I was chilling in the confines of my comfort when a friend of mine happened on me. Being a curious English Student who found interest in the mores of the legality or otherwise of police actions, he quizzed me on the propriety of the arrest of One Joe Fortemose Chinakwe, a 40 year old purple seller in flea markets. News had it that the man was arrested because he sobriquetted his beautiful dog, BUHARI, the very name of the Nigerian President. Mr. Chinakwe was incarcerated for no less than 3 days.
According to Mr. Chinakwe, the reasons for christening his dog with Buhari as a name, were genuine and in good faith. When asked, he responded by saying:
“I named it Buhari because I found out that the dog is strong. After buying the dog, I named it Bully because of the way it behaved. I decided to change it to Buhari because Buhari, being a military man, the same time, coming back for the second time as a civilian President, he stands on his word. That is how my dog stands on his actions. So, I love the name so much and as such decided to give it to my dog. I was very surprised how a foreigner who lives around here came and said his father’s name was Alhaji Buhari. I have no business with and he went ahead to tell the police. They came to me that night and I was arrested.”
Now, the question that is striking for comfort is whether his action was enough to have him arrested for and tried in court accordingly? In answering this question, I’ll be completely disinterested and non-committal; the Law is the guide here..
Foremost, the extent of the powers of the Police Force in Nigeria is provided for in Section 4 of the Police Act, 2004. The police have the power to protect lives, safeguard property of citizens, intervene and ensure public peace, prevent crimes and ensure the prosecution of criminals as well. Then entire powers of the police force is not Civil but revolves around a Criminal spectrum. Many persons who read the news of how a man called his dog Buhari raised dusts and claimed it was defamatory. However, if indeed it were defamatory, the police has no business in a civil matter. It is the person who has been “defamed”, in this case being the president that has the right to sue for the tortious act of defamation. On the issue of defamation as argued by some persons including lawyers, I hold the opinion that the involvement of the police in arresting the 40 year old man was an act of putting the cart before the horse. Beginning with an arrest in a defamatory matter opens the police service commission to a can of worms as the aggrieved victim of unnecessary incarceration may ventilate his rights and sue for false imprisonment and violation of his Right to Personal Liberty as guaranteed abundantly under Section 35 of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended). On the other hand, it may be argued that President Buhari cannot possibly sue in defamation since he would require the help of Policemen to ensure that Mr. Chinakwe does not take to his heels. However, this argument is unfounded in law. A civil claim is a personal action. Buhari may not even be aware of this act in the face place and if he is aware and aggrieved, his civil action is in Defamation and is only redressible by him alone, like other civil actions. Against the backdrop of defamation, it was absolutely wrong to have had him arrested as that amounts to a violation of his rights to Personal Liberty and Freedom of Movement contained in Sections 35 and 41 of the fons et origo, the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999.
Secondly, Many have argued also that the man has done no wrong and that he has a right to call his dog whichever name he seems fit. This argument at first blush seems valid. Juxtaposing Nigeria with a Country such as America where anyone could call his dog BARACK or BUSH and not be encumbered by the litigious government, One may conclude that Mr. Chinakwe was done nothing to deserve the arrest. To a very Large extent, I agree that he has done nothing legally reprehensible (I am not concluding conclusively). Every citizen of Nigeria has a right to call his beast any name that tickles his fancy after all, no one person is exclusively entitled to a single name. Sometimes, we may be tempted to feel spited or embarrassed when our names are akin to demeaning animals especially when our names are unnaturally peculiar, and the animals in question carry the necessary connotations of uncouth, savage and philistine behaviours. However, this spite is not always redressible or ventilated in Law. The constitution provides in Section 39 that every person shall have the right to freedom of expression including the right to freely hold opinions. Indeed, Mr. Chinakwe mentioned that he loves the strength of his dog and as such, he decided to give it the name Buhari as he loved the strength and authority the President commanded and still commands from his Military rulership to this current civilian dispensation. This is an opinion he freely holds. He has a right to his dog Buhari as long as it was done in good faith and without malice or an intention to invite the public and cause general unrest..
However, the second view explained above is circumscribed greatly by the nuances of Law. As a citizen of Nigeria, you are entitled to a deluge of rights, couched in flowery legal finesse and scattered across a glut of statutes. It will be your undoing to think that these laws are absolute, and of Catholic application. To every rule, there is an exception and to every principle, a limitation.
A very deep consideration of the legality of the arrest of the 40 year old Mr. Chinakwe brings to glare that the Police was right in causing him to be arrested and put behind bars until he was subsequently released. I hold this view in consideration of the fact that Mr. Chinakwe cannot be said to have named his dog Buhari without any form of malice or intention to invite the public. It was reported that Joe Fortemose Chinakwe, a trader in Ogun state has been arrested for naming his dog Buhari. Chinakwe was arrested after one of his neighbours of Northern extraction complained bitterly that he named his dog after his father, Alhaji Buhari the President. According to Vanguard, Chinakwe told his friend to kill the dog and eat the meat as his accuser and his kinsmen reportedly threatened to kill the trader if he was released on bail.
The Divisional Police officer, Abimbola Oyeyemi who was in charge of the station at Sango commented during press interrogations “I have made enquiries. The man bought a dog and inscribed Buhari on both sides of its body. One Mallam lodged a complaint and when our men got there, we found out that it was true. You know such thing can cause serious breach of the peace and ethnic or religious unrest. We are charging him to court for conduct likely to cause a breach of peace.”
Why would he inscribe “Buhari” as the dog’s name on both sides of the dog, in a locality largely dominated by northerners. It was also reported that they warned him of it and he had had a prior problem with some of them. The act of inscribing “Buhari” on the both sides of the dog was a conduct likely to cause breach of peace. It is a crime to breach peace and unsettle the minds of the populace. The police has every right to effect an arrest in that regard. The act of brandishing a dog with a name which, to the knowledge of the person so doing, is likely to irk the public, is contrary to Section 88A of the Criminal Code CAP C38, 2004 as it is the act of provoking breach of peace by offensive publication.
Again, the issue of his constitutional right of freedom of expression may be raised again. However, I humbly think that the constitution aids the police in this regard. Section 45 (1) (a)(b) of the Constitution Of Nigeria, 1999 provides that Section 39 (freedom of expression) shall not be used to invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of defence, public safety, public peace and for the purpose of protecting the rights of other citizens. It therefore means that Mr. Chinakwe may not be able to rely on his freedom of expression to obviate from the miasma he has enveloped himself unless the public unrest abates.
Thankfully, his release from prison bars was expedited and effected by the chief and the Sarkin of the community he resides as the issue had been settled amongst them. It must be noted that the Law is it inflexible. One cannot rely on a law to fan the embers of his malicious intentions. Other laws are there to regiment such conflagration of acute foolhardiness by insensate citizens. It is of sweetening interest that the Constitution never laid a hard and fast rule in respect of fundamental rights, rather, a volatile expression of rights and circumscribing factors to such rights were espoused. Calling your dog any name you deem fit us not a problem. Caution must be employed in place of valour. Such names must not be such as to cause public unrest or become inconsistent with the exercise of common sense.
Again, any wise person must refrain from tongue lashing the police force at every effort or move they make towards quelling unrest. The powers and rights of the Police Force are far-reaching. A proper consideration of Section 4 of the Police Act speaks volume of the colossal powers that inures to them. Be at peace with yourself and with the public. Enjoy and ventilate your rights in a manner that is not inconsistent with the rights and liberties of others. Only then can the law aid in your wailings behind the bars when rendered incommunicado.
I may not have the draft skills of Mackenzie Chalmers, or the interpretation prowess of Lord Denning MR, but while I cross my legs on my bed this morning, I know better than to lock the stables when the horses have bolted.