By Sonnie Ekwowusi
Last week, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) dramatically withdrew the invitation it had earlier extended to Kaduna State Governor Mallam Nasir El-Rufai to speak at the 2020 Annual General Conference of the NBA slated to hold August 26-29 2020. The gravamen of the charges (emanating from different lawyers including some members of the public) preferred against Governor El-Rufai at the Court of Public Opinion last week, were, inter alia, that since 2015 to date El-Rufai has been fragrantly disobeying court orders; fragrantly disregarding and abusing the rule of law; adopting a laissez-faire or nonchalant attitude to the monumental carnage in Southern Kaduna; making inciting and hubristic comments that had led to the exacerbation of the Southern Kaduna crisis; threatening people whom he feels are opposed to him. For example, on February 5 2019, El-Rufai threatened the international observers covering the last general elections that if they dared interfered with the elections they would go home in “body bags”.
As at last Friday, the www.change.org/p/nigerian-bar-association-help-stop-nasir-el-rufai-from-speaking-at-nba-agc had collected the signatures of not less than 4, 300 witnesses ready to testify in the charges preferred against El-Rufai. The testimonies of some of the witnesses published online are hereunder stated: “As a lawyer, I join my colleagues in condemning d decision to invite Gov.@elrufai of Kaduna State to address the viral conference of NBA. Kaduna has the record of the highest mass murder & extra-judicial killings in the country” (Nnamdi Asomugha Sr Esq.,). “Governor @elrufai has no business addressing lawyers at the @NigBarAssoc. Conference. As lawyers, it is our duty to uphold the rule of law. Courts have found that El-Rufai’s Government has illegally arrested & incarcerated people. I hereby withdraw my attendance from the Conference” (Lugard Tare-Otu Esq.,). “The nomination of Gov. El-Rufai to address lawyers at the NBA conference is a mockery of the NBA & lawyers in general. How can we sanitize the judiciary with such acts? A kingpin in the abuse & disregard of the rule of law to address lawyers? I will not be attending the NBA Conference” (Buka). “As at today, Southern Kaduna is the most active site of massacres and mass atrocities in Nigeria in Nigeria. Despite this Governor El-Rufai dismissed the atrocities going on in Southern Kaduna as “media hype” (Open Bar Initiative). “For fragrant disregard for the rule of law and disobedience to court orders and for saying that he would give money to the killers in Kaduna to stop their killing, El-Rufai lacks moral right to address lawyers” (Femi Falana SAN)
In his defence, Governor El-Rufai, together with his witnesses, has lampooned the NBA for allegedly being parochial and bowing to pressure from anonymous crowd without giving him a fair-hearing. Citing section 3 (6) of the Nigerian Bar Association Constitution & Bye-Law in their testimony for El-Rufai, the NBA, (Bauchi Branch) faults the withdrawal of El-Rufai from speaking at the Conference. It calls on the NBA National Executive Committee (NEC) to rescind the withdrawal failure for which the NBA (Bauchi Branch) would boycott the 2020 NBA Conference. Also testifying in support of El-Rufai, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) construes the NBA withdrawal of the invitation of El-Rufai as a “declaration of war”. It says that the NBA is “parochial, myopic and jejune”. It urges all lawyers from Northern Nigeria to boycott the 2020 NBA Conference. What a prescription for intolerance? It casts the Association in a most unflattering, illiberal hue, totally at odds with the image which we like to project of lawyers as a group that espouses the virtues of liberal democracy-particularly freedom of speech…” (Abubakar Sani Esq.,)
Let me say this again and emphasize it leaving no room for ambiguity: The fundamental issue that calls for determination in this public trial is not the person of His Excellency Governor Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. Far from it. Neither has it got anything to do with tribe and religion. I agree with the out-going NBA President Paul Usoro (SAN) that the trial of El-Rufai has “no ethnic or religious colouration”. The fundamental issue at stake in this trial is the blood of our innocent children, brothers and sisters that is being shed in Southern Kaduna. Therefore any mudsling and rebellious impulses towards tarnishing the image and character of Governor El-Rufai are completely misconceived. El-Rufai, ontologically, is a good person. My closest physical encounter with El-Rufai dates back to his days on the Editorial Board of THISDAY Newspaper. At that time, he stood out for his exceptional brilliance in analyzing national issues. So, Governor El-Rufai is good. Having said this, I wish to reiterate my earlier comment that the main issue in this trial is the spilling of the blood of members of our human family who are in Southern Kaduna. Spilled human blood especially the spilled blood of innocent children inevitably seeks justice. This is why after 55 years the blood of over 1.5 million Jewish Children who were killed during the German Holocaust is still seeking justice today. This is why after 50 years Nigeria has not made any meaningful socio-political progress because the blood of almost two million Biafran civilians (three quarter of them small children) who died from starvation caused by the total blockade of the region by the Nigerian government is still demanding for justice today.. Now, Southern Kaduna is the field of gruesome death. This is a notorious fact requiring no proof. Imagine blindfolding an innocent 3-year old girl and slicing off her head with a machete in Southern Kaduna. In fact no day passes in Southern Kaduna without the shedding of human blood. On August 16 2020, Reverend Adalchi Usman of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) Unguwan /Madaki, Maro Ward, in Kajuru Local Council was killed when a commercial vehicle in which he was riding was ambushed by armed assailants. On 17 August Mr. Bulus Joseph was gruesomely killed on his farm in Sabon Gida Idon, along the Kaduna-Kachia road, in Kajuru Local Council by Fulani militia. On 18 August, Malachy Bobai, farmer and a 16-year-old student Ms. Takama Paul were killed by Fulani militia. I can go on and on.
Rather than remain sober, mournful, remorseful and regretful over the killings, El-Rufai is going about making some statements that suggest that he is playing politics with Southern Kaduna killings. For example, how can El-Rufai dismiss the atrocious killings in Southern Kaduna as “media hype”? Why does he threaten the opposition for expressing different views on the Southern Kaduna killings? The answers to these queries place a heavy moral burden on El-Rufai which he has to discharge. Agreed, El-Rufai is playing politics. But political strategy does not obviate the need to cultivate moral discipline. Contrary to Machiavellianism, the end does not justify the means. For example, a politician cannot commit murder like in Shakespeare’s Macbeth to satisfy his vaulting ambition and feels justified with the words of Lady Macbeth that “a little water cleanses us of this deed”. Pricked by his conscience every man makes amends for his evil deeds. Why? Because justice is not only something dispensed in a court of law: Justice is something profoundly personal. A guilty person might escape human justice in human law court; he might take flight from his guilt through ingenious rationalization, but he cannot escape from the ultimate justice in the recess of his conscience. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s bestseller novel, Crime and Punishment, Rashkolnikov tried to erase his crime from his heart by ingenious rationalization but upon discovering the inescapable basis for ultimate justice in his heart, he went and voluntarily served an eight year prison in Siberia to appease his guilty conscience.
Governor El-Rufai, undoubtedly, is conscious of his place in history. He wants posterity to judge him well. He knows that the people’s judgment albeit not the judgment of the law court carries with it a moral opprobrium and social stigma capable of ruining the character and political career of a politician. This is why he should appease his conscience and amend his relationship with the people today.