Less than a week after the announcement of its creation, over 5,000 lawyers have subscribed to the membership of the New Nigeria Bar Association (NNBA), Abdulbasit Suleiman, one of the conveners, has claimed.
The NNBA is a splinter group of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), whose formation was announced in the heat of a crisis among Nigerian lawyers last week.
Shortly after the controversial election of the new NBA leadership, the dis-invitation of the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, to the NBA annual general conference as a guest speaker, turned into a debacle for the association.
Mr El-Rufai’s invitation to the meeting was withdrawn a week prior to the programme over the governor’s alleged violations of the rule of law and mishandling of a security crisis in a part of his state.
But the decision of the NBA leadership to keep Mr El-Rufai away from the conference was opposed by lawyers who alleged political, ethnic and religious sentiments against the governor. In protest, some branches of the NBA in northern states boycotted the conference held last week.
However, the immediate past president of the association, Paul Usoro, denied any other reason than those stated by the National Executive Committee of the NBA for asking Mr El-Rufai to stay at home.
In a letter to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, Friday, the conveners of the NNBA notified the minister of justice of its creation.
According to the letter signed by the two conveners, Nuhu Ibrahim and Abdulbasit Suleiman, the formation of the new association was made imperative by the “activities, disposition and most recently, the decision of the Nigerian Bar Association – NEC which apparently failed to take into consideration our national interests and particularly do not promote the unity of our indissoluble country.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Monday night, Mr Suleiman said the reasons for the formation of the new association was beyond the dis-invitation of the Kaduna governor.
He cited poor welfare conditions of lawyers under the NBA and the partisanship of some leaders of the bar as major reasons for the secession.
“Reasons for forming the new NBA are many but the first is that the NBA is being hijacked by some few cabals. NBA activity is just circulating between some few people. We have more than 200,000 registered members in Nigeria but I can tell you authoritatively that less than 100 people are benefiting from the NBA.
“Most of us are not benefiting from the NBA. We are paying our dues. We follow all the rules and regulations but our benefits and interests are not being protected.
”He said the new association is not to divide the association of lawyers but to create a competition to drive change.
“We are not dividing the bar. We are trying to form an association to create a competition for the NBA. If we have two or more, there will be competing. If we look at developed countries, they have more than one lawyers’ associations. Why must we restrict ourselves to one.”
However, he insisted that the withdrawal of Mr El-Rufai’s invitation was uncalled for.
“We, the conveners of the new NBA, are not a fan of El-Rufai. We all have our reservations on El-Rufai’s government. But since you have invited this man, let’s hear from him- for him to answer our questions before we take any action against him.
“Some people wrote a petition against him without giving him fair hearing. This is against our motto, which is to uphold the rule of law. We did not do that. El-Rufai was not given that opportunity.”