RIGHT OF WAY

This afternoon, I got rear-ended by a Ghanaian driver. His nationality is actually of no consequence apart from the fact that the accent in which he eventually pleaded for mercy was mildly amusing. The traffic incident occurred on Ajose Adeogun, at the VCP Hotel junction. I’d taken the toll-avoidance route from Lekki Phase 1 after doing the school run and was headed back into Onikan via Victoria Island. My West-African brother was trying to U-turn at the aforesaid junction. There was already a queue of cars waiting to make the same U-turn “bet” our “bratheh” was obviously in a hurry, so he formed a new queue, closer to on-coming traffic than everyone else.

 

Rearended

The chap in the SUV at the front of the appropriate queue realised, I presume, that I had right of way and stopped nudging forward in that annoying fashion that many Lagos drivers do. As I nosed past SUV-man, I kind of ‘saw’ “Bratheh” nudging forward but wasn’t overly alarmed because, well, Lagos drivers do that. I didn’t even manage to get my front door in line with SUV-man’s face before I heard that sickening crunch of what Google tells me are Thermoplastic Olefins – the material that most car bumpers are made of. Luckily, my rear lights and Bratheh’s headlamps were spared but my car no longer looked like Kim Kardashian from the rear – I wanted blood!

 

I find primal abuse very difficult, even at the best of times, so I didn’t manage to do better than “Do you have a problem?” (Sumtin dey worry you?) and “Can’t you see you’re sick in the head?”(You no see say your head no correct? Bastard!). Perhaps I was conscious of the two children, roughly the same ages as mine, and their nanny in the car. But Bratheh was immediately apologetic. Twenty seconds had passed since the crunch and, already, traffic at the junction had doubled. SUV-man was the hardest hit – wedged between my car and Bratheh’s, he needed to reverse to able to go round Bratheh’s car. The folks behind him weren’t having it, though.

 

“You have to fix my car. If it’s not yours, call the owner,” I stormed.  Bratheh quickly agreed to take me to his Madam but pulled over halfway there and began to plead for all he was worth. “’Cahm’ and know my own house. I will repay whatever you spend fixing ‘theh’ vehicle.” I asked him, getting frustrated (as I knew where the conversation would end), what would happen if he moved tomorrow. “I cannet do sahch, sir” Bratheh replied. The nanny left the kids in their car and came to plead for her co-employee.

 

I heaved a heavy sigh and looked away from them. “Please sir. God will bless you sir.” Somehow, in the middle of all that, my mind still broke that down into “Please let me go sir, God will bless you if you do.” A fallacy – appeal to pity. Maybe even an ad populum as well. I sighed again, resigned to fate and let them go.

 

As Bratheh drove off, I had a Benjamin Button moment. Perhaps if I’d not had that banana snack after the school run, I would have got to the junction earlier than Bratheh and the rear of my car would still be fine. Thinking like that can drive a person mad though as, after all, it’s only after the undesired event occurs that one realises how a little delay may have altered the chain of events. Bratheh should simply have respected my right of way. End of.

 

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“WHAT DO YOU HAVE FOR US?”

(first published on facebook, circa November 2011)

Travelling internationally, even on the best of days, is stressful. It is much more so from the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos. The travel agents do their magic on the computers, combinations and permutations, to whip out the “best” fares. The internet slows down your on-line checking but at last you get the 2nd best seat on your scale of preference (the one by the emergency exit with loads of leg-room is NEVER available online). You meticulously check that your baggage isn’t over-weight and that you haven’t forgotten your passport at home and then, you set out.

 

Getting to the airport is fairly easy. There’s the customary traffic at Oshodi and now, there’s that massive crater in road just before you turn off the Oshodi-Apapa expressway so you (or your driver) need to be alert to all the random swerving that happens there. You pass the overgrown bushes and shrubbery in the median on the final approach to the airport and the occasional pothole here and there. You get to the airport and usually spend 10 minutes trying to get dropped off due to traffic on the departures lane. Finally, you’re out, you say no (or yes, perhaps) to the porter “offering” to carry your luggage and the person trying to sell you padlocks, walk to the terminal entrance….and then IT STARTS.

 

There’s a policeman at the door armed with a machine gun along with an airport security person with a baton as his own regulation weapon. If you’re wheeling your own luggage in, you should get past without incident. If it appears that you’re merely accompanying someone into the terminal or you arrive in non-conventional travel wear (e.g. shorts and a basketball singlet), you will be asked for your passport and ticket (yes, ticket, in this day and age when most arrive with boarding passes). Once it’s been ascertained that your documentation is complete, just before it’s handed back to you, they will ask you, “What do you have for us?”

 

You walk towards the flight desk and (again to surprise, mostly) they write your name down on a piece of paper (even though, uhm, you arrived with your boarding pass, which is only available after you’ve checked in online!). Then they do that “wash-wash” friendliness, asking you where you’re from and throwing the only word they know in your dialect at you, trying to slick you over. Then, just before they hand back your passport and ticket/e-ticket/boarding pass, they will ask you, “What do you have for us?”

 

Then, your baggage needs to be hand-searched by the Customs people. They try to intimidate you. “What is this?”, as she squeezes your transparent bag of garri or has he holds up what is obviously a tuber of yam wrapped thinly in old newspaper. “Is this allowed where you’re going?” (YOU tell me, punk!) And finally, as she indicates that you can begin to re-pack your luggage, she will ask you “What do you have for us?” In the abridged version of this segment, right before you unzip your bag, you may get asked “Wetin you get for your broda? Jus’ give us something make we ‘roger’ you.”

 

At last, you get to the baggage drop counter. More “washing”, asked where you’re from and why do you have a middle name from a different tribe (duh-uh), your bag gets tagged and then, the double whammy…. “What do you have for us?” from both the porter who tags your bag and the agent who printed the tag (why are they separate, I hear you ask?).

 

Passport control. However, there are two policemen at the entrance to passport control who check that you have a boarding pass before letting you in. Of course, after a cursory glance at the probably now wrinkled pass (from all the retrieving and putting back in your pocket or purse), they also will ask you “What do you have for us?” The immigration guys who stamp your passport will ask “What do you have for us?” The guys standing on the duty-free side after the x-ray machines and the metal detectors, who I only just recently learned were Drug Enforcement Agents (NDLEA – the same guys who made Baba Suwe’s bowel movements a subject of international interest) will ask you “What do you have for us?” Even at the final search of your person and your hand-luggage just before you board the aircraft, the friskers ask you “What do you have for us?”

 

What do you have for us?

 

Nothing, you plonkers!! I have decided not to part with a single penny at the airport ever again (unless I’m purchasing refreshments, of course). There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I refuse to contribute to laughable security conditions that “having something for them” would (or already) lead to. Secondly, as, even if I was minded to give “something”, there is no way I could give at all the points of demand and, as each demander is as stupid and hopelessly misguided as the next, it would be most unfair to the ones who received nothing from me if I gave to any of them. Simples.

 

 

Fallacies

This post should probably have come before the immediate past one but I was so convinced that many would find the topic of logic and valid arguments boring. It has come as quite a surprise that the reverse is the case and I’ve been asked by quite a few people to do a full post on fallacies. Apologies, however, if this turns out to be a snooze-inducer. You can blame Mr. Taylor for that (spot the fallacy, if you can).

 To understand fallacies better, there are some basic concepts and definitions that need to be stated first.

 A fallacy, in the context of logic, is simply an error in reasoning or an incorrect argument. Growing up, I thought ‘argument’ was a synonym for disagreement but this is not the case. My philosophy teachers were quick to point out that Fela was a real African philosopher and, true enough, in his music one will often hear “na my argument be dis” or other references to him making an argument. What, then, is an argument? An argument is a proposition comprising a conclusion in support of which premises are put forward. A couple of examples:

 

Kemi is a girl’s name.                                                  Premise 1.

My intern’s name is Kemi.                                           Premise 2.

Therefore my intern is a girl.                                       Conclusion

 

My Uncle is a crook.                                                     Conclusion

My Uncle is a politician.                                                 Premise 1

All politicians are crooks.                                               Premise 2

 

Another point to note is that while a conclusion may actually be the truth, this is not relevant to the fact of the argument being a fallacy. So while it may be true that Girl X is a snob, to demand that I accept this conclusion on the sole premise that she only carries Hermes bags is a fallacy. That would make everyone who uses only designer apparel a snob and that certainly cannot be the case.

The final point of note is that fallacies do have some form of psychological appeal, otherwise they wouldn’t fool anyone. As my trusty old Introduction to Logic by Irving M. Copi says “…the irrelevance (of the conclusion to the premises of the argument) here is logical rather than psychological, of course, for unless there were some psychological connection, there would be no persuasiveness or seeming correctness.” I will be quoting generously from the book, so please do not assume any original thought here. There’s actually a lot of information on fallacies on the internet and the examination done here is very superficial.

The trick in identifying fallacies is to be able to break down what is being said into premises and conclusions and then to analyse if the conclusions follow logically from the premises.

Bearing all this in mind, let us now take a look at commonly committed fallacies.

 

Argumentum ad Baculum (appeal to force) – this is committed when the maker of a statement appeals to force or the threat of force to cause acceptance of a conclusion. Many good examples are found in the area of politics.

         “Jonathan should not become president otherwise we will make this country ungovernable.”

         “You should implement 100% CONMESS in this State otherwise we will go on strike.”

 

While it may be desirable that the conclusions we are urged to accept in these statements are indeed accepted, the conclusions do not logically follow from the premise of the threat of force or “strong-arm” tactics.

 

Argumentum ad Hominem – this occurs when the make of a statement, rather than the validity of the statement itself, is attacked. There are two varieties of this type of fallacy – the abusive ad hominem and the circumstantial ad hominem.

 

Abusive:

                “Kathleen wanted to marry a doctor but didn’t succeed. Thus, she has a myopic view of the doctor’s strike.” (This is also ad populum – see below).

                “Patience is known to commit frequently grammatical errors, so her opinions on the war in Syria can’t be very useful.”

 

Circumstantial:

This is different in that it occurs when Person A, rather than proving that his contention is valid, seeks to establish that Person B should accept it because of Person B’s special circumstance.

 

“You’re black like me. How can’t you see that John was being racist there?”

“I would have thought, being a Yoruba man yourself, you would immediately agree that Usman was rude.”

“Tunde Bakare is a clergyman. He should stay in the church and leave politics alone.”

“You are not a Nigerian. Please leave the fuel crisis for Nigerians alone to discuss.”

“She is not a doctor so she is ill-equipped to comment on the doctors’ industrial action.”

“Rotimi is a lawyer, so no surprise he agrees with what the SAN said.

 

Argumentum ad Ignorantiam (argument from ignorance) – this occurs when it is argued that a proposition is true simple because it hasn’t been proved false or is false simply because it hasn’t been proven to be true.

 

“Ghosts don’t exist; you can’t show me otherwise.”

“There is neither a Heaven nor a Hell; prove they exist and I will change my ways.”

“No breath of scandal has ever touched the Senator. Therefore he must be incorruptibly honest.”

 

In some circumstances, however, such contentions may not be fallacious. If Abubakar is suspected of fraud, for instance, and the EFCC even after extensive investigations cannot prove a single act of fraud, the contention by Abubakar that “I am not fraudulent, the EFCC couldn’t prove any of the allegations” would not necessarily be fallacious.

 

Argumentum ad Misericordiam (appeal to pity) – this one is self-explanatory. It occurs when the contention is effectively “you should disregard all the rules and laid down procedure because of my especially pitiful circumstances.” If you watch American law dramas you probably know how the appeal to pity works. The defence attorney catalogues the bad breaks and incidences of hard luck that brought his client into pulling the trigger or selling drugs.

 

“My client is essentially an upstanding, hardworking citizen who through the bad fortune of a series of unfortunate circumstances is standing before you today. If you return a “Guilty” verdict, you will be condemning him to a life he clearly doesn’t deserve; you’ll abandon him to the hardened criminals in our jails; and statistics show that x% of offenders who come out of that facility are forced to return to a life of crime less than 6 months after they get out. Is that what our society is about?” Surprise, surprise, the jury comes back with ‘not guilty’.

 

Or, the government rescinding a contract it negotiated and signed with the concessionaire because “the agreement was skewed in favour of the concessionaire.”

 

The most ridiculous example of the appeal to pity is “it is true I killed my parents. But I should’t be sent to jail because I’m now an orphan.”

 

Argumentum ad Populum – this fallacy is committed when an “appeal to the gallery” (attempting to win popular assent to a conclusion by rousing or referring to the feelings of “the multitude”) is made.  It is a very broad category of fallacies and the same ad populum fallacy can often  also be characterised as one of the previously described fallacies.

 

“Always buy made-in-Nigeria goods. To do otherwise is not to love your country.”

“I know America is the best country in the world because everybody thinks so.”

“Don’t waste your vote on the Conscience Party; everyone is going to vote PDP or CPC anyway.”

 

Argumentum ad Verecundiam (appeal to authority) – appealing to the the feeling of respect people have for the famous, to win assent to a conclusion (unless of course, the celebrity is an authority in the subject matter of the argument). A good example would be using the opinions of Einstein, a renowned physicist to support one’s beliefs on religion.

 

“GEJ is clearly a failure. Even [celebrity x] thinks so.”

“Kia makes great 4x4s. Andre Agassi endorsed them.”

 

Hasty Generalisation – considering exceptional cases and generalising a rule that only fits those exceptions.

 

“Bode George and James Ibori, both of the PDP, have been convicted of corrupt practices. Therefore the PDP is a corrupt party.”

“Michael Jackson died of a propofol overdose – the drug is clearly unsafe and should be banned.”

                “All Nigerians are internet scammers.”

 

Petitio Prinicipii (begging the question) – circular reasoning; where the proposition and contention (or parts thereof) are basically the same.

 

                “Freedom of speech is a good thing because censorship is evil.”

                “I know the Bible is the word of God because it says so inside.”

“The new student says I am his favourite professor. And he must be telling the truth because no student would lie to his favourite professor.”

               

 

Ignoratio Elenchi (irrelevant conclusion) – this fallacy is committed when an argument purporting to establish a particular conclusion is directed to proving a different conclusion.

 

“El-Rufai’s article is the work of a politically frustrated individual. He only accuses us because his party lost the presidential election.”

“Councillors, with their basic educational qualifications earn hundreds of thousands. Therefore it is right for doctors to go on strike to press for higher pay.”

 

Here’s to valid arguments.

 

THIS LOGIC MATTER

They say the mark of having had a fulfilling time in the university is that not only do you pass through the university but it also passes through you. I’ve never quite been sure if that expression is anything besides a fluffy Nigerianism but, if the university passing through you means that some of the things you learnt remoulded you and will stay with you forever, then logic (aka Philosophy 102 – Arguments and Critical Thinking) really passed through me. Mr. Owolabi, God bless him and his crutch, would frequently say “Let’s do what they’re incapable of doing in Aso Rock; let’s think!”

That elective has probably gotten me into the most trouble with my wife since we met. For some inexplicable reason, I would rather logic prevailed over intuition even though I know full well that life is more than inductive and deductive reasoning. When trying to interpret other people’s actions, more often than not, I use my logic filter. Mrs Tex (whether or not it’s because she’s a woman and therefore more likely to be more intuitive anyway) doesn’t have this ‘handicap’ and over the years my logic has prevailed over her intuition only 1 out of 5 times on the average. Which makes my devotion to it increasingly infuriating for her.

So maybe not everything in life can be subjected to the rigour of testing the validity of the thinking behind them. However, the greatest thinkers of any generation, and their critics and disciples, have no other means of establishing or disputing the authority of their ideas. No meaningful discussion can be had otherwise.  If you want your conclusions to be accepted, you need to give valid, logical, reasons why. It is therefore somewhat sad, for example, to read rejoinders to articles and opinions that, rather than discussing the original issues raised are nothing more than attacks on the person of the original writer. Or, on the comment threads of some online articles, to find an opinion roundly criticised only on the basis that it was expressed by someone from a certain tribe.

 Clearly, we are products of our environment and sentiments and bias will have some bearing on the attitudes we adopt and ideas we express. And that’s probably acceptable for private discussions. When ideas are being propounded for public consumption though, I believe logic must relegate sentiments, intuition and bias. I may be wrong but I am convinced that until we elevate the way we discuss issues (and actually discuss issues), especially those of us outside the “cabal” crying for change, we may find progress elusive.

Below are a few examples of prevalent thinking (from the educated segment of our society) – they should give us pause:

·         El-Rufai is only criticising the government because his own party lost the elections [has he raised valid issues?]

·         Kathleen doesn’t support the doctors’ strike because she wanted to marry a doctor but failed to [has she given valid reasons why they shouldn’t have gone on strike?]

·         We know Ijeoma’s antecedents in XYZ corporation, how can she castigate us? [are you guilty of the allegations she has levelled against you, though?]

·         I couldn’t have orchestrated fraud because I actually taught at Harvard [yes, we all know Harvard is next to the Vatican in preparing people for priesthood and sainthood]

·         We’re revoking the contract because it was skewed in favour of the concessionaire [I killed my parents but you should have mercy on me because I’m now an orphan]

·         You’re a foreigner; Nigeria’s issues should only be discussed by Nigerians [Boko Haram issues should only be discussed by terrorism experts too, right?]

·         This kind of backward, myopic (etc) thinking can only be found in the [pick your choice] tribe [and everyone is a genius where you come from? Even that your uncle that the entire family mocks?]

·         Do you know who I am? [If Obama, Putin, Cameron and Merkel jointly put forward a stupid idea, it’s STILL a stupid idea!]

On a lighter note, logic served my friends and I very well at Sade Eleja. There was always someone willing to buy us another round of drinks and catfish peppersoup to prevent us from leaving early. “Mo n gbadun yin gan an…”

 

WHAT IS THIS RULE OF LAW?

Jurisprudence, in spite of the trepidation in which law students typically hold it, like my undergrad philosophy electives, was a truly fascinating course for me. I marvelled at how regular human beings like us devoted their time to critical thinking to develop ideas that would develop their countries and, unknown to them at the time, shape global appreciation of ideas of law and the state. The notion of the rule of law came about as a result of the exertions of these early thinkers.

 

When the late Umar Musa Yar’Adua assumed office in 2007, he committed his administration to observing and enshrining the rule of law. The phrase became a mantra during his tenure and especially gained popularity when, unlike his predecessors in office, he immediately ordered security agencies to enforce decisions of election tribunals that delivered adverse rulings against his party. While this was widely celebrated, it led to ‘the rule of law’ becoming synonymous with the government ‘permitting’ adverse tribunal rulings to stand.

 

The rule of law has since become a one-eyed, one-armed and one-legged invalid. Business has carried on as usual, the occasional motorist reportedly continued to be shot by the police for refusing to part with ‘special tolls’ at check-points until they were recently dismantled, high-profile criminal trials go a less-than-usual way, many agencies exceed the scope of their jurisdiction but as long as election tribunal judgements are respected, rule of law watchers continue to give the country a pass mark.

 

So, what did the original framers of the expression mean? More than a meaning, the rule of law is a concept of many parts – no one is above the law; no one can be punished by the state except for a breach of the law and in accordance with the law; agreements must be kept; no branch of government is above the law; no public official may act unilaterally or arbitrarily outside the law. It means the law, with all its constituent procedures, is (or at the very least, should be) supreme.

 

The law is clearly yet to be supreme in Nigeria. It should be impossible for parties, including the government, to unilaterally cancel contracts but this is still complained about fairly regularly. Supremacy of the law should mean that accused persons do not spend three years in detention awaiting trial. It should mean, as well, that powerful politicians and government appointees, no matter how highly placed, obey all administrative and judicial orders; seeking orders from the courts to restrain law enforcement agencies from carrying out their statutory and constitutional functions should be thoroughly decried. It should also mean that the law is predictable and any changes to it are not done haphazardly – unlike here in Nigeria where “laws” or regulations change on the whim of the administrative officer in charge, without notice to the public or actual publication and gazetting the new regulations (see a previous post on that here).

 

The rule of law being supreme also means, however, with relevance to recent events that the law is allowed to take its due course. Currently, the public is baying for the blood of everyone indicted in the report of the Ad Hoc Committee (of the House of Representatives) on the administration of fuel subsidy in Nigeria. Everyone is frustrated at the Attorney-General’s suggestion that prosecutions cannot commence straightaway. The truth, however, is that the proper procedure is for the House to forward its conclusions to the police and other relevant law-enforcement agencies for further investigation. As things stand, if charges are brought based on the House report alone, every single person “fingered” WILL be acquitted. The investigative bodies must be given time to compile evidence on which convictions can be obtained safely (ie that appellate courts will be hard pressed to find grounds for reversal). The court of public opinion and the courts of law are two entirely different propositions and while many “criminals” have been convicted largely on hearsay in the former, securing convictions in the latter is a more technical, more skilled, endeavour.

 

Thus, while it is entirely proper for the public to expect prosecutions it is important that we do not, in our frenzied frustrations with the status quo do more damage than good. The true test of how supreme a belief or concept is held is adherence to it even when doing so is not to one’s immediate advantage. If it is the consensus that upholding the rule of law is integral to our country’s prosperity, we cannot make exceptions for when it should be applied.