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Naming Animals After Human Beings; Does It Amount To Criminal Conduct? A Case Study Of Joachin Fortemose Chinakwe (iroko)

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On Saturday, August 13, 2016 one Joachin Fortemose Chinakwe (Iroko), aka Joe was arrested by the Sango-Ota Police Division following a complaint by one Halilu Umar. Joachin is accused of naming his dog Buhari and inscribing the name on both sides of the dog, a name which coincided  with Umar's father's name, Alhaji Buhari.

This incident is one of a kind; it is a rare incident and perhaps the first time such matter would come up for investigation by the Police. It indeed has generated a lot comments from commentators and lawyers. There is a sharp division of views, while one section thinks the conduct is criminal, another section thinks it is not criminal.

The function of naming of creatures dates back to creation. From the account in Genesis 2:19, God took every living creature HE has formed to Adam to see what he could call it, and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. The origin of names  therefore dates back to antiquity.

However, the question to be considered is whether an animal apart from its generic name can be called by a specific name commonly or notoriously borne by human beings? Undoubtedly, animals are by the design of the creator entitled to a generic name. The aspect that may appear problematic is that dealing with specific names.

The dominant name by which animals are called is generic. However, it is not uncommon to call domestic dogs by special names. Domestic trained dogs interact with their owners and keepers and do quite a range of activities including maintaining security and running errands. Domestic dogs in my view have somewhat an elevated status. Pet keepers and lovers play with them, clothe them, bath them, feed them and administer drugs on them. To underscore this elevated status, the Criminal Code  criminalized cruelty to animals in section 495 of the Act.

It is common knowledge that dog keepers call their dogs by some specific names. For instance, some people call their dogs bingo, jimmy. Others use some onomatopoeic devices to call their dogs such as “shibia”, a common form by which dogs are called in Nara Unateze Community in Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State.

Do human beings have a monopoly of name or is any particular name exclusive to a particular individual? I doubt. If it were so and assuming animals have reason like human beings they should have combined to deal with humans who appropriate and bear animal names. In Igboland, like in other parts of the world people bear animals' name, name of places, name of market days, name of trees, name of idols, names suggesting size and quality  and all sort of abstractions. People in Igboland bear nwambe (a baby tortoise), nwawo (a baby frog), nwangwele (a baby lizard). Following from this, it is clear that no name can be said to belong to the exclusive domain of either animals or human beings.

Previously, it was not in vogue to call animals (domestic or wild) by specific names in the form in which human beings are labeled for the purposes of unique identity. As human preferences, orientations and hobbies continue to widen, there is likelihood that these preferences and orientations would have to be expressed one way or the other. In countries like USA, Romania, France, India etc, pet dogs are beloved like human family members. In France, for instance, every dog born after the 6th of January, 1999, is required to adorn a tattoo or a microchip under the skin that mentions its official identifying number.

The idea of a name for human beings differs significantly in one major aspect from that of animals because for human beings it is a legal requirement to have name, while there is no similar requirements for animals. Article 7 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, 1989 provides: _“THE CHILD SHALL BE REGISTERED IMMEDIATELY AFTER BIRTH ANDSHALL HAVE THE RIGHT FROM BIRTH TO A NAME, THE RIGHT TO ACQUIRE A NATIONALITY AND AS FAR AS POSSIBLE, THE RIGHT TO KNOW AND BE CARED FOR BY HIS OR HER PARENTS.” _The equivalent provision under the Child Rights Act, 2013 provides in section 5 thus, _“EVERY CHILD HAS THE RIGHT TO BE GIVEN A NAME ON HIS BIRTH OR ON A DATE AS DICTATED BY THE CULTURE OF THE PARENTS OR GUARDIANS AND EVERY BIRTH SHALL BE REGISTERED.”_

Human beings are higher animals different from other animals because they possess reasons and conscience. It has higher organizational skills and sundry human activities such as education, documentations etc, make it imperative for human beings to have and bear names which serve forms an integral of individual's identity.


What constitutes human name is relative and dependent on many variables including but not limited to culture, religion, tribe, and nationality.

There is no clear demarcation or exclusive preservation of names for human beings. Ironically, human beings take names after animals as explained before now. Dogs are referred man's best friend. They live with and among us. Depending on the circumstance, the owner may name his dog. It doesn't matter what name is given to the dog. One instance, which may make naming a dog a necessity, is where in a locality, there are more dogs owners than one, any of the owners may give a name to his or her dog so that when the dog is called by that name, it will run to meet the owner. It is like children who have gone to the playground; their parents may not have to go to the playground to call them out, but may simply shout their names.

In Chinakwe's case, which is case study herein, it was simply lack of tolerance that propelled Halilu Umar to go and make a report to the Police. Let me ask a simply question, if a man's name is Ene (antelope) as some people answer in Igboland and I buy an antelope and make the inscription Ene on its body, will the man answering Ene pick an offence?

It must be borne in mind that some languages contains similar words or names but with different meanings. For example, the word “buhari” approximates to “shift”, “move an object from one position to another” in Igbo language. So what if Chinakwe intended the Igbo meaning of the word buhari. Or, does the fact that two similar words mean different things in different languages prevent each of the speakers of the respective languages from using the words because the meanings are divergent and opposite?

Notwithstanding, naming a dog after a name of an individual may constitute an offence depending on the circumstance or conduct of the accused. Assuming in Chinakwe's case that he was first time in the neighbourhood and he had a dog named buhari before his Hausa neighbour, Buhari parked into the neighbourhood, can he be said to have committed an offence? Also, assuming Chinakwe and his Hausa neighbour live in different streets within neighbourhoods of close proximity, can he be said to have committed an offence. Further, assuming the Hausa fellow was merely a visitor in the neighbourhood and found a dog bearing the same as his, could Chinakwe be said to have committed an offence. Itseems that the factor which will make the alleged conduct of Chinakwe criminal will depend largely on his intention. In BOLAJI ORENO V. THE STATE (2014) LPELR-22806 (CA), the Court of Appeal held: _“A CRIMINAL TRIAL IS INCOMPLETE WITHOUT THE PROSECUTION PROVING THE ACTUS REUS AND THE MENS REA OF THE OFFENCE IN QUESTION…THUS WHERE THE MENS REA IS CONSIDERED NONEXISTENT, THE ACCUSED GETS RESPITE FROM THE INITIAL ULTIMATE PUNISHMENT OF THE CRIME IN QUESTION ON THE BASIS OF LACK OF PROOF OF MENTAL INTENTION.”_

The accused Chinakwe was charged under Section 249 (d) of the Criminal Code of Ogun State. The said section which I believe is in pari material with section 249 (d) of the Criminal Code, cap C38 LFN, 2004 provides:- _EVERY PERSON WHO, IN ANY PUBLIC PLACE, CONDUCTS HIMSELF IN A MANNER LIKELY TO CAUSE A BREACH OF THE PEACE SHALL BE DEEMED IDLE AND DISORDERLY PERSONS, AND MAY BE ARRESTED WITHOUT WARRANT, AND SHALL BE GUILTY OF A SIMPLE OFFENCE, AND SHALL BE LIABLE TO IMPRISONMENT FOR ONE MONTH._

Generally, as I have submitted, it may not amount to an offence to name a dog simpliciter. However, the question of culpability will depend on the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case.

Written by John Collins Nwobodo, Esq.

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