Chinakwe: When The Law Became An Ass
Joe Fortemose Chinakwe, a 30-year-old trader, has been making major headlines since his arrest in Ogun state for naming his dog, Buhari. The man, also known as Joachim Iroko, reportedly spent three days in police cell before he was released after the intervention of the Serkin Hausa and President-General of non-indigenes in the state.
He was however re-arrested and charged to court, which granted him bail in the sum of N50, 000 with two sureties who must be regular payers of their taxes in the state, in the like sum. Mr Chinakwe was charged for conduct likely to cause breach of peace. The prosecutor Inspector Itaita Ebibomini said the accused committed the offence on Saturday August 13, 2016, at the Hausa section of Ketere Market in Sango-Ota, in the Ota Magisterial District. It is not clear at the time of this writing if Chinakwe had perfected his bail condition.
As should be expected in a case of this manner, opinions vary on whether the state acted properly in clamping the man into detention and subsequently charging him to court. Human rights activists, democracy vanguards, soldiers of our natural fault lines and government apologists are all still feeling animated over the case.
For me, the issue goes quite beyond the freedom to name your pet whatsoever you want to name it. It is not even whether the President of a country can be insulted – I believe such comes with the territory of being in the public eye. If you are allowed to enjoy the fame and adulation that come with being a public figure, you must also be prepared to put up with the occasional insults that come with it. Anyone who wants a rainbow must be prepared to put up with the rain.
The larger issue in the case however is the manner in which Chinakwe chose to exercise his right to name his pet whatever pleased him to name it. Most people who keep pets confine them to their houses, and if they choose to call their pets their saviour, it will be up to them for as long as they do not use such pets to constitute nuisance to others. What was therefore the point that Chinakwe wanted to make by allegedly painting the name ‘Buhari’ on both sides of the dog? To attract attention? Or to provoke, especially given that such took place in the Hausa section of the community? Did he bother to find out how his action would be interpreted by others, especially in our type of ethnically and emotionally charged environment? Honestly, I do not think that Chinakwe displayed the sort of sensitivity to the feelings of others which is essential for inter-ethnic/regional amity. And there is really no point treating him as a sort of hero for he really misbehaved.
Let me mention that context is also very important in the evaluation of the conduct of Chinakwe. For instance it would have been a different matter if he had painted ‘Buhari’ on either side of his dog during a campaign season or during a strike or demonstration in which people try to vent their anger against certain public officials. The conduct could also have been pardonable if he was a comedian and was acting on a stage (in which case he could claim artistic freedom). Honestly I think Fortemose Chinakwe showed poor judgment and insensitivity to the feelings of his neighbours. I do not believe it is helpful to obfuscate about that.
Having said this however, it is also germane to interrogate whether the police acted appropriately under the circumstance or whether their own conduct exacerbated the matter. There are a number of issues that beggar clarification:
One, Chinakwe claimed that he was incarcerated for three days and that some of the police officers were determined that he should be detained for as long as possible. I believe that under our extant laws, you cannot detain someone for more than 48 hours unless a competent court of law grants the police the right to extend that detention. Did the police meet this condition in that initial three-day detention?
Two, our police showed uncommon speed in the case which aroused suspicion in some quarters that they were perhaps acting on orders from above. The Vanguard of August 23, 2016 quoted the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in Ogun State, ASP Abimbola Oyeyemi as saying: “He was arrested last Saturday and we are taking him to court later today (Tuesday) or tomorrow morning (today). 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.” The speed at which the man was charged to court was uncommon for the Nigerian police and raises questions of why they are not displaying similar efficiency in confronting cases of kidnapping, armed robberies and the rampaging herdsmen across the country. Also, it was remarkable that Chinakwe was released from his initial detention after the intervention of Serkin Hausa and President-General of non-indigenes in the state – the group that was supposedly to be hurt by Chinakwe’s rather thoughtless conduct. Why was it then necessary for Chinakwe to be re-arrested since the Serkin’s intervention implied that some informal moves must have been on to soothe aggrieved nerves?
Three, I agree with the police that Chinakwe’s conduct was capable of breaching the peace in inter-ethnic relations. But given the media hoopla around the case – amplified in fact by the case being charged to court - one wonders if the police handling of the case did not end up achieving the opposite effect?
That the law is sometimes not the most sensible tool to use in the resolution of certain types of disputes could be gleaned from what happened in the Australian state of Victoria some years ago where a law banning incitement to religious hatred led to Christians and Muslims accusing each other of inciting hatred and bringing legal actions against each other which only served to further inflame community relations. Issues bordering on inter-ethnic and intercultural harmony are rarely best resolved by rigid application of the law. Quite often the unintended consequences of such rigid applications of the law compound the problem hence justifying the calling of such laws an ass, or plainly stupid. I believe for instance that since Chinakwe claimed that he did not name the dog Buhari to spite anyone, asking him to go with some elders from his own community to apologize to the aggrieved person or persons would have been far more effective. And had that alternative dispute resolution route been followed, not many people would have known that there was a dog named Buhari. Now the young man has been turned into a social media celebrity for conduct that should not be acceptable in a polarized and culturally plural society like ours.
Four, the Chinakwe case brings to the fore issues of ethnic, regional and religious profiling – and how some of us can really be insensitive to others’ feelings – whether in the way we play our music or generally conduct ourselves. For instance not long ago former President Olusegun Obasanjo reportedly donated a chimpanzee named Patience to a zoo. It is possible the former President meant no harm, but with all due respect, I considered that conduct (from a man I respect in many ways) similarly insensitive and the setting of bad example to others since Patience is the name of former President Jonathan’s wife. And we all know that former President Jonathan fell out with him. Could it be that Chinakwe merely tried to play copycat to what Obasanjo did?
Five, the Chinakwe incident calls for an urgent need to have reconciliation and arbitration groups in many multicultural communities in the country to resolve disputes of this nature. Although such alternative dispute resolution structures could be found in putative forms in many towns and cities, they need to be recognized and utilized more often by our law enforcement agencies.
CJ to wade into controversial court orders
Report that the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Ndahi Auta, might take steps to correct inconsistencies in court pronouncements, especially over the leadership tussle in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), is most welcome. Justice Auta was said to have cut short his vacation overseas and returned to Abuja to have a closer look at the matter which has really undermined the integrity of the courts in the eyes of right thinking members of the society. Justice Auta has reportedly requested all the judges handling matters relating to the PDP case to adequately brief him. It is certainly not healthy for courts of coordinate jurisdictions to be dishing out conflicting judgments. Good move Sir.
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