Some aggrieved northern members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) have pulled out of the group; alleging that the legal body is biased.
The lawyers say they have constituted a new group called New Nigerian Bar Association (NNBA).
This is a fallout of the controversy that ensued after the NBA withdrew its invitation to Nasir el-Rufai, the Kaduna state governor, following a petition against the governor.
Some lawyers had kicked against the choice of the governor, saying the invitation is a “reward for misrule” and alleged that el-Rufai has abused the rights of Nigerians on several occasions.
Another group of lawyers had also called on the NBA to withdraw its invitations to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers state, as speakers for its annual conference — but the request was turned down.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) described the NBA’s action as a declaration of war.
In a statement, the new association said recent developments within NBA have generated increased concern which necessitated their withdrawal from the association.
It said the incidents have “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,” the statement read.
“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.
“The New Nigerian Bar Association have 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.”
The new association said NBA mandatory membership is against the provisions of the constitution which recognises freedom of membership of every association, as provided in section 40.
The lawyers said their interests are no longer taken into consideration in major decisions of the NBA hence the formation of the new association.
“A cursory chronicle of the membership composition of major organs of the NBA would reveal lopsided representation despite having large numbers of lawyers from all parts of the country and especially northern Nigeria who have diligently paid their bar practising fees and have distinguished themselves in the legal profession,” it read.
“The New Nigerian Bar Association feel that lawyers, as professionals like doctors and accountants should have more than one association regulated by the general council of the bar.
“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 the 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.
“Even section 1 of the LPA, which seemingly conscripted all lawyers in Nigeria to mandatory membership of NBA is, for all intents and purposes, at loggerheads with Section 40 of the constitution which makes the former null and void and of no effect whatsoever.”