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The man who named his dog Buhari – by Reuben Abati

Reuben-Abati: In case nobody understands and Mr Chinakwe and his counsel should put out a disclaimer and say their dog, living or dead, is filing for a change of name. 

The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog – George Graham Vest (1870)

Joe Fortemose Chinakwe, the man who named his dog after President Muhammadu Buhari is right now probably regretting his decision to honour his dog with the name of a man he considers his hero. 

He has been accused of trying to incite hate and breach the public peace. 

He has been arrested and re-arrested by the police and taken to a magistrate court, which promptly remanded him in prison until he is able to meet the conditions of his bail. 

He has spent days in prison custody unable to raise the N50, 000 that he has been asked to pay. 

His family members have only so far managed to raise N20, 000. 

Even if he succeeds in putting that sum together, his life is still in danger because aggrieved persons in his neighbourhood, including a man who says he was trying to ridicule his father, have threatened to kill him, if he shows up. 

The police are not investigating this threat, but they seem so excited about dealing with the poor trader called Joe, for having the effrontery to name his dog, Buhari.

To protect himself, Joseph has allegedly put the dog to sleep, or thrown it away or whatever, in the hope that once the evidence is destroyed there will be no case against him.  

It is all so pitiable. 

Public opinion appears to be divided as to the nature and seriousness of Joseph Chinakwe’s alleged felony, with some people arguing that it is definitely an act of provocation and incitement for him to label his dog, Buhari so boldly and to parade the same dog in a neighbourhood where there are many residents of Northern extraction, whose feelings may be injured or who may perceive that he is trying to make a political statement.

Those who want him punished have therefore dismissed Chinakwe’s protestation that he is an admirer of the President, or that he means well. 

His defenders insist that he is entitled to free speech and there is nowhere in the statutes where a man can be punished on the basis of the perception that some people’s feelings may be injured, and hence, be prompted to commit murder. 

The law is not structured that way.

We are dealing, therefore with ethnic hate at the lunatic fringe. 

Nigerians have become so suspicious of one another, and inter-ethnic relationship is so poisonous that even the littlest innocent gesture could result in mayhem. 

This is why many have been killed for allegedly committing blasphemy or for insulting the religious sensibilities of some people. 

Remember the woman who was killed by her students for allegedly desecrating the Quran. 

Remember Gideon Akaluka. 

Remember the woman who was recently beheaded in Abuja for daring to preach the Christian gospel. 

We are also dealing with disregard for human freedom, and Nigeria’s slip into a tragic season of intolerance. 

Why shouldn’t Chinakwe call his dog whatever name catches his fancy?  

Well, maybe he should have chosen an Igbo name? 

But if we want national unity, why shouldn’t he take a name he admires from another part of the country? 

Ali Baba, the ace comedian, like many others, has come out strongly in defence of Chinakwe saying he actually has a dog in his house named OBJ, and that is quite direct because only one man bears that sobriquet in this country, and neither OBJ nor his kinsmen have asked Atuyota to leave Yorubaland. 

One of the most famous pictures online is that of a goat named Goodluck Jonathan, with the name written on both flanks of it.  

President Jonathan’s wife was also once (July 2013) referred to as “shepopotamus” by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, and before our very eyes, President Olusegun Obasanjo, donated, to a conservation sanctuary, a chimpanzee, which he named Patience to make a point obviously.

The parody at the time was unmistakable. We all drew humour from all of that. 

What we seem to be dealing with right now, however, is the absurd deification of a name on ethnic and partisan grounds. 

It is curious that the Nigeria Police is devoting to the trial of Chinakwe, a feverish amount of energy that we have not witnessed with regard to more statutorily relevant offences. 

This hullaballoo over the giving of a dog a name that has led to its hanging and the likely punishment of its owner is one distraction too many. 

We are above all else, dealing with a storm in a tea cup, occasioned by a culture shock, and our underdeveloped understanding of the relationship between man and animals.

Chinakwe says he chose the name Buhari out of admiration. 

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