El-Rufa’i/NBA tango: Sign of failure in nation-building -By Olaolu Oladipo

An earth-shaking event of equal epochal proportion occurred in the country recently, which shook the very foundations of our collective existence as a nation. The event also showed nakedly, the steepness of two of Nigeria’s fault lines: religion and ethnicity.

A seeming innocuous decision, which was reached at the National Executive Council meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association to withdraw an earlier invitation, which was extended to the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufa’i, as a guest speaker in a talk shop on ethnic identity being put together by the leadership of the NBA is threatening the collective wellbeing of the country.

The governor alongside his counterpart in Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, as well as former President Olusegun Obasanjo and others had been scheduled to speak at the event, which forms part of activities marking this year’s national convention of the association.

The withdrawal of the invite, coming from a premium association such as the NBA, would have added a positive fillip to efforts to hold government and its officials accountable for their deeds and misdeeds while in office but that s not to be as it unearthed the deepness of our religious division in a negative manner.

Hardly had El-Rufai reacted when a motley horde of sympathisers began to line up behind him. A series of commentaries from this group suggest likely bias against the controversial politician.

In equal measure were those opposed to this line of thought who have continued to maintain that the association acted in the overall interest of members who petitioned that the diminutive administrator be barred from taking any part in the event.

There won’t been any need for worry if the debate on the move by the two camps are healthy and intellectual, rather, the talking points have continued to suggest that the action had other ulterior motives behind it other than what the public had been made to believe.

In all the discussions, both in the conventional and social media, ethnicity and religion seem to be the incentives for taking a position. Members of the NBA and other Nigerians who have become observers in the unfolding drama have taken their reading towards the tendency to expose our fault lines as a nation, a very dangerous movement towards the precipice if not nipped in the bud.

For instant, a certain scholar and religious activist, Professor Ishaq Lakin Akintola, was the first to urge northern lawyers to boycott the event in solidarity with El-Rufa’i. Hardly had Akintola’s call simmered down that some elements in the association, the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria rightly and justifiably called on the leadership of the association to mete out the same disciplinary measure on Obasanjo and Wike, saying they too are guilty of flagrant disobedience to law and order whilst they held positions of leadership.

Sensing dangers in the demands of both Akintola and MULAN, the already jittery leadership of the NBA now gave an open cheque to MULAN to nominate another ‘Muslim’ governor and they did by naming the new kid on the bloc, Governor of Borno State, Professor Baba Zulum, as El-Rufa’i’s replacement.

The decision of the NBA further exposes it as a body that lacks internal democracy in decision making as the crisis would have been averted had due diligence been carried out prior to the announcement of guests. The justification that the invitation was withdrawn based on opposition of members is somewhat an afterthought to douse raging religious tension in both the NBA and the country.

Members of MULAN too have some blame even though their action is justified. One would be tempted to ask them to show Nigerians some of the interventions from them as a corporate entity to the numerous security infractions in the North, particularly in Kaduna to warrant their stance on the invitation withdrawal controversy. To me, this is a case of “I stand with my brother, even though he is an offender.”

Contrary to popular belief, the killings in Southern Kaduna have affected adherents of both religions not just one, a situation that would have warranted the Muslim lawyers to influence some positive changes, rather than take sides. Muslims have been killed, so also Christians too.

To the man at the centre of the controversy, this action should be seen as a public verdict regarding his leadership ability. This is because the issue of the Southern Kaduna crisis predated his regime.

But his action and disposition to finding an enduring solution to it have largely been muted.

 It would be wrong to conclude that his administration has not done enough to end the crisis. He might actually be trying his best but the fact that the needless carnage has lingered on for too long, which gives room for some to conclude that there exists some official laxity somewhere.

The major noticeable symptom of the crisis is the fact that we have failed as a people to forge national consensus on the issue of collective national identity. By this, I mean collectively, Nigerians have failed in the task of nation-building in a sustainable manner that would engender love towards the common destiny as encapsulated in what would have been the Nigerian Dream that all Nigerians should subscribe to.

This is what we should all aim at in a nation composed mainly of an intelligent, hardworking, boisterous and forward looking populace considering the fact that Nigeria has the manifest destiny to lead the black race to glory.

Olaolu Oladipo wrote in via omoetiri@gmail.com

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