Monday, September 7, 2020 12:05 am
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
The diminutive, intelligent, even brilliant, and vibrant Mallam Nasir El Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State seems to love and thrive on controversy. From his days as one of the Obasanjo boys and Minister of FCT, policy implementation seemed to end where his loud presence ended. He drove the Abuja Masterplan with the zest of a zealot and made enemies. And created friends through dispensing patronage. Sometimes, the controversies were avoidable. No boss wants an appointee who is always enmeshed in controversies that attract negative attention to the government. Time will tell whether his bosses enjoyed the times when Mallam El Rufai attracted such attention to the government. Now, in Kaduna, El Rufai is government and government is El Rufai. So, any attention he attracts to himself affects our perception of Kaduna State government. And we have not been impressed with the slaughtering going on there. If it is propaganda, the message that he is complicit in the savagery going on in southern Kaduna is deeply abroad.
On the other hand, the NBA is a body of lawyers representing the interests of all lawyers in the country, irrespective of religion, ethnic origins, or orientation. It thrives or should thrive on the rule of law. As the foremost association of lawyers in the country, it must not only protect the rule of law, it must be seen to preserve the rule of law. To be sure, the NBA had made serious mistakes in the past by inviting serving dictators to address their annual conference. Going forward, we do hope that the principle that was applied to El Rufai will be applied across the board in future. In 2018, the NBA gave President Muhammadu Buhari its platform to address the body of lawyers only to receive a hot slap in the face when their guest declared that “rule of law must bow before national security”, a fundamental opposition to the motto of NBA.
El Rufai was in the news recently again after the NBA disinvited him to its annual conference. What caught my attention was the letter of objection which a group of lawyers wrote arguing why Mallam El Rufai should not be invited. They argued that persons, including lawyers who criticized Mallam El Rufai were dealt with by state agents, that he threatened election observers who came to Nigeria in 2019 that ‘they would go back to their countries in ‘body bags’, Mallam El Rufai’s son, himself a Special Adviser to a Senator threatened a citizen who had criticized his father that the critic’s mother would be gang-raped, (there is no record that he chided his son for dancing naked in the public domain) that El Rufai now uses ‘security agents to arrest and intimidate journalists and activists who dare to question their actions or attempt to hold them accountable’. The group alleged that a university lecturer, Abubakar Idris, ‘better known as Dadiyata, was abducted from the gate of his house in Barnawa Kaduna, on 1st August and has not been seen since then. Bashir, one of the sons of El Rufai was said to have tweeted over Dadiyata ‘dangerous lines in the public space have consequences.
These and many more which time and space will prevent me from mentioning are weighty allegations. Is it true, for instance, that Luka Biniyat, a journalist with Vanguard Newspaper, Segun Onibiyo of FRCN have suffered punishment in their places of work because they criticized Mallam El Rufai? Why, one may ask, have their employers danced to the tune played by El Rufai? What has the NUJ done to help these journalists? Should Mallam El Rufai not address these issues and give the other side of the narrative?
Now, to invite a guest speaker is the prerogative of the organisers of the event. To change their minds is also their prerogative. In the NBA-El Rufai matter, ego is involved. Right now, another twist has entered. Two lawyers writing on behalf of some others want to form the New Nigeria Bar Association (NNBA). They objected to the cancelled invite and have decided to form a parallel association for northern lawyers, with the innuendo that will be Muslim dominated. In other words, their objection to the disinvite carried a religious toga. You know, religion is a whipping boy in Nigeria. The lawyers added that they will operate the new association in an ‘indissoluble Nigeria! This suggests that they know that are treading on a very dangerous ground.
If they did not know, let us tell those lawyers and those who reason like them that the unity of the country now is very fragile. There is a narrative out there that one part of the country has seized power and is progressing to appropriating all the natural resources of the land to itself. There are strident underground calls for a pulling apart as IPOB has repeatedly called for. The Yoruba Congress of Elders led by Professor Akitoye has also made references to the creation of a Yoruba nation. By splitting the NBA along regional lines, those two lawyers will be serving a dish that they cannot feed from.
Mallam El Rufai was not disinvited because of his religion or because of his northern background. It was strictly on his human rights records according to the NBA. There is deep disenchantment in the country right now about the use of power by the federal authorities. The impudence of RUGA and the temerity of the Water Resource Bill that attempts to invest power to control water resources all over the country in an incompetent and clannish federal government is inimical to the collective survival of the Nigerian people.
The bottom line in the saga is that public officials should realize that people know when they have taken enough for the owner to notice if I may borrow a proverb from Igbo folklore as captured by Chinua Achebe. Often, we hear that El Rufai wants to be president of Nigeria. The impression he has created of himself is that he is an irredentist. No doubt, he has a sharp mind. And a sharp tongue too. A sharp mind that is negatively deployed to the common good is as vacuous as that of a nitwit!
-Professor Eghagha who writes from the University of Lagos can be reached on 0802 322 0393 or email@example.com