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In Nigeria, You Risk Arrest If Your Dog Has the Same Name as the President

Nigerian citizen named his dog after the Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari. Creative Commons photo by e Tasnim News Agency.

A Nigerian citizen named his dog after the Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari. Creative Commons photo by Erfan Kouchari in Tasnim News Agency.

A trader named Joe Fortemose Chinakwe has been arrested by the Nigerian police for naming his pet dog “Buhari,” which happens to be the surname of the country's president, in a case that touches on Nigeria's long history of ethnic tensions.

The canine was named after a man called Alhaji Buhari, who is Chinakwe's neighbour. However, a different neighbour reported him over the matter, and many have since misconstrued the name as coming from President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB).

Authorities said Chinakwe would be charged with “conduct likely to cause a breach of peace,” according to the Vanguard newspaper in an August 17 report.

You know an average Northerner will feel bad over such a thing. It can cause serious ethnic crisis or religious confrontation because when you are relegating such a name to a certain person, you are indirectly insulting him.

Nigeria is an ethnic fault-line state with over 250 ethnic groups and a history of violent tensions. The three major ethnic groups are the Hausas and Fulani in the north, the Yorubas in the west and the Igbos in the east. The country still bears the scars of years of distrust, bickering and pervasive cleavages that have been further exacerbated by religious fundamentalism.

The Nigerian Civil War, which lasted from 1967 to 1970, the numerous and unresolved root causes of ethno-religious crisis have dominated the country's socio-political space since independence in 1960 have not helped matters. As though these were not enough, the perpetrators of these crimes targeting certain ethnicities go unpunished and a culture of impunity prevails.

It is based on this murky history of ethnic context, that the naming a dog — which in other climes would have been a non-issue — has morphed into headline news in Nigeria.

According to media reports, Chinakwe had inscribed the name on both sides of the dog's body and walked the animal through his Hausa-dominated neighbourhood. Hausas are a minority in the southwestern state of Ogun, where Chinakwe resides.

President Muhammadu Buhari, for his part, is ethnic Fulani.

Naturally, the news of Chinakwe's arrest and the reason given by the police did not go down well with Nigerians. Abimbola Adedokun, a newspaper columnist, warned of the danger in allowing divisions along ethnic or religious lines to exist:

History has taught us that whenever the “average northerner” says he “feels bad over a thing”, the rest of us are supposed to hurriedly rearrange our manners. We are told to take heed of invisible limits that “infidels” are not permitted to cross. Alarmingly, a number of us have restricted ourselves to this emasculating avoidance of wrath. We have mapped out “no-go areas” of public discussion that we trespass at grievous risks to ourselves. We have seen the repercussions of trespassing these bounds and they are not pleasant. From Gideon Akaluka’s killings to the Reinhard Bonnke crusade violence, the Miss World riots, the Danish cartoons saga, and many other instances of unwarranted violence that have occurred, we have long realised we are dealing with a short-tempered evil spirit who demands a sacrifice of our collective dignity so he can let us live.

Gideon Akaluka was a Christian Igbo trader in Nigeria who was beheaded by a mob in 1994 for allegedly desecrating the Koran. A 1991 visit by German evangelist Christian Reinhard Bonnke sparked deadly riots in the northern city of Kano after he reportedly converted some Muslims to Christianity.

In 2002, more than 200 people were killed and dozens of churches attacked during three days of rioting in the north over Nigeria's hosting of the Miss World beauty pageant. And in 2005, a Danish newspaper's publication of several editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad led to protests in various countries, including Nigeria.

Adedokun continued:

The trouble is that this evil spirit of violence who has a chokehold on our society is implacable. He has tasted vats of blood of the innocent and assumed a proprietary right over our lives. Violence in Nigeria happens, not because of intrepid and insensitive people who say things that make others feel bad. Rather, they stem from a cultivated attitude of those who think others’ lives are theirs to take, and they have no regard for any law that attempts to restrain their execution of mindless violence.

There is no legal basis for a trial of Chinakwe, according to Monday Ubani, the incoming second national vice president of the Nigeria Bar Association:

In the eye of the law, it is not criminal for somebody to name his or her dog after another person. It may be offensive by examining the circumstances under which the incident happened.

Nigerian Twitter users have condemned Chinakwe's incarceration. Nigerian musician Seun Anikulapo Kuti, the son of the legendary Fela Kuti, said:

Where are our human right lawyers? This is serious injustice, why did the government not arrest OBJ who named his chimpanzee Patience?

OBJ stands for former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who once owned a pet chimpanzee named Patience, supposedly after Patience Jonathan, the wife of another former president, Goodluck Jonathan. Obasanjo campaigned against Jonathan in Nigeria's 2015 presidential election, which current President Muhammadu Buhari won.

Reno Omokiri, new media spokesman of former President Jonathan, argued in a tweet that more should have heeded his words:

Omokiri was referring to his August 11 tweet: “If you want to know whether there is change in Nigeria, insult PMB [Muhammadu Buhari] the way you insulted GEJ [Goodluck Jonathan] and you will know the true meaning of ‘change'!” Buhari ran on a platform of “change” against Jonathan in last year's vote.

Twitter user MaziNze chided the police for double standards:

The ethnic Fulani cattle herders have been accused of invading farming communities in Nigeria, leaving death on their trail.

And in June, a woman was killed by a mob in Kano for allegedly blaspheming Prophet Mohammed. A similar fate was visited on another lady in July, who was hacked to death in the nations capital, Abuja by suspected Muslim fanatics.

Kemi shared this photographs of Ali Baba, a Nigerian comedian, and his dogs which were named after world celebrities and leaders:

Chinakwe has reportedly been released on bail, according to human rights activist Inibehe Effiong. He wrote on Facebook that two people — one from the north and another from the south — donated the necessary money for his legal feels. He explained:

Anyone that is still in doubt about the political nature of this case should search his inner conscience closely. Those using ethnicity, religion and political sentiments to obfuscate this case should know that Nigeria is a country of laws.

The human rights community will never sit back and watch innocent citizens being traumatised and dehumanized.

The fact that the two persons who donated this money are from the North and the South West, respectively, shows that the bonds of brotherhood and egalitarianism among patriotic Nigerians are superior to the whimsical and repulsive commentaries of the ethnic and religious bigots.

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