Prof. Mike A.A. Ozekhome, SAN, CON, OFR, FCIArb, LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D
It was on Saturday, 22nd April, 2023, that it happened. At 12:30pm, I was airborne on Ibom Air, flight VM1601, from Lagos to Abuja. My seat was 16E. We were simply about 10 minutes, or thereabout, to landing in Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja. Then the unexpected happened. The Pilot announced to bewildered passengers something we did not want to hear about. The flight will not land yet. Oh my God! Why? Hearts in our now dry mouths, we waited with bated breath; in suspended animation. The calm voice of the Pilot announcer said something which I considered to be at par with, perhaps, INEC’s now infamous ”glitches”. Yes, “glitches” that would not allow us to land as scheduled! The type of “glitches” that would enable INEC miraculously (through Prof. Peller’s abracadabra magic) transmit results of the Senate and House of Representatives elections held on Saturday, 25th February, 2023, straight ELECTRONICALLY from the POLLING UNITS to it’s IReV; but could not do same for the Presidential election held simultaneously for the same voters at the same time, on the same date, at the same venue, and with the same Bimodal accreditation. I have vainly searched for answers through all forms of logic, philosophy, scriptures, permutations, scientific and literary thoughts – some OUTSIDE the box, and even some WITHOUT the box – (thanks to my good friend, CR State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, who told me it is better to think WITHOUT THE BOX than merely thinking OUTSIDE THE BOX). The former, he carefully explained to me, is boundless; while the latter is circumscribed. I have since been using this template up to this moment. But till date, I have not been able to appreciate or digest this INEC’s contradiction, duplicity, equivocation and ambivalence. Or, can you?
THE AIR “GLITCH”- THE “VIP MOVEMENT”
Then, the pilot explained what he meant: “We are sorry to inform you that we cannot land yet. The Control tower has just informed us about “VIP movement”. We are therefore going to circle round till we are cleared to land. We estimate that this will take us about 20 to 25 minutes. But, there is nothing to worry about”. His voice was soothing and calming. But the pilot announcer did not tell us who the VIP or VIPs was or were. Pilots and crew announcers never ever disclose the names of such oppressors. Otherwise, passengers would lynch some of them; or pelt them with pure water and tomatoes. It was sufficient that some top brass, kahunas or head honchos was flying; and we lesser mortals must be held up in the skies. “Here was the Pilot telling us that there was nothing to worry about” for being held in the air against our will, under looming danger, fear of death, fear of the unknown, and fear of fear. In William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, Cassius (the jealous “lean and hungry look” of a man), said to Brutus, “Men at some time are masters of their fate: The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings” (Act 1 Scene II). This may well have been between these two vile conspirators who schemed amongst themselves thousands of years ago to assassinate the flamboyant and overconfident Julius Caesar. Was it in our stars or ourselves, that in 2023, we were being held up in the air against our wish and will? Were we to blame? Certainly not. But, here we were nonetheless in the air, at the mercy of God- helpless and hapless. Did we hear the pilot announcer correctly? As expected, some passengers immediately panicked. Some sweated. Others prayed. Some eyes popped. Some other eyes closed. A passenger sitting close by me brought out his Viks inhaler, to inhale some fresh breath and perhaps, clear his probably congested lungs. One could hear some passengers’ murmurs of visible disproval and disappointment at being held up in the air by unknown “VIPs of waste”. Who was he/she? Who were they? We were never told. Nor do I know till date.
THE TENSION; THE ANXIETY
Our tension, anxiety, curiosity and fears were soon justified. The aircraft started experiencing some slight turbulence. Why was this turbulence, which in my first flight in the 90’s I had called gallop in the air? Was it because the aircraft was within range of heavy clouds which it was piercing through as a result of its low altitude before the sudden alert about VIP movement? Was it because it was attempting to fly higher, above the clouds? Was it because it was circling? Was there sufficient aviation fuel to withstand the extra forced time in the air? Too many thoughts swirled in our minds. Not being aeronautical engineers or pilots, we did not know why. We were scared stiff. As turbulence and bumps increased, I was equally scared. But because many passengers on board had immediately recognized me as I entered the aircraft (including those sitting nearby), I had to deliberately put on a bold face as if I was not frightened. But, I was agitated and terrified. Lizards crawling on their bellies surely do have stomach ache; but their flat position does not allow us to notice. Yes, fowls do sweat, but their feathers hide the sweat from us human beings. So, I hid my fears in smiles, affability and geniality. Edo no dey carry last.
I needed to put up this courageous and fearless visage to assure and reassure my more frightened neighbours that all was well. But, was all really well? Whoever has never experienced turbulence in the air may not know and appreciate God. When you do, you will become an emergency Cleric, an Imam, or a tested Sango worshipper. You will suddenly become a “prayer warrior”, reciting from your memory, rich verses of the Holy Bible and Holy Quran. You will speak in tongues. You will suddenly remember your spouse, children, parents, loved ones and friends. You will even remember your enemies, traducers, benefactors and beneficiaries, you will recall your wealth, money starched away in secret banks; vaults and hidden steel safes. at that moment, you will remember hell and heaven; and then pray silently to God for the forgiveness of your sins. The vanity of life will stare you in the face like an apparition. (See Ecclesiastes 1: 2-8).
FACTORS RESPONSIBLE FOR AIR TURBULENCE
On a later date after our safe delivery (thank God), (a man who also knows much about aerodynamics), upon my inquiry, told me that turbulence (or gallop in the air as I called it during my first N15 flight from Benin to Lagos in the early 90s), could be caused by a combination of factors: turbulent air on earth atmosphere, as the streaming around the earth can cause sudden changes in the wind speed, thus rocking the airplane. There is also thermal turbulence which is said to be created by hot rising air from thunderstorms or cumulus clouds. My friend lectured that turbulence may also occur when tall buildings, mountains or landscapes distort the wind flow in the sky above the objects. This is called mechanical turbulence, he said. He finalized that airplanes’ wings can cause turbulence when planes fly closely behind one another, or take the same flight part, during taking-offs and landings. He however assured me that risk is very low during turbulence, as modern aircraft are designed to withstand sudden rises and falls (even nearly 100ft at a time). God forbid! Thus technological advancement has ensured that turbulence has not caused any plane crash in over 40 years; though turbulence has risen up to between 40% and 90% since 1958 over Europe and America, he lectured. Please, lecturer, I don’t like turbulence. I am not (and I believe all flyers) interested in lectures about weight, lift, thrust and brag of that massive piece of iron and steel in the air. We are simply interested in our safety. Sikena! Opoo!
Who cared about this scientific analysis at a time we were literally “dancing” in the air for the next 22 minutes in the hands of a very capable and competent pilot whose reassuring voice had at least lowered blood pressures and calmed frayed nerves? Who cared?
“VIPs OF WASTE” INDEED
These so-called VIPs who endangered our lives in the air are, in my humble opinion, “VIPs of waste”. They fit squarely into the solemn words during the Radio Nigeria broadcast of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu when he led the first Nigerian military putsch of 15th January, 1966. Said the handsome, … Sandhurst-trained, fire-eating, bold and idealist Okpanam, Delta State-born, devout catholic and teetotaler, “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as Ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds”. Conceding the coupists were “not promising anything miraculous or spectacular”, he, however, promised “every law-abiding citizen …freedom from fear and all forms of oppression, freedom from genual inefficacy …..We promise that you will no more be ashamed to say that you are a Nigerian”.
Major Gideon Orka, in 7 am April, 22, 1990 coup broadcast to tyrannical Nigerians, heralding the aborted overthrow of the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida military junta, had identified the elite cliquism as those responsible for the “intrigues combination and internal colonization of the Nigerian state by the so-called chosen few”. He identified this group as being “responsible for 90% of the problems of Nigerians.
Majors Nzeogwu and Orka must be turning in their 57 and 33 years (respectively) cold graves to know that all the problem areas they identified in his coup broadcast have since magnified and increased geometrically; not arithmetically. He would be shocked to hear that kick-back is no longer 10% today, but between 50% and 80%. He would shudder to know that corruption now walks on steroids, strutting about like a proud peacock. They will grimace to know that state captors have tightened their asphyxiating grip on the dry throats of conquered Nigerians. Otherwise, why would any sane leader (of whatever post or position), endanger the lives of his/her people in the air just to be seen flying the airspace alone? What special security would such a leader require that should also not avail the people? Were such a leader’s handlers not aware of the schedule of his take-off and landing time such as to alert all airlines and tarmacs to delay their flights (on ground) for that period of his flight, rather than allow them to first take off and be hung in the air? Why this crass sense of irresponsibility, insensitivity and insensateness? Do such leaders appreciate how many hundreds (or even thousands) of Nigerians and Nigerian families whose lives they endanger by their sheer megalomania and narcissism?
On March 23, 2022, one Obiora Okonkwo, representing the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) at the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, publicly hearing, bemoaned VIP movement as one of the major reasons for the delays and disruption of flights. He said regulations only allow them to announce that flight delays are “due to operational reasons”, and no more. This is to mask the real reasons, including VIP movement. He explained: “You can imagine when you have waited one hour or one and a half hours in Lagos and you have taken off to land in Abuja. And when you get to Abuja airspace and there is VIP movement, you cannot control that,”…….
“You have to wait as long as it takes the VIP movement before you are cleared for landing. And when you land, before now operators could say because of VIP movement, but today, we have been restricted not to mention VIP so that the blame should not go to somebody else.”
No wonder passengers often hear of delayed and disrupted flights due to only “operational reasons”.
For those VIPs who also keep hapless citizens standing under the sun and rain while their long convoys snake their way through crowded cities do they ever reckon with how many citizens die prematurely, in the process, for not getting to hospitals in time to get urgent medical attention? Have they ever thought of how many students have missed their examinations; or entrepreneurs who have missed crucial corporate meetings and appointments by being held hostage through such reckless VIP movements? Do they even care? Do they still have the attributes of humanity?
MY FREE LEGAL ADVICE
For those VIPs who do not know, let me give you free legal advice here. Anyone who causes the death of, or damage to, any air passenger, road- user, or train commuter, who thereby suffers damages due to being held down by VIP movement, you are legally liable for such recklessness. Such VIPs could be damnified in huge punitive, aggravated, exemplary, consequential and compensatory damages in negligence, for individual and corporate liability.
The Court of Appeal was quite emphatic about both the rulers and the led observing the Rule of law. In JAMES v. GOV. OF EDO STATE & ORS (2021) LPELR-54203 (CA). It held:
“Above all and when all is said and done, in law as in every society governed by democratic norms in which the Government is of the people, by the people and for the people, every offence, every restriction on movement and every penalty to be imposed thereon must be within the confines and ambits of the operation of the Rule of Law in a democratic society such as Nigeria. See Raymond Temisan Omatseye V. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) LPELR -42719 (CA) per Georgewill, J.C.A. In modem contemporary jurisprudence, the rule of law is the condition in which all members of the society, including the rulers and the led accept the supremacy of the law. It is neither an option nor one of choice. It is a concept in which the citizen is entitled to the observance of the principles of natural justice in the determination of any question involving his rights and obligations under the law. It denotes absolute supremacy or predominance of law. Thus, under it, the Constitution is the supreme law and the observance of the laws of the land must be the guiding code in the daily life of both the Rulers and the Led, so much so that none whosoever is exempted from the observance of the laws of the land. This is indeed the true essence of the rule of law.”
In APPH & ORS v. OTURIE (2019)LPELR-46301(CA), the Court of Appeal was again on song when it held that the “rights of freedom of movement and residence pursuant to Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) guarantee unhindered residence and movement to all citizens all over Nigeria and except on suspicion of commission of a criminal offence. The said rights protect against expulsion of citizens except in pursuance of valid extradition proceedings. See WILLIAMS V MAJEKODUNMI (1962) 1 ALL NLR 413 and FEDERAL MINISTER OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS V SHUGABA DARMAN (1982)3 NCLR 915.” Per MUHAMMED LAWAL SHUAIBU, JCA (Pp 14 – 15 Paras D – B)”
In EZIEGBO & ANOR v. ASCO INVESTMENT LTD & ANOR (2022) LPELR-56864 (SC), the apex Court dilated on the importance of section 41 of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees freedom of movement throughout Nigeria. It held that: “The primary aim of the section is to generally protect persons from abuse of power; official and individual. See Onwo v. Oko (1996)6 NWLR (ppt. 456) 587.” Per MOHAMMED LAWAL GARBA, JSC (Pp 7 – 8 Paras F – C)”
A CAVEAT TO VIPS
Those who are President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governors should stop wallowing in shielded VIP movement aggrandizement by feeling protected with immunity under section 308 of the 1999 Constitution. This is self-delusion. I laugh. I guffaw. Protection? Not so fast. Only temporary relief. The ephemerality of power and its destined expiration would sooner stare them in the face. Let them read the powerful statement of the Supreme Court in IMB Securities v Tinubu (2001) All NLR 264, to the effect that although this set of people cannot be prosecuted while in office because of their immunity, they can however be investigated. And such investigation can always be used against them after they leave office. See also the case. In Fawehinmi v IGP (2002) All NLR 357, the Hon. Justice Samson Odemwingie Uwaifo, an iconic Jurist of immense intellectual fecundity, said with great erudition, as follows:
“That a person protected under Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, going by its provisions, can be investigated by the police for an alleged crime or offence is, in my view, beyond dispute. To hold otherwise is to create a monstrous situation whose manifestation may not be fully appreciated until illustrated…Now, if the police became aware, could it be suggested in an open and democratic society like ours that they would be precluded by Section 308 from investigating?… The Police clearly have a duty under Section 4 of the Police Act to do all they can to investigate and preserve whatever evidence is available. The evidence or some aspect of it may be the type which might be lost forever if not preserved while it is available… The evidence may be useful for impeachment purposes if the House (of Assembly) may have need of it. It may no doubt be used for prosecution of the said incumbent Governor after he has left office… But to do nothing under the pretext that a Governor cannot be investigated is a disservice to the society”.
A word is enough for the wise. As our elders tell us, it is only the stubborn fly that follows the corpse into the grave. To say more will be otiose. VIPs, please, leave us alone in the air. Go your way. Let us go ours. We also have our lives to live. Do you hear, hear, hear me? Haba!