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Lawyers trade words on cancelation of Sokoto law conference over Deborah’s murder

It is absolutely wrong for our colleagues without locus to be calling for a boycott of the conference when the state government that is hosting is not complicit in this heinous crime unless there is evidence to the contrary-Dr Monday Ubani, Chair, SPIDEL

The brutal murder of Deborah Samuel, the female student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, for blasphemy by her fellow students has tear apart the Nigerian Bar Association(NBA), whose section on Public Interest and Development Law(SPIDEL) is scheduled to have its conference in Sokoto between May 22, and 26.

To be or not to be, is the swansong in the mouth of lawyers as they argued on the propriety of having the conference in the ancient city based on this flagrant abuse of the right to life of the late student who was accused of blaspheming the Muslim prophet, Muhammed.

On Thursday, human rights lawyer, Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa in a statement called on the Chairman of NBA-SPIDEL, Dr Monday Ubani to consider cancellation of the conference, or shift it to another northern state. “I humbly urge NBA-SPIDEL not to hold any meeting or conference in the State where a Nigerian citizen has been brutally murdered and burnt to death. It is barbaric and lawyers should not be seen dancing on her grave in that State”.

Adegboruwa added: “We should make a statement to the government by canceling the Conference and hold it in a neighboring State in the North.

Replying, Dr Ubani advised caution on the delicate issue. While condemning the murder, the SPIDEL Chairman said it was wrong for some lawyers without ‘locus’ to suggest cancelation or transfer of the conference since it was not the state government that committed the heinous crime.

Dr Ubani said: “Gentlemen let us all  be circumspect over the sad Sokoto incident. The barbaric killing is condemnable as no individual has any right under our present jurisprudence to take life except in accordance with due process. Assuming but not conceding that the said lady has committed a written  and known crime, the state alone has the requisite power to prosecute and punish the alleged crime.  Extra judicial killing is not allowed by our laws;

Prof Odinkalu

Having said that, it will be preposterous for someone who is a lawyer  to be suggesting that we should cancel our conference that is billed to take place in Sokoto because of the acts of law breakers in the state. The barbaric act was not authorized or approved by the State Government to our knowledge. In fact the State Government has issued a statement condemning the act and requested that the crime perpetrators be brought to book. Arrests of two persons have been made and we await the outcome of the process;

I have sent a text to the Governor and the AG and requested for a statement that our safety is guaranteed. I am in touch with the President of the Bar,  Mr Olumide Akpata and if there is any  need to take a drastic decision about the conference in Sokoto we will ensure prompt communication to the constituency. It is absolutely wrong for our colleagues without locus to be calling for a boycott of the conference when the state government that is hosting is not complicit in this heinous crime unless there is evidence to the contrary. It is like asking for conferences billed for Owerri to be canceled because of the killings of two army personnel(husband and wife) by unknown gunmen or asking that we cancel conferences in Abuja because of some of the killings that have taken place there recently. Is there any sound logic to such rash requests? Let us be patient and await statement from the appropriate authority sirs.  Please take it easy gentlemen, I plead”.

Adegboruwa fired back in reply: “Learned Counsel and Comrade, your points could have been made without the insults sir.

You were unduly emotional in this, perhaps because you’re directly involved. It is within our right as lawyers to make any call sir, and we don’t, by whatever means, deserve the kind of language you have employed here, to crucify your colleagues.

Malam Yusuf Shehu Usman, killing barbaric and unlawful

I find this totally unacceptable sir. As a leader of the Bar, you’re to represent our interests sir. The NBA exists for the promotion and protection of human rights, the most basic of which is the right to life, which has been brutally violated in this case. I honestly don’t think you should have made this statement sir”.

These altercations opened a floodgate of reactions on social media and in several platforms as lawyers reacted to the murder, and whether or not the Sokoto law conference should go on.

Malam Yusuf Shehu Usman from Lafia, Nasarawa State opined that the killing of Deborah Samuel was wrong and unlawful. “Under the Islamic Shari’ah System the power to punish blasphemy rests in the court and not in the barbaric opinion of a crowd, no matter how pious they may be

The Sokoto Issue can not be supported under any law or reason. It’s murder pure and simple and it must be prosecuted according to the our criminal laws”.

Another lawyer, Femi Njoku said that the SPIDEL conference organizers should take into consideration, life and safety of lawyers that may attend in making decisions. “You are saying the state is not complicit but can the state guarantee your safety in a deeply religiously volatile state such as sokoto. Your number one priority should be emphasis on safety not playing political correctness with the lives of participants. Sokoto has repeatedly proven to not be a safe haven for Christians, the state has done nothing in recent time to show it is reformed and progressive, and you want to assemble a huge chunk of Christian lawyers in a deeply offended state. This is not the time for political correctness, but to take a stand against such barbaric acts with far reaching actions”.

For Callistus Ojike, lawyers must always demand for a just cause. “I think lawyers have the right to demand for a just cause. If the majority of lawyers feel that boycotting Sokoto for another venue is the most potent way for lawyers to drive home the point, so be it. This is one death too many be it in Owerri, Abuja or Sokoto, a human life worths more! How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand and look?

Deborah Samuel, killed for blasphemy Prophet Mohammed

Uchenna Mathew believes that the lawyers conference is more than taking photo op and handshake with Governor Tambuwal and his AG. “The safety of lawyers attending the conference should come first. A Governor who is a senior lawyer and a member of the Body of Benchers is afraid to condemn a heinous crime committed in his domain and you are here asking people to attend a conference in the same place where they can be killed for blasphemy!.

Cleopatra Astor said: “Colleagues without locus”. What does that even mean? Lawyers are calling for the cancellation of an event meant for lawyers. Locus?

The simple point which you are perhaps missing, sir, is that the call for the cancellation signals displeasure with the Sokoto killing. Displeasure that this happened in 2022. Displeasure that this could conceivably have happened in a country governed by a constitution. A country that has no state religion. Displeasure that this has yet happened AGAIN;

Displeasure that the antecedents of government in previous cases, enabled this to have happened yet again. Whether the Sokoto government condemned the killing or not, whether the government was not responsible for the killings does not matter. Did it happen in 2022? Did this barbarism happen in Nigeria, in Sokoto in 2022?

And yet. We. Lawyers in 2022 should go on and hold a conference as though it is business as usual. In the city where such a barbaric act happened. Where thousands have come out to support barbarism. 

We should go sit there in our suits and spout law. No sir. This is what to us is inconceivable. No sir. We have no “locus” to have a conference, to spout law in a place that has so recently, so gruesomely shown us that human rights do not matter. That the Constitution and the laws of the land are rubbish. That the laws do not apply to them and they obey and will be bound only by a law of their choosing.

No sir. We have no locus as lawyers to assemble there at this time. Refusing to assemble there will send a message of our strong displeasure and of our willingness to fight for the enforcement of the rights of all peoples. Our refusal is our voice. Is our stand. And yes sir. We do have a locus”.

“The point made by those lawyers without “locus” is simply that the safety of lives and property is not guaranteed in Sokoto State presently. I haven’t heard anyone arguing that the Sokoto State government is complicit, etc. It is disheartening that you are solely looking at the success of your programme and not the safety of lawyers who are expected to attend the same”, said Elton Benedict.

Prof Chidi Anselm Odinkalu in a long reply to Dr Ubani said: “I am gratified that the Chairman of SPIDEL, my brother, Monday Ubani, MoU, has responded to this horrific incident in Sokoto. Sadly, much of the contents of his statement is beside the point at best. Others parts are gratuitously insulting. It seems clear his statement is more focused on saving a conference, which can take place anywhere, or on NBA politics, which is unending rather than on valorising human life and responsible government. The issues here are clear and his statement fails to reckon with any of them at all. That is why I consider it necessary to respond;

To begin with, if his comparison with Owerri,  Imo State was meant to make any point, it fails. I would oppose the scheduling of any such conference by the NBA or any of its organs in Imo State right now without thinking twice about it and with a clear conscience. That part of his statement I found both cheap & self defeating;

The reality is life has lost meaning in Nigeria. SPIDEL was set up to defend the meaning of human life in Nigeria. I know because I did. In case my brother does not recall, the guarantor of life under our constitution is not the state governor. It is the President. I may have missed it but I am yet to see what the President or Federal Govt has said about this incident. Nor has MoU said that he sent an sms to the President or to Abubakar Malami, since, in his view, an SMS is all that this incident requires. But an SMS addressed to the wrong recipient is not an SMS at all;

We do not need to be lawyers going to a conference in Sokoto to care about pre-Neanderthal killings of Nigerians anywhere in Nigeria. His line about people lacking locus is a  gratuitous insult to a traumatized people;

 I was prepared to suspend the final decision on participating in Sokoto until I heard from the leadership of SPIDEL. Having now heard from them, it is clear to me that they do not get the significance of this issue. I am now convinced that I will be unable to accept an invite to participate in the SPIDEL conference;

So, I, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, am canceling my participation. I will, in addition, actively campaign against the meeting. Everyone has to make their own decision. The SPIDEL leadership has taken its decision. I have taken mine. This is a matter of conscience”.

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