"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: A “Technically” Incompetent Chief Justice of Nigeria

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A “Technically” Incompetent Chief Justice of Nigeria

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

A trending video clip of the senate confirmation hearing of Chief Justice of Nigeria Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, which shows him betraying mortifying ignorance of the meaning of the term “technicality,” aggrandizes the point I made in my April 20, 2019 column titled “Atiku’s Citizenship and Buhari’s Illiterate Lawyers” about Buhari’s love affair with incompetence and mediocrity.

I noted that, “The law of attraction says like attracts like, which explains why Muhammadu Buhari is a magnet for mediocrities. Almost all his appointees are, like him, underwhelming, intellectually incurious rubes.” Justice Tanko is the latest instantiation of Buhari’s passion for attracting and elevating people who mirror his own well-known incompetence and witlessness.

First, here is a brief background for people who are not clued in on the exchange that exposed the soft underbelly of the awkward, cringe-worthy ignorance of Nigeria’s Chief Justice. Senate Minority Leader Enyinnaya Abaribe asked Tanko if he thought it made legal and moral sense to pervert the merit of cases before the Supreme Court on the basis of “mere technicality.”

Abaribe reminded Tanko that, “In the 2018 case of Akeredolu vs Abraham, the Supreme Court said, ‘technicality in the administration of justice shuts out justice.’…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.”

Nevertheless, in spite of the legal precedent the Supreme Court has set regarding the primacy of legal merit of cases over their technicalities in the dispensation of justice, Abaribe pointed out, the Supreme Court this year ruled against PDP’s Ademola Adeleke of Osun State not because his case lacked merit but on the basis of a frivolous technicality.

All this passed over Tanko’s head. He had not the haziest idea what “technicality” meant and went off on a puzzling tangent. “Permit me, distinguished senators, to ask what a technicality is,” he said. “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.”

Ha! You can’t make this stuff up! He continued: “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 [sic] an aeroplane, 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.”

If I didn’t watch the video myself, I would have dismissed the response attributed to Tanko as an ill-willed spoof intentionally designed to diminish his estimation. Although I know that spectacular ignorance and vulgar loyalty are the most crucial criteria to be considered worthy of consideration for appointment in Buhari’s regime, I am still distressed both by the disconcerting know-nothingness Tanko evinced in his response to Abaribe and by the fact that he is head of Nigeria’s judiciary.

Tanko isn’t just any judge; he is the Chief Justice of Nigeria. He didn’t just study law; he has a Ph.D. in law from one of Nigeria’s finest universities— at a time when Nigeria’s education supposedly still had integrity. And facility for and proficiency in language (in Nigeria’s case the English language) and logical disputation are as central to the job of lawyers and judges as farming instruments are to the job of being a farmer.

If Tanko doesn’t know what a “technicality” is, what does he really know? Every averagely educated person knows that in conversational English, a “technicality” is an unimportant detail, a triviality. In law, it means a procedural trifle. This legal sense of the term is now so commonplace that it has diffused to everyday discourse. Why would a judge of nearly 40 years’ standing, a PhD in law, and the head of the nation’s judicial branch of government not know what a technicality is?

But what is even more disquieting is that Tanko inadvertently revealed ignorance of the precedent established by the Supreme Court in which he has served for more than 12 years. Had he read the Supreme Court judgement Abaribe referenced, he would have at least encountered the word “technicality.” He apparently wasn’t, probably still isn’t, aware that the Supreme Court had even laid a precedent that says the Court should not use procedural inanities to subvert the legal merit of cases.

It must be precisely this ignorance that led the Supreme Court to dismiss Ademola Adeleke’s bid to retrieve his stolen mandate from the current governor of Osun State. The Supreme Court didn’t even evaluate Adeleke’s weighty, water-tight case against Oyetola; it ruled against Adeleke just because one of the panelists on the election tribunal that had restored Adeleke’s stolen mandate was absent for one day out of the 180 days the election tribunal tried the petition. 

That was a bewildering reversal of the Supreme Court’s own precedent. All over the world, courts rely on precedents to adjudicate current cases. Precedents may be modified, but they are rarely overturned without a compelling reason, certainly not within a few years after they were established. That is what legal scholars call stare decisis, that is, the doctrine that courts should follow precedent. A Chief Justice that is ignorant about something as basic as “technicality” is unlikely to know what “precedent” means, much less something as rarefied as the doctrine of stare decisis.

After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Oyetola, I wrote on social media that the ruling was judgment, not justice. In spite of suppositions to the contrary, “judgment” and “justice” are not synonymous. Some judgements pervert justice. The Adeleke vs Oyetola case is a classic example of that. Sadly, the distinction between judgement and justice will become starker, bolder, and more invidious now that we have an unbelievably ignorant and incompetent Chief Justice who heads a Supreme Court that's now an unabashedly "remote controllable" extension of Aso Rock.

 Even feeble pretenses to democracy and decency are now dead in Buhari’s Nigeria. Atiku Abubakar’s petition against Buhari’s unexampled electoral fraud has no chance of success in a Supreme Court that overturns its less than one-year-old precedent, that is headed by a nescient and inept chief justice who doesn’t know the meaning of basic terms that are crucial to the administration of justice, and who owes debt to an audacious electoral mandate snatcher for his position.

What is perhaps even more regrettable for me as a northerner is that Tanko has helped to feed the stereotype of the northern know-nothing who owes his rise in society to incestuous northern nepotistic patronage networks. Of course, it’s unfair to hold up Tanko’s obvious cognitive inferiority as representative of all northerners. There are way smarter, more educated northern lawyers than Tanko who nonetheless vegetate on the fringes.

 Our problem in the north has always been that we don’t put forward our best eleven, to use the common soccer analogy. We are often led by our worst. And we are all judged by the crass ignorance and indiscretions of our worst who nevertheless become our public face. Buhari is taking the elevation of wretched ignoramuses to important positions to the next level. How utterly sad.

39 comments:

Unclebenz said...

How utterly sad Prof. Perversion of justice is worse than boko haram. What then is the fate of common man like me? When will this end?
When will the likes of F Kperogis, Omokris, FFKs of this world, detribalized highly cerebral patriots be allowed to play critical role in the affairs of this nation. Kperogi, I sincerely want to explore outside this country if I could find the means. Am really tired of this country

Oscar Olotuche said...

As it stands, justice may go on sabbatical until this tenure ends

Unknown said...

God bless you for this, spot on sir!

Anonymous said...

Excellent article especially the last paragraph. However, we should not exaggerate Buhari's role in the CJN's appointment since it is seniority that primarily determines who succeeds a CJN. Buhari only helped by removing Onnoghen and fasttracking a succession. Even on that Tanko would have succeeded Onnoghen eventually without Buhari's help. Buhari only quickened it. I agree that Tanko's answer is probably one of the most schocking developments in our judiciary in recent times.

Ahmed Abdulrahman said...

Hope we wont live to witness such an antiquated administration again as a Nation. Its nothing but wasted years.

Igube Z. Cletus said...

The axe keeps hacking the tree, yet the tree keeps voting the axe!
Sad!

Binobii said...

Nice piece.

Funny enough as you mentioned, Our supreme court under Justice Tanko, is a remote controllable extension of Aso rock. This is too bad for our Judicial system - where judgement is preferred over justice.
Too bad we are in this mess.

Unknown said...

Sad enough, in Nigeria we have a lot of judges who only read judgements that are not written by them.

Unknown said...

Any attempt to cover the facts brought out so succinctly in this write up would be an exercise in futility. Incredible!

saharagoat said...
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Anonymous said...

Perhaps the judge is talking down at the senator as you would, to trick a child.

Whek said...

The north actually had the likes of Mohammed Bello, Alfa Belgore, Muhammad Uwais, Kuta and co. Perhaps, as you rightly pointed out, the problem is with Buhari's penchant for attracting mediocrity and his incestuous nepotistic disposition to governance.

Adeyeye Bola said...

Prof, some of us southerners don't generalize. I had my early school in the middlebelt where I met some outstanding northerners like myself(a southerners). I've gave up on Buhari's Nigeria February 2019.

Gabriel said...

It's really sad we have an aeroplane "driver" as the chief justice of the federation and the worst part of it is how he got to such level and was still confirmed by the senate

Wiri Malosan said...

I also pitied Atiku after I watched the video. Another point of note was how the man was constantly making references to his experience as a magistrate in Bauchi. Does it mean there are no related instances he can recall when he was a High Court judge or in the court of Appeal? I think one is not wrong if he said PMB elevated magistrate to the highest position in the judiciary .If I were Atiku, I will just make my evidence public . His petition can only get justice in the court if public opinion.

Ebuka said...

Buhari has bastardised everything in Nigeria.
He bastardised the Economy and the political arena, since this year he has also bastardised the Legislature and the judiciary

Abubakar jabo said...

Yes, I concur,even without Buhari ,Tanko will certainly succeed immediate past CJ

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Unknown said...

What a lovely write up!

CPaul said...

Yeah. This is the tragedy that is Nigeria. However, Buhari is not on a lone ride in his quest to destroy Nigeria on all fronts. His fellow sojourners from the West, East, North and South of this nation, revel instead of shrivel, in this deathly drumbeat played by the President. The blood of the innocents shed in the pursuit of their personal prosperity shall colour their cursed tombs. That will be their posterity.

Adamu Minister said...

He define technality according to his own definition, but he explain driving aeroplane as technicality, I wonder he never relate technicality to his profession. Next time he will explain technicality as driving bicycle.

Unknown said...

Omokris and FFKs you said? I role my eyes for you. Were you out of town (as you are planning to do again) when your FFK was the minister of aviation? Has he done answering for the fraud he perpetrated at that time? I wonder how the mind of an average Nigerian works.

Unknown said...

When i grow up, i would like to be like Prof. Farooq Kperogi.

Accolades, Sir.

Anonymous said...

It is impossible for him to not know what technicality means. You cannot expect him to answer the question directly.

The rubber stamp senate and the judges are only playing their parts in the drama called democracy. Real government happens in sound-proof rooms, at night.

Anonymous said...

In a phantom fight of corruption under PMB, people like Ganduje aka Gandollar of Kano State is as clean as whistle while everyone who opposes PMB is corrupt. Please tell us another story.

Prof Prince said...

It's simply pathetic. We are doomed as a nation with the likes of Tanko heading the Judiciary.

Unknown said...

I no longer have confidence in our judicial system, I'm just waiting for God's will to take effect.

Anonymous said...

The whole system of appointment to Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria (i.e. courts staring from the various High Courts in Nigeria up to the appelate courts) and elevation to the appelate courts needs an immediate review. Hon. Justice Tanko (a mediocre judicial officer) rose thru the ranks of the Nigerian Judiciary and has now found himself as the most senior judge in our Supreme Court. It behoves on PMB to send his name to the Senate for confirmation, by virtue of his position in the seniority hierarchy! I agree that the north never puts forward its best eleven, as the author said. Peoples of the north need to take heed and start demanding that appointment to high courts and higher courts is based on competence and intellectual prowess!

Unknown said...

Even if he was elevated from magistrate to supreme court,there the nothing wrong with that.So long he has at least 15yrs post call.

Gilbert Alabi Diche said...

I think Tanko specialises in Islamic law.

Gilbert Alabi Diche said...

I think Tanko specialises in Islamic law.

Gilbert Alabi Diche said...

I think Tanko specialises in Islamic law.

Anonymous said...

Prof. you are contributing to the stereotype. Because of his appearance and the way he speaks you believe Tanko can rise through the ranks without knowing what a technicality is.

You believe yourself to be superior to all these personalities you attack without reservation every week.

Olayide Olanrewaju said...

The situation is sad, quite disturbing. So, people who claimed that Brig. Idiagbon was in charge of General Buhari's War Against Indiscipline in 1983-85 were right. This is extreme mediocrity in leadership, but I'll rather blame it on the myopia and ignorance of the electorate who came, saw, but refused to conquer in the 2019 election.
Dr. Kperogi, this is a wonderful contribution. Well done.

HAPPYDAYS WITH SLI said...

Well,I hope Justice Tanko's tenure won't result in many more judicial somersaults than we bargained for...

Anonymous said...

It's good we gave General Muhammadu Buhari the platform of civilian president. Otherwise, we would be regretting missing a man of super integrity. He has done incalculable damage to our system; to reverse it might cost us three generations to come.

Unknown said...

Hey! There may be no reversing of the damage he and his ilk are causing us all. Buhari has ended up rewiring the mentality of an average Nigerian. Just look at the number of people who still support and defend his putrefaction. Look also at avalanche, maybe townsend avalanche of avid critics alof past administrayions who have suddenly gone numb because thus is buhari in power. Nigetia in gone down the drain