. Again, I say, let’s hear him out.

While I congratulate once again the present Executive of the NBA, the organisers of the conference and I wish us all fruitful and impactful deliberations, I will love to conclude my perspective on this issue with the words of the legendry Late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa JSC (as he then was) that “when we act in unison, we will achieve the peace that we search, but when we are fighting separately, it is not coordinate and if we don’t accommodate one another, we cannot live together”.

Let Governor El-Rufai and others speak. Please.

Dr. Ajulo is a legal practitioner.

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