One of the conveners of the New Nigeria Bar Association (NNBA), Abdulbasit Suleiman, has said over 5,000 lawyers have shown interest in joining the proposed body of lawyers.
The intending members are from the North and seven Southern states, Suleiman said.
He said prospective members had been asked to compile lists in their branches across the country.
Those who have subscribed to NNBA membership, he added, included Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) from the North, though no SAN from the South had indicated interest.
Last Thursday, two Kaduna-based lawyers, Nuhu Ibrahim and Suleiman, announced the formation of the NNBA.
They said this followed the Nigerian Bar Association’s (NBA’s) withdrawal of an Annual General Conference (AGC) speaking engagement it offered Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, among other grievances.
But the decision of the NBA National Executive Committee (NEC) was mostly opposed by Northern or Muslim lawyers who alleged political, ethnic and religious bias against the governor.
In a protest, some branches of the NBA in Bauchi, Dutse (Jigawa) and Kaduna (Muslim lawyers) boycotted the conference, which held last week.
But the immediate past president of the association, Paul Usoro, denied any other reason than those stated by NBA’s NEC for asking El-Rufai to stay away.
The NNBA promoters have notified the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) of their plans in an August 28 letter by Ibrahim as Convener 1 and Suleiman as Convener 2.
Suleiman said the conveners had also written similar letters to the Attorneys General of the 36 states.
He added: “I never called for only lawyers from the North (to join NNBA); it was a general call. We are all lawyers, we are brothers. So, it is not restricted to Northern lawyers only.
“I am not a northerner; I am from Oyo State, Ogbomoso. Nuhu Ibrahim is from Kaduna, Southern Kaduna, to be precise.”
Suleiman explained that although he could not confirm the exact number of lawyers that had indicated interest to join NNBA, they were more than 5,000.
“I can’t give the exact figure. Some minutes ago, I received a call from Lagos, from some lawyers who said they were interested. So, I directed the lawyer to compile the list over there. So, we are still counting, and I can’t give you a particular figure now,” he said.
According to him, legal practitioners from at least four other Southwest states had indicated interest.
“Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti too called. They have been calling on behalf of themselves and their colleagues over there. We’ve been asking them to compile their lists over there, to know how many lawyers are coming over from there, before we now make a general list and make it available to the public…
“We also have lawyers from Anambra and Rivers states.”
Suleiman claimed that the proposed NNBA had the backing of several SANs.
“We have SANs among us. I received calls from SANs and other senior lawyers… They said they are behind us. So, rest assured that we have all lawyers from all levels. There are senior and young lawyers among us.
“For now, no SAN from the South, but we have some senior lawyers. We’ll be approaching state Attorneys General. We have sent letters to them already. They should be receiving the letters from today (yesterday). They were sent by courier service.”
On the funding of the roup’s activities, Suleiman said: “We are using our personal money to do this.”
The group did not foreclose reconciliation with the NBA.
Some SANs, including Chief Mike Ozekhome and Mallam Yusuf Ali, have called for caution over the formation of a new body of lawyers.
Ozekhome urged the conveners of the NNBA to have a rethink.
In a statement, Ozekhome cautioned that dividing the NBA along ethnic and religious lines “will further magnify the nation’s existing and troubling fault lines”.
“I, therefore, humbly pray that Nigerian lawyers, our respected Elders of the Bar, eminent Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria; Benchers, the NBA, Council for Legal Education, the young lawyers in their thousands, the Academia, the corporate tendency of the Bar, all religious clerics and patriotic Nigerians, should dissuade those who are aggrieved and threatening to form a new Bar.
Ali called “for understanding and caution” among aggrieved lawyers.
He advised that if in the future such a split becomes necessary, “it shouldn’t be borne out of disagreement. It should be something that comes because our numbers have become so huge and that there are needs. It should also be a pan-Nigerian thing”.
In another statement, Mr. Jibrin Samuel Okutepa (SAN) noted that without an amendment to the Legal Practitioners Act, there is only one Nigerian Bar.
But he stressed that any aggrieved lawyer could constitutionally opt out of the NBA.