Of Naming Dogs and Unfree Speech

“You have freedom of speech before the speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after the speech”. This sentence and different variants has been attributed to Uganda’s Idi Amin. Although one may not be certain if he actually said that, the sentence captures the attitude of many persons in a world that continues preaching the existence of free speech. Maybe free speech is real, or maybe it is a fantasy, and some speeches may just come with expensive price tags.

Last week, Nigerian newspapers bore the tale of a Nigerian arrested for naming his dog “Buhari”. The police arrested him due to a complaint filed by a Nigerien, who claimed the dog’s name was an insult to his father, a certain Alhaji Buhari, living in the Republic of Niger. The arrested person, Joachim Iroko aka Joe, aka Joe Fortemose Chinakwe, was also said to have written “Buhari” on both sides of his dog. “Coincidentally”, Nigeria’s president is named Buhari, Joe is a Christian southerner, the complainant is a Muslim foreigner, and the dog is legally dead.

After the media publicity generated by the newspapers, Joe was released from police custody. In a sharp twist, he was rearrested by the police, who claimed the arrest was meant to save his life. A police spokesperson stated that the complainant and his supporters threatened to kill Joe if he returned home. Apparently still trying to “save his life”, he was charged to court on charges that border on incitement and disturbing public peace.

It is not a new thing for police forces to put people into protective custody, since this is done all around the world. However, while putting someone in protective custody, normal police forces try to neutralize the threat that triggered the need for protection. In this particular case, no report was given of any attempt by the police to arrest those who threatened to kill the dog’s owner. Maybe the police are trying to inform Nigerians that threatening someone’s life is not a crime if you come from certain parts of Nigeria. Even if we are to believe that he was arrested for his own protection, why then was he charged to court? That action implies that the police have the view that a crime has been committed.

Talking about crime, this is a case that has divided Nigerians. Many persons from the north, many Muslims, and many diehard supporters of President Buhari, hold the opinion that the dog’s owner committed a crime, acted stupidly, and deserves to be punished. Conversely, many southerners, many Christians, and many fanatical critics of Buhari believe the accused has done nothing deserving punishment. While one side is of the view that free speech is an unassailable right guaranteed by the constitution, the other side believes that free speech should be limited.

Earlier this year, former President Obasanjo donated a chimpanzee named “Patience” to a group. Although he did not offer the rationale behind the name, many Nigerians read an innuendo directed at Patience Jonathan, wife of the former President, Goodluck Jonathan. When this name made the headlines, many Nigerians agreed that Nigerians have the right to give any name to their pets, since no one has patent rights to any name.

Coming to the main character in this article, while I may agree that Joe went overboard by writing the dog’s name on the dog’s body, and displaying the dog in a southwestern area with many northern Muslims, I believe the naming was done within his rights. Although some persons have claimed he gave that name out of spite for the President (the complainant does not “count”), Joe has claimed it was admiration for Buhari that inspired him. Proving his intention would be a tough task for the best of lawyers. However, whether he gave that name because he loves or hates Buhari, he has the right. A stroll through Nigerian streets would yield dogs that share names with human beings. It’s supposed to be a free world.

While I concede that people need to be wise about full use of their rights, I also think those with short-fused sensitivities should get better fuses. If someone decides to name his dog “Jesus”, “Jehovah” or even my father’s name, why should that cause me sleepless nights? Why should I consider killing such a person? Even if someone tells me that my father is a dog, is that enough grounds to commit murder, when I know I wasn’t fathered by a dog? Some reactions are just laughable.

Let me give this example. My surname, “Ibiamagabara” is an official tongue twister. While a kid, I used to be very angry with anyone who intentionally messed up the name during pronunciation, thinking that they were insulting my father. However, when I was about fourteen years old, I realized I was being silly. I came to understand that pronouncing my surname as “E-be-ah-ma-gba-gba-gba-gba”, or whatever else, had no effect on me or my father. So I learned to simply laugh or ignore people. After all, saying “Jonah is a fool” doesn’t make Jonah a fool.

People who get angry at irrelevancies need real re-education. While we are still talking about the dog’s name, reports have come of a massacre in Zamfara State over “blasphemy”. This is from the same set of people who “take everything personal”, and lack the capacity to laugh nor digest sarcasm. If someone can threaten another’s life over his father’s name, why would he see anything wrong in killing a “blasphemer”. Yet, these fanatics see nothing wrong in shaming African traditional gods nor calling Jesus a “mere prophet”.

Some would see this article as rubbish written by an insensitive person. However, it is the overwhelming embrace of sore sensitivity that caused the lethal shootings at Charlie Hebdo, several other violent acts around the world and the rise of debilitating political correctness. If I didn’t learn anything as an undergraduate in Ife, I learned to take insults, chew them, drink water, and move on. We can choose to ignore perceived insults, or we can wear sore sensitive skins and wipe ourselves off this planet.


Image Credit: posttraditionalbuddhism.com

2 thoughts on “Of Naming Dogs and Unfree Speech”

  1. This is an insightful piece Jonah. We can choose to ignore perceived insults, or we can wear sore sensitive skins and wipe ourselves off this planet… Its wayyy better for us to ignore it. Calling Samuel a Fool does not make Samuel a Fool.

    Its pathetic how misplaced our priority has become. That we let real criminals walk freely on our street and lock up the weak and innocent.


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