After exercising a great deal of restraint as a professional body, Muslim Lawyers’ Association of Nigeria (MULAN) is compelled by a catalogue of developments to make this statement on the self-inflicted journey into perdition embarked upon by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) regarding the stereotypical and intolerant manner it treats her Muslim members and matters having to do with Islam. In the past few years, we have observed, with dismay, that successive leaderships of NBA have continued to treat her Muslim members with ignominy and reckless abandon that one would wonder if the Association is truly for all members of the noble profession or a “national body” with regional and religious bias. We shall attempt to chronicle few instances of the religious exclusiveness and insensitivity of the NBA against the interest of her Muslim members and Islam in Nigeria as a whole.
2.0 Exclusion of Muslim Lawyers in the NBA Affairs:
In December 2021, the Olumide Akpata-led Administration of the NBA announced the establishment of NBA Stabilisation Fund and Access to finance for Lawyers. The laudable and much celebrated multi- billion-naira project was financed from our collective patrimony. However, it was structured on interest orientation that puts-off Muslim members that would not want to have anything to do with interest financing. The fact that the NBA did not think about the exclusion of those members, who are in thousands, alone, shows her high level of insensitivity. Without minding the insensitivity, the leadership of MULAN called the attention of the NBA to the implications of the exclusion vide a letter received at the NBA House on 23rd December, 2021, addressed to the President and offered to assist her in the architecture of an inclusive alternative. Despite the fact that the letter was received, the President arrogantly ignored it till date.
The purpose of the exclusion cannot be excused from premeditated impoverishment of a target group.
2.1 Exclusion of Muslim Lawyers from NBA Development Activities.
NBA is a multi-billion-naira association in terms of her annual income from Practicing Fees, donations and local and multi-national partners’ funding. The quantum of Muslim Lawyers’ contributions to the fund is not mean. The funds are expended vide execution of projects and organization of programmes and event through her various statutory and ad-hoc committees. Along with the services rendered by members of the committees, they, in turn, become more exposed and developed in personal skills and human capacity. It is however curious that appointment into these committees has always been awkwardly lopsided that at no time would Muslim members of the NBA form more than ten to twenty percent (10-20%) of any of her committees. For instance, a survey conducted by MULAN in November 2021 revealed the following percentage of Muslims in various committees setup by the current NBA administration: Judiciary Committee – 13%, Welfare Committee – 13%, Remuneration Committee – 7%, Legal Education Committee – 13%, Human Right Committee – 20%, Disciplinary Committee – 7%, Technical Committee on Conference Planning (2022) – 6% etc. the total number and percentage in the whole committees published by the NBA are graphically represented hereunder:
The above story is the same, if not a worse scenario, in the statutory representation of the NBA at the
Boards of governmental agencies like National Communications Commission (NCC), Council of Legal Education (CLE), Body of Benchers, National Judicial Council (NJC), Federal Judicial Service
Commission (FJSC), Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Legal Aid Council (LAC), Human Rights Commission, Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) etc. We challenge the NBA to publish the list of her representatives to those boards in the last twenty years, to prove us wrong that their Muslim Lawyers composition is not more than 20%, if not far less, in any given year.
3.0 NBA’s Insensitivity and Intolerance Towards Muslim Lawyers and Islam
Over the years, Muslim Lawyer have had to bear the pains of participating in NBA programmes without due regard for their collective sensibility. NBA does not show sensitivity to the hardship and inconveniences a Muslim Lawyer goes through participating in her Annual General Conference (AGC) and National Executive Committee (NEC) meetings held during Ramadan fast (AGC Kaduna 2010 and NEC meeting Lokoja, 2017 were held in Ramadan). Dates of NBA conference and NEC meetings which fell in Ramadan were taken as sacrosanct than respect for and convenience of her Muslim members although no conferences were held at all during her leadership crisis of 1993 – 1997 and heaven did not fall. The AGC was also held in October 2021 instead of the usual August. What more of showing lack of respect for Muslims’ need to observe their two obligatory afternoon prayers, as sessions were planned to coincide with the periods, not to talk of failure to provide any space at the event venues for their observance! Again, MULAN leadership wrote a letter to the President of NBA on 21 December, 2021 to express the concern of her members on their experience at the previous and the last AGC and offered suggestions that would show respect for their sensibility. However, NBA felt that the concerns were too trivial and arrogantly ignored the letter till date.
3.1 Cancellation of SPIDEL Conference.
The height of such insensitivity was the recent cancellation of the Section on Public Interest and
Development Law (SPIDEL) annual conference scheduled to hold in Sokoto between 22nd and 26th of May, 2022 without consulting with the Local Organizing Committee, 99% of whom are Muslim Lawyer and to the embarrassment of the State Governor who is also a Muslim Lawyer. The collective psyche of MULAN members and Nigerian Muslims generally was insulted by the NBA when her President announced that the cancellation was “…a mark of respect for the memory of the slain Miss Deborah Yakubu” without the slightest condemnation of her criminal Blasphemy of the holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW). We are privy to the initial position of the SPIDEL leadership on going ahead with the conference based on informed interaction with the people of the state before the President was overpowered by his masters to decide otherwise. We hereby demand immediate refund of the registration fees paid by our members.
3.2 NBA Celebrated Blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) by Deborah Yakubu in Cancellation of SPIDEL Conference
MULAN condemn, in an intensely vitriolic tenor, the blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) by Deborah Yakubu, as her act offends not only her Creator but also the sensibility of the Muslims world over. Her act is an offence under S. 210 of Penal Code Law of Northern Nigeria, Sokoto State Shariah
Penal Code Law 2001 and recognized as such by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in Abubakar Dan Sallah
- State (2007) LPELR 3034 SC. The gruesome manner of her killing without the due process of the law is also condemnable while burning her transgressed the limits set by Allah (SWT). This is by way of emphasis as we had earlier done so in an interview granted to The Punch newspaper which editorial chose to downplay the condemnation of her act and bloated the condemnation of her killing. The Western world that most non-Muslims lookup to as bastion of their civilization has also realized that peaceful co- existence of nations demands respect for others’ religions and Europe in particular has specifically criminalized the blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as red line that must not be crossed in exercise of free speech (see European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) https://english.alarabiya.net/features/2018/10/25/European-court-rules-insulting-Prophet-Mohammed- not-freedom-of-expression-). Rather than toeing this line of international best practice of at least condemning the act of blasphemy, the NBA chose to honour the blasphemer.
It would have been enough an insult to MULAN members in the NBA that SPIDEL conference, for which many of us had registered and served as members of its Local Organizing Committee was postponed without consultation, on security grounds, which would not have been justifiable, anyway, compared to the security situation in Rivers State in 2021 to date. But to hinge the postponement on the memory of the blasphemer was insensitivity taken too far.
4.0 NBA’s Double Standard in the Promotion of Rule of Law
We observe, with consternation, that the NBA has become selective in the promotion of Rule of Law which it set as her motto. Otherwise, how would one explain the recurring development of hastily condemning wrongs committed by Muslims at the risk of relying on unverified social media reports and keeping deaf silence when similar acts are committed by Christians and other non-Muslims. A few examples will drive this point home:
4.1 NBA Held 2021 AGC in Rivers State despite the Killings of Scores of Nigerian Security Men and Cancelled SPIDEL Conference because of the Killing of Deborah
The hypocrisy, double standard and target embarrassment of MULAN members and the Nigerian Muslims in the cancellation of SPIDEL conference is evident in the spate of killings and general insecurity in Rivers State preparatory to the NBA 2021 Annual General Conference, some of which are stated below:
- On 22 April 2021, the US government issued travel advisory to her citizens not to travel to Coastal areas of Nigeria including Rivers states due to crime, kidnapping, and maritime crime. The same day, three (3) people were killed in a clash between Icelanders and Deygbam cult groups. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2021/04/3–dead–as–cultists–clash–in–portharcourt/
- Three days after, 25 April, 2021, eight (8) Nigerian Security men were killed by the so called “unknown gunmen” https://thenationonlineng.net/updated–how–gunmenkilled–eight–security–operatives–in–rivers–checkpoint–attacks/
- On 7/5/21 the same unknown gunmen attacked two police stations and checkpoint, killed 7 police officers and set the stations ablaze. https://guardian.ng/news/gunmen–attack–policestations–in–rivers–kill–7–officers/
- Closer to the conference date, on 19 August, 2021, a man was killed on the campus of Rivers State University while another sustained gunshot injury
- The security threat to lives and properties in the whole of the south-Southern states inflicted on daily basis by “the known gunmen” of IPOB was imminent.
- Immediately after the conference, on 4 November, 2021 on 4/11/21 two policemen were also attacked and killed by unknown gunmen at a check point in the city https://guardian.ng/news/gunmen-kill-two-police-officers-cartaway-rifle-in-rivers/
Despite those imminent insecurity the NBA AGC was held in Rivers State and alluding to our President’s reasons for postponing SPIDEL conference, it was either “the safety of our conferees and guests” in Port Harcourt was not as important as the conference on the face of the above killings or the heavy financial sponsorship of the conference by the Rivers State Governor made risking the lives of members and guests worth the while. It would therefore be fair to say, in comparison, that the NBA-AGC was held in Port Harcourt in 2021 to celebrate the killing of Nigerians, including our gallant servicemen, with the President’s calculated dancing steps to the rhythm of the killers’ gunshot.
4.2 NBA Lost its Voice when CAN Disobeyed Court Judgment on the use of Hijab in Kwara State and Supervised the Killing of Habib Idris.
On 17 March, 2021 crisis erupted in some faith-based public schools in Kwara State over the use of hijab as part of the school uniforms. This was after both the High Court and the Court of Appeal had decided that it was Fundamental Rights of the female students to use hijab in those school in action instituted by CAN in The Incorporated Trustees of Christian Association of Nigeria & 10 Ors. V. Kwara State Government & 14 Ors. (2019) LPELR-48561(CA). A theocratic tyranny was unleashed on the female students of the schools leading to the closure of the schools by the government. While the crisis lasted, the NBA (both local branch and national) that prides itself as a promoter of rule of law, as well as the ceremonial human right activist throughout the country lost their voices. No comment, at least for the Christian bodies to respect judgments of the Courts, was heard. The Crisis over the same issue resurfaced at Baptist High School Ijagbo in the same jurisdiction on 3 February, 2022. The Church leaders supervised the shooting of unarmed Muslim protesters where one Habib Idris was killed and 11 others sustained gunshot injuries. The killing was well published by the Nigerian dailies (See https://www.vanguardngr.com/2022/02/one–killed–4–others–injured–as–hijab–protest–turns–bloody–inkwara/;https://dailypost.ng/2022/03/14/how-hijab-sparked-crisis-at-baptist-secondary-school-inkwara-principal/), yet the NBA refused to say a word. It is not just the killing that NBA was expected to speak about but killing in disobedience of judgment of our courts. It was shameful!
On 30 May, 2021 a Muslim member of the NBA, Ahmed Gulak was assassinated in Imo State by IPOB’s ESN, according to Police investigation report https://dailypost.ng/2021/05/31/police-finally-confirms- ipobs-esn-killed-gulak-in-imo/ but his killers appear to be dearer to our association to be condemned not to talk of taking over their prosecution as it would of Deborah’s killers. What about the killing of 21 Muslim faithful at Gada-Biu along Jos-Zaria Road, Jos North LGA on 14 August, 2021 or that of Major Gen. Alikali Idris (Rtd.) on 3 September, 2018 in the same Plateau State. Admittedly, the country has become so unsecured that commenting on every killing would overwhelm a professional association like ours, yet, it appears NBA chooses to speak only when it is convenient to insult the Muslims.
4.3 NBA reverts to her default Sealed Lips Mode on the killing of Harira and her Children in Anambra State
It is not surprising that after insulting the sensibility of the Muslims on Deborah killing, NBA reverted to her default sealed lips mode when the news broke out of the barbaric killing of the pregnant Harira and her four children in Anambra State. Was it because it was Muslim lives that were involved or because it happened in Anambra, not Sokoto State or because the dastardly act was allegedly carried out by IPOB not Muslim mob that NBA kept sealed lip? While we await what event of the NBA would be cancelled in memory of Harira and her Children or staged in celebration of their killing, as the case may be, we at MULAN condemn in strongest terms, extra judicial killing of any soul be it Muslim’s or non-Muslim.
4.4 NBA Disinvited El-Rufai from Speaking at the 2020 AGC and retained Tony Blair, Obasanjo and Wike despite the petitions on the latter’s worse record of Human Rights abuse.
On 20th August, 2020 NBA decided to withdraw the invitation of Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai as a speaker at her 2020 AGC on grounds of not wanting to get embroiled in the controversy that trailed the El-Rufai’s invitation. The so called ‘controversy’ was based on a petition dated 18th August, 2020, jointly signed by one Silas Joseph Onu and Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Ph.D and hinged on allegation of Human Rights abuse and disrespect for rule of law and democratic values. However, petitions submitted by Justice Concerned Lawyers Forum dated 22nd August, 2020 and signed by lawyers from across the country against each of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Olusegun Obasanjo and Governor Nyesom Wike chronicling worse cases of Human Right abuse and disrespect for rule of law committed by each of them was ignored. Sir John Chilcot Report of 6th July 2016 on Iraq Inquiry which indicted Mr. Tony Blair and his own admission and apology of 24th October 2016 for his role in the Iraqi war was part of the ten (10) issues raised against him. The act of genocide committed by Obasanjo in Odi Community, Bayelsa State in 1999 and in Gbeji, Vaase, Anyiin and Zaki-Biam Communities of Benue State in 2001 were two of the twelve issues raised against Obasanjo’s invitation. Eight (8) points raised against Nyesom Wike included his destruction of Edemete Hotel and Prodest Home on 10th May 2020 for flouting his order of closure without trial or court order.
MULAN also lend its voice to the call for fair play in the NBA promotion of rule of law in her Press
Release of 24th August, 2020 titled: “Selective Justice is an Injustice, Human Rights and Rule of Law are Colour Blind: Awakening Call to the Nigerian Bar Association.” However, rather than heed all these calls NBA preferred to “get embroiled in the controversy that trailed” Blair, Obasanjo and Wike’s invitations but not that of El-Rufai. Although President Obasanjo honourably recused himself from participating in the Conference, others, as encouraged by the NBA, did not toe that path of honour.
5.0 The Path to a Perilous Journey
As mentioned earlier, the constraint of MULAN has been to avoid polarization of the NBA along religious or regional line; yet, the recent unbridled display of insensitivity by her leaders, that portrays a mien of: “Hey! Take it or leave it: that is the norm”, necessitates a word of caution on the perilous journey they have embarked on. We cannot forget so quickly the damage caused to the Association by Paul Usoro SAN-led Administration as a result of religious insensitivity. Like our country, our Association is of people with diverse backgrounds, our diversity would be a tool for greater developments only when we learn to respect one another and implement inclusive policies. It should not be thought that only MULAN has these concerns. Our colleague Sylvester Udemezua Esq., like other fair minded ones, recently posted an article on grossly imbalance regional representation in NBA committee captioned: “TCCP for NBA- AGC 2022 and the Fate of the Federal Character Principle: How is the NBA Leadership showing A Good Example to Traditional Politicians in Nigeria?”
We are glad that the move for a New Nigerian Bar Association (NNBA), with huge subscription across the diverse backgrounds of lawyers, resulting from the previous insensitivities was quickly curtailed. We may however not be that lucky to stop its revival and/or the call for a National Bar Association of Nigeria (NBAN), if the NBA is continually used to exclude a section of her members and insult their collective sensibility.
A word is enough for the wise!
|Prof. Abdulqadir Ibrahim Abikan||Adam Olori-Aje, Esq.|