Nasir el-Rufai is hurting. Badly. He is angry. Very, very angry.
It serves him right.
The Kaduna State governor is beside himself with rage because he was booted out of the 60th Annual General Conference of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) which kicked off virtually today.
He is hurting because he was originally billed to be one of the star attractions at the August gathering in August.
He was to rub shoulders with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila; Chief Justice Tanko Mohammed; former President Olusegun Obasanjo; former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; Attorney General and Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami; Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA) President, Brian Speers; and Judicial Institute for Africa Director of Training, Linda Dobbs.
A man in love with the sound of his own voice, and not one to miss such an auspicious platform, El-Rufai had already primed himself to deliver a killer punch of a speech that would damn and, perhaps, silence his critics forever.
But some lawyers, apparently scandalised that such a divisive figure was offered the platform to further spew his obtuse, imperceptive and disruptive rhetoric, protested and demanded he be disinvited as a guest speaker.
The aggrieved lawyers felt that failure to withdraw his invitation would be a bounteous reward for bad behaviour. The NBA leadership acquiesced.
There has been a bedlam ever since. El-Rufai’s supporters are up in arms.
Some of them who are lawyers have threatened to boycott the conference. The deposed Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, made a surprise visit to Kaduna, the first since his dethronement, and took a swipe at the NBA.
“Withdrawing the invite does not show us as people who want progress. Because if you disagree with someone, having him in your hall where you can tell him your views is important and he can defend himself,” Sanusi argued.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar lll, also came calling. The timing of his visit is instructive. According to El-Rufai, he also expressed support for his efforts at bringing peace to Kaduna State.
All these are expected.
El-Rufai, a man of immense political muscle, is well-heeled and entrenched in the power superstructure of the Muslim North. He believes he is one of those who own Nigeria and, therefore, remains infallible, no-matter what he does. The consequence of such sense of entitlement is the vexatious swagger and predatory impunity.
He sees the NBA’s action as ultimate humiliation and will fight back in any way he can.
But even as he plots revenge, he pretends that the NBA’s rebuff does not matter to him. After all, he insists, it was the association that invited him. So, if they decide to withdraw the invitation, it is their problem, not his.
But don’t be deceived by the bold face and braggadocio, the NBA’s stern rebuke is ego-deflating and humiliating to El-Rufai.
So, when he says he “wishes to make clear that he did not seek the platform and is not agitated that he has one less speaking engagement,” it is sheer baloney.
Such antics remind me of the Igbo saying that when a rat escapes a child on a hunting expedition, he dismisses it as a “shit-hole rat.”
El-Rufai surely needed one more, not one less, speaking engagement to continue espousing his jaundiced, cynical and jaded worldview of ethno-religious supremacy.
Such opportunities pump his adrenaline. Denying him is a hit below the belt, a quintessential sucker punch.
Some people have argued, just like Sanusi, that withdrawing the invite was a wrong-headed move by the NBA. To them, the platform would have put him on the hot seat to provide the lawyers an opportunity to grill him.
So, rather than shoving him off the list of guest speakers, a question and answer segment could have been factored into the programme to give Nigerian lawyers the opportunity to engage him and pick his brain.
But what difference would it have made?
El-Rufai, the unapologetically proud and brilliant Fulani, tweeted on July 15, 2012 that: “We will write this for all to read. Anyone, soldier or not, that kills the Fulani takes a loan repayable one day no matter how long it takes.”
He would have used the NBA platform to further espouse his highly skewed narrative aimed at unconscionable ethnic baiting and profiling.
Those claiming that by disinviting him the NBA denied him a fair hearing, are either missing the point if they are truly sincere in their submission or they are simply being mischievous.
It is not a surprise that El-Rufai is hitching a ride on this fair-hearing wagon.
But he has had the fairest opportunity to air his opinion on the ugly developments in his state. He monopolises the bully pulpit of his office. He is a regular face on television and radio talk shows.
Journalists in the print media fall over themselves to avail him the pages of their newspapers, an opportunity the victims of the Kaduna macabre orchestra can only dream of.
But rather than using the bully pulpit of his high office to bring out the best in civic life, he divides the people and insults those who disagree with him.
So, what difference will the NBA platform make? None that I see. If anything, it would have afforded him one more opportunity to spew ethnic and religious hatred, insult his critics and further divide the people.
It is good that he was denied the opportunity. Kaduna, and indeed Nigeria, needs less, not more, of El-Rufai’s incendiary rhetoric.
Those imputing ethnic and religious motive to the NBA’s courageous and commendable action also miss the point. It is, no doubt, a narrative that resonates with the man and one he is actively promoting.
But it is too simplistic.
In the first place, El-Rufai is not the first Muslim from the northern part of the state to govern Kaduna. Ahmed Makarfi, a Muslim, governed eight years with relative peace. At no time did Makarfi incite one ethnic group against another.
El-Rufai was disinvited neither because of his religious belief nor ethnic origin. Among other invitees, Gbajabiamila is a Muslim from the South; Mohammed and Malami are Muslims from the North.
The young lawyers who championed this cause gave their reasons.
In its petition to the NBA’s Technical Committee on Conference Planning, the Open Bar Initiative – an advocacy and justice initiative for lawyers across Nigeria – listed El-Rufai’s lack of “empathy,” statement that invaders “will go back in body bags” ahead of the 2019 elections, the threat by his son, Bello, to support gang-rape of a Twitter user’s mother, routine arrest and intimidation of critics, contempt for judicial pronouncements, among other gripes.
The leadership of the NBA, whose motto is ‘respect for rule of law, democratic norms and values’, agreed with the petitioners and took the heartwarming step of axing El-Rufai from the conference.
That is the crux of the matter.
Last week when I wrote in the article Nasir el-Rufai and the carnage in Southern Kaduna that if he persists in playing whack-a-mole politics with people’s lives, Nigerians must make a conscious decision to call him out, I didn’t know that the NBA would deploy its huge moral authority in doing so.
Will that change anything? We wait and see. But by rebuking El-Rufai, the NBA has done Nigeria a good turn.