Aeroplane “driver” and our free fall

AMERICA never knew what ordinary tuber can cause until 1992 when Vice-President Dan Quayle was visiting Rivera Elementary School in Trenton, New Jersey, and forayed  into facilitation of a spelling bee. William Figueroa, age 12, was called to the board to demonstrate how to spell “potato.” With a stick of chalk Figueroa carefully spelled the word correctly on the board. The student stepped back, satisfied—until the Veep  himself urged the young man to add another letter on to the end to make the spelling “correct.”

Despite the ensuing applause from the adults in the room, Figueroa knew he had spelled it correctly the first time. “I kept thinking, ‘How the hell did I spell ‘potato’ wrong?’” he later said. When a reporter pressed him further ,the boy quipped “Future American Vice-Presidents should study hard.”

What most people don’t know (or don’t remember) is that Quayle was looking at a flash card provided by the school that had the “correct” answer on it, spelled incorrectly. So, yes, Quayle did mess up—but so did the school.

Whether Quayle should have known better (yes) or the school should have known better (yes), that one little letter was the vowel heard around the world, damaging Quayle’s credibility and adding to the public’s perception that the vice president wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box. Quayle was embarrassed by the incident.’ He later wrote in his memoir, Standing Firm, that “It was more than a gaffe. It was a ‘defining moment’ of the worst imaginable kind. I can’t overstate how discouraging and exasperating the whole event was.”

What made Quayle a laughing stock in America would not have meant so much in Nigeria, a land full of it,a country that boasts of some best in the world but whose affliction is that  its cream does not make it to the top.

Those who are 50 years and above would remember so well  Alhaji Barkin Zuwo, the Kano State governor during the Second Republic. Zuwo was a  successful businessman before he came into politics,  but he couldn’t acquire  basic education. He became a comic character and a press delight because of his crass  ignorance of the  simplest terms and  mumbling of English meanings of words, sentences and phrases.

When asked about his running mate, Zuwo  who was  a PRP man, referred to his NPP counterpart, ‘’that boy, Rimi, he has been chasing me all around.’’ Asked if his state had any minerals of note as part of natural resources, the governor fired back, ‘’kai … mineral berekete for Kano…akwoi Fanta, akwoi Coke, akwoi…’’

The Buhari/Idiagbon coup that toppled the Shagari government on December 31, 1983, denied the press one of its greatest comic figures. Zuwo  had a parting shot for the media as  banked in his numerous bedrooms  bags  full of cash – state money!

And when he was put on trial, he ignorantly but funnily said “Government money in government house, what is the problem in that?”

One politician who has provided comic relief of Zuwoan dimension is Hon. Muhammad Kazaure Gudaji of the “Nigerian economy is doing like this” fame. His speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives usually make people to practically roll on the floor.

The member of the green chambers once offered to finish off Boko Haram when he said, “Let the President appoint me. I will delegate a team to go inside the bush with myself to finish those idiots. I am a hunter. I know all these bushes. I am a professional hunter. I can delegate a team of hunters. Let the government give us Army and Police, we will go inside that bush. I will lead it. Even if it is tomorrow, I will lead.”

I wonder if the reason this assignment has eluded him from the government is either because he is not taken serious or if his offer would remove the  fight against insurgency as a budget line.

If Zuwo and Kazaure are of so much entertainment value,I doubt if the recently screened and confirmed Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammad Tanko, would not draw tears instead of joy from perceptive Nigerians .

And it was no accident that it was a former Education Minister, Dr Obi Ezekwesili,  who brought the issue to the attention of Nigerians on Twitter on Thursday to showcase the leadership crisis which afflicts  all the tiers and arms of government across the country.

She tweeted: “Do we need to be told that there’s a quality of leadership crisis in our country? It’s across board; the executive, legislature, judiciary; federal, state and local. “That Senate hearing with Justice Tanko merely reminded us of the depth of our leadership crises. Better own our crisis.”

A video clip showing part of Tanko’s confirmation hearing, which has since gone viral on the Internet, has sparked a major debate about the judge’s capabilities.

The CJN had been asked a question by the Senate Majority Leader, Eyinnaya Abaribe, to explain if the Supreme Court under his watch would be more concerned with delivering judgments based on the merit of cases or technicalities of such cases.

Abaribe had asked, “In the 2018 case of Akeredolu vs Abraham, the Supreme Court said, ‘technicality in the administration of justice shuts out justice’ and went further to say, ‘it is therefore better to have a case heard and determined on its merit than to leave the court with the shield of victory obtained on mere technicality’.

“This is the Supreme Court, so we are very happy with that. But My Lord, just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court also said, ‘The correct order is to declare the judgment of the trial tribunal a nullity as a result of one of the panellists not sitting on the day proceedings were held’.

“And so Nigerians are really worried. Where would the Supreme Court stand under you? Where would justice be and what we can expect from the Supreme Court under you?”

In his response, however, the CJN attempted to define what a technicality means.

Tanko defined a technicality as something technical and went ahead to compare a technicality with the inability of a judge to effectively fly an aeroplane.

The CJN, however, failed to say if the apex court under him would ensure that the need to ensure that justice is served would supersede mere technicalities.

He said, “Permit me distinguished senators to ask what a technicality is? It is something which is technical. By definition, it is something that is not usual and may sometimes defy all the norms known to a normal thing. Now, we have technicalities in our laws and this is because these laws we have inherited were from the British.

“The British people centuries ago introduced what is known as technicalities in their laws. Now, if something is technical, it is giving a leeway for double interpretation. It may be interpreted in one way by Mr A and another way by Mr B.

“Now, if something which is technical comes before the court, what we do in trial courts is to ask people who are experts in that field to come and testify. We rely on their testimony because they are experts in that field.

“Ask me anything about an aeroplane, I don’t know; ask me to drive an aeroplane (sic), I am sure if you are a passenger and they told you that the flight is going to be driven (sic) by Honourable Justice Ibrahim Tanko, I am sure you will get out of the plane because it is something that requires technicality and if I have any technicality, my technicality will only be limited to law. Therefore, it is something that has to do with the perception or the way you will be able to achieve the goals you want to achieve.”

Would this have been the response of some of the greats  the Supreme Court ever produced like Andrew  Obaseki, Anthony Aniagolu, Kayode Eso, Chukwudifu Opua, Alfa Belgore, Adolphus Karibi-Whyte, Philip Nnaemeka-Agu, Olajide Olatawura, Dahiru Musdapher, Samson Uwaifo, Michael Ogundare and Legbo Kutigi, among others?

A look at the career path of Justice Tanko showed he was appointed Chief Magistrate/Deputy Chief Registrar, High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja from 1990 to 1991. From 1991 to 1993, he was appointed as Kadi (Judge) of the Sharia Court of Appeal, Bauchi State.

Justice Muhammad was elevated to the position of Justice of the Court of Appeal from 1993 to 2006. His Lordship was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2006 and was sworn in on the 8th of January 2007, the appointment he holds till he was recently nominated Acting CJN and now substantive CJN.

That  the CJN at the twilight of his career would  not know you fly (not drive!) a plane speaks of the crisis of the cream not making it to the top in our country where factors outside excellence determine those who lead.

No matter how technical technicality is according to my Lord,the words of  John Davisson Lawson applies to our society :

“In this country to-day, society is demoralized; the old respect for law is disappearing, crime is triumphant for the reason that it has become the rule of action with our appellate courts, that the penalties consequent upon the commission of a great crime may be escaped by a criminal, because of the unintentional committal by the prosecution of an error of procedure.”