A report that a group of lawyers from the northern part of Nigeria have formed a parallel body known as New Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) portends a sad development in the evolution of the nation’s judiciary, which is the third and most critical arm of government in a democratic dispensation
In a recent statement jointly issued by Mr. Nuhu Ibrahim and Mr. Abdulbasit Suleiman, the lawyers said they came together with the aim of protecting their interests as encapsulated under Section 40 of the Constitution. The action is a fallout of the uproar generated within the NBA over the withdrawal of the invitation earlier extended to Kaduna state Governor Nasir El-Rufai as guest speaker at the recently concluded 60th annual national conference of the body.
The development, it is believed, may have torn the body into shreds and leaving it tattered, particularly coming at a time a group of lawyers were issuing similar threat from the South-west. Although some northern lawyers, particularly from Kaduna and Bauchi states, threatened a boycott of the event, the conference still held but not without some level of opposition from members.
Expressing their angst, the aggrieved lawyers said recent developments within the NBA had exposed the inability of the body to manage and contain the heterogeneity of its members as well as their various interests. It said the rumblings within the NBA leave much to be desired within the ranks of Concerned Lawyers, especially from the northern part of the country.
The statement reads: “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 have 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 practising what it preaches. As the Hausa saying goes: Idan Kura tana maganinzaho, ta yi ma kanta (If Hyena has cure for diarrhoea let her use it for herself).
“The New Nigerian Bar Association has been watching the 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.
“It is pertinent to state that the NBA membership as currently constituted can be termed “Mandatory Membership Association” which, for all intents and purposes, is against the provisions of the Constitution since the ground-norm recognises freedom of membership of every Association. Section 40 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 provides as follows:
“Every person shall be entitled to assembly freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any Association for the protection of his interests.
“The New Nigerian Bar Association members, gleaning from the above Constitutional provision, feel that their interests are no longer taken into consideration in major decisions of the NBA hence the formation of this association.
“The Legal Practitioners Act (LPA) which regulates the legal profession in Nigeria did not establish the NBA. In fact, the NBA was established as an Incorporated Trustee by Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). It is no longer gainsaying that a group of Lawyers can freely join any lawful Association for the protection of their rights and interests as Lawyers and citizens of Nigeria pursuant to the above cited Section 40 of the Constitution.
Notifying the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) of the their decision, the group said the NBA had failed to take cognisance of national interests in its activities.
Raising similar threat, a pan-Yoruba lawyers group – Egbe Amofin (South-West Lawyers’ Forum) vowed to pull out of the NBA if some perceived anomalies around the election of 47-year-old Olumide Akpata as its new NBA president were not resolved.
Although we concede the right to belong to or form any association guaranteed by the constitution, we appeal to members of the NBA to shun all forms of divisiveness while exploring every peaceful avenue to settle their differences amicably. This has become imperative as a house divided against itself can never stand.