The controversy created by the dis-invitation of Kaduna Governor, Nasir El-Rufai by the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) as speaker at its recent annual general conference is getting messier as a splinter group, New Nigeria Bar Association (NNBA), has emerged.
The move has, however, elicited mixed reactions from legal practitioners.
In a statement by conveners of the NNBA, Nuhu Ibrahim and Abdulbasit Suleiman, both members of the Kaduna branch of NBA, yesterday, the group said wide consultation had started across northern Nigeria with senior lawyers to actualise the formation of the new association.
“Members of this association have commenced consultations with very senior lawyers of Northern Nigeria extraction and those practising therein with the view to constituting the trustees and for purposes of fixing date for formal inauguration of the association.
“The inaugural date of the association being apolitical and geared at taking and protecting the interests of lawyers of like minds shall be communicated.
“The recent rumblings from the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is leaving much to be desired within the ranks of concerned lawyers, especially from northern part of the country.
“What has been happening recently has exposed the inability of the NBA to manage and contain the heterogeneity of its members as well as their various interests. Its penal powers has been deployed discriminatively on the basis of ethnicity and regionalism.
“As a body of lawyers who have undergone training towards ensuring the promotion and protection of Human rights and liberties, the NBA is supposed to live above sentiments, regionalism and discrimination on any basis and of any kind.
“Therefore, the NBA cannot afford to be seen not to be upholding the rights and freedom of its own members if at all, it should be seen to be practicing what it preaches. As the Hausa saying goes: “Idan Kura tana maganin zaho, ta yi ma kanta’ (If Hyena has cure for diarrhoea let her use it for herself).
“The New Nigerian Bar Association have been watching activities of the NBA, an association we all looked forward to joining with high hopes before being called to the Nigerian Bar, forcing idiosyncrasies of few on the majority of its members, especially in recent times.
“No wonder, NBA NEC, which is the highest decision-making organ of the association failed to uphold the fundamental principles of fair hearing which in itself, is the fundamental aspect of rule of law, on the allegations against the Executive Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai as were contained in a petition by Chidi Odinkalu Esq., a long time foe of His Excellency and a lawyer of eastern extraction, but the NBA failed to extend the same treatment to Southern invitees who were also petitioned and are also alleged to have committed similar or more human rights abuses than those alleged against Mallam El-Rufai.”
The group said NNBA members, gleaning from the above Constitutional provision feel their interests were no longer taken into consideration in major decisions of the NBA.
Reacting, Paul Ananaba (SAN) said NBA is better and stronger together.
“There are avenues for settling grievances rather than forming new associations. Besides, the issues at stake are not legal issues per se. What is the guarantee that similar issues will not sprout in the new association. It then means we may end up having over 10 Bar associations. I am against it and I advise the proposers to do away with the idea.”
For Dr. Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) and Abiru Akingbolu, the emergence of the factional group portends a bad omen.
On why the move should not be allowed to gain traction, Ajibade, presidential candidates at the last NBA elections, said: “If we fail to stand together as a profession, as we appear to be doing now, we will be unable to withstand the threats and challenges ahead.”
But senior lawyer, Mr. Seyi Sowemimo okayed the splitter group and described the action of the lawyers as a welcome development.
“I am not surprised; I know it will get to this. What will you expect if the leadership of an association is not transparent, association’s election being marred with fraud?”
To me, it is a welcome development, this will bring about healthy competition for the rivalry groups,” he said.
Bayo Akinlade, former chairman, NBA Ikorodu branch said members of the group were free to set up their own association but to be like an NBA, they need the National Assembly to give it statutory flavour.