Animal Times in Nigeria

August 3, 2019
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To Awonriwon Private Zoo on the outskirts of the Ejigbo swamp close to where the best and brightest officers of the Nigerian Armed Forces perished in September, 1992. It was to attend an interactive session put together by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This being the season when animals seem to be outmanning humans in certain key departments, it will be wise to know where the trend is heading.

We may well wake up one morning to discover that animals have upstaged humankind in the struggle for the control of the universe. It will surely be interesting to wake up only to find men being ordered about by a freckled Gorilla chieftain whose mournful and dolorous visage betrayed a deadly and sadistic delight in cracking the whip on human hide.

Incidentally this is not the first time that animals will assume a vast centrality in the affairs of human beings. The ancients were sure that after death humans often assume the form of various animals in seamless transition. Pythagoras, the ancient Greek philosopher, actually opined that the soul our grandmothers may happily inhabit a goat.

Caligula, the old Roman emperor, did not need any philosophic corroboration. When things turned rowdy and nasty in the Roman senate, the resourceful tyrant did not have to wait for any confirmations that human beings are animals and should be treated as such. He quickly sent forth his favourite horse as senator to “lively” up proceedings. There was a bit of biting and scratching but no one was seriously hurt. The horse kept its title as distinguished senator.

Now recall that most recently, a fierce and implacable tribe of rodents dislodged the presidency from the Nigerian presidency without a fight. The column of tough combatants was reportedly heading for the city centre in battle formation before it turned back and headed for the adjoining ravines. The presidency declared a week of prayers and offerings before normality—or is it abnormalitycould be restored. Last week, it was widely reported that snakes swept out Ondo lawmakers from their parliamentary redoubt.

When yours sincerely sighted the Ondo state governor at a birthday party during this past week, it appeared his entourage had been reinforced by a strange personage looking very much like a native snake charmer. The governor’s ample side pockets bulged fearfully with what looked like serpentine stowaways and yours sincerely was ready to make a dash for his life. Having known the chap as a trouble maker in the university, you cannot put anything past the later day legal luminary.

At the interactive session, the lead presenter was to be none other than Baba Lekki who had dusted up all the legal authorities for a memorable intervention. You have to give it to the old man. He may be a loony crank, but he doesn’t do things by half measure. He had turned the entire house into a legal supermarket for disused law books and other arcana of the trade. The last time he was asked to give a valedictory lecture in Ibadan, the students began throwing missiles into his third sentence. He had spent the opening sentences lampooning and lambasting their fathers.

Baba Lekki had titled his intervention, On Man’s inhumanity to animals. As a famous Black nationalist, one can understand why this is a matter of life and death for the old Lion of Amunigun. He began by quoting Pliny the younger: “Something new always comes out of Africa. In the month of June, Africa lived up to that billing for good or bad. Humans left animals behind a long time ago”.

The human species has always trumped its animal cousin in the race to civilization. The paths digressed millions of years ago when the bigger brains of humans began to have telling effects in the race to dominate their environment. Ever since humanity has recorded stunning and astonishing successes in the race to master nature.

But there are times when animals come from behind to seize the initiative, when their power of empathy and capacity for compassion put humans in the shade, or when their capability to learn and profit from the environment prove superior to human initiative. Both examples come from gorillas in African habitats.

It was discovered that gorillas in their natural environment on a park in Central Africa when handed a cell phone could actually do a selfie, proud and erect and with a winning and winsome smile. Whoever thought that animals lack the power of communication and self-projection? In the other significant development, a gorilla in the Kano Zoo is alleged to have swallowed naira currencies to the tune of millions.

The gorilla seemed to have developed a sweet tooth for local currency just as the Nigerian elite have developed a sweet tooth for sweet crude. Put together, the two incidents show just how the other hominids can learn and profit from the technological excellence of the human race while also falling victim of man’s ethical depravity and moral infamy.

For the good people of Kano, this is a terrible shame. In the middle centuries, the ancient metropolis was without any doubt the greatest trading emporium of the Black race. With trade links and routes to what was then the epicentre of human civilization, the great caravan trail stretched all the way to the Middle East through Mali and North Africa. Now in the twenty first century, the same Kano is playing host in its zoo to gorillas that swallow currency with gastronomic aplomb.

It is a grim metaphor for the collapse of real commerce and civilization. But Baba Lekki is having none of that nonsense. He was to lead evidence to show that twice in recent history, animals have been called upon to bear the brunt of crimes by humans. The first time it was a snake that swallowed national currency in Benue.

This time around, it was a gorilla in Kano. It is a classic example of man’s inhumanity to animals. Even the famously ambidextrous Kano State governor could not resist a smile of mirth at the whole development. In exasperation, Baba Lekki called out a dozing Okon.

“Okon, what is the figure of speech in which a man takes on the form of an animal?” the old man demanded.

“Ha Baba, dat one na Iberiberism or onomepataricious”, the mad boy retorted with a sleepy stare.

“Okon be serious, this is not the time for mandibular walkabout. Animals are under serious assault from the human race”, the old man screamed.

“Baba no vex. You know say he don tey when dem fail me for school cert again. But I sab dem figure of speech when animal wan be man, dat one na anthropopotamus or beast of no nation as dem Fela man go say”, the crazy boy drawled. For a moment, his bumbling inanity seemed to have tripped and unsettled the old man. There was indeed a figure of speech like that called anthropomorphism. Unable to resolve the conundrum, Baba Lekki wailed aloud.

“So, is this a case of animals becoming human or humans becoming animals?”

“Ha Baba, na dat one dem fine fine yellow girl for dem Bayelsa Oyinbo television dey call Animal Farm.”Okon crowed with satanic delight.

But once on the sagging rostrum, Baba Lekki changed tack and headed in the opposite direction of the argument. Given the old man’s propensity for devious ruses, this might have been his original intention. The old man sagged and lolled his way to the makeshift podium even as he shrugged off calls from the irate crowd to finish off the true thieves who had ruined the country.

“Baba, we sab dem thieves. Dem snakes and dem gorilla no dey thieve. Na dem politician dey thieve and dem JAMB people”, one man screamed.

“Ha baba make una no go there. Dem Ijamba people don fail me sotey and dem steal money finish”, Okon wailed.

“Even monkey sef dey return money. He get one time like dat when dem Abakaliki monkey steal dem women bag for market. As dem woman dey scream “ego garrim ooo, ego garrim ooo” and dey roll for ground, dem monkey come pity am and him come return dem bag. But these yeye people monkey kind pass them”, another man raved.

“Baba, make una wire dem animal thieves well well today oo”, Okon warned. There was so much anger and poison in the air. The crowd swooned with ecstatic expectations as Baba Lekki cleared his throat. He then dropped the bombshell that threw the crowd into mass confusion.

“My people”, he began with poker-faced solemnity. “I am not interested in all this talk about man’s inhumanity to animals. I think what we have here is a case of animals’ inhumanity to other animals”, the old man paused to gauge the effect of his declaration on the crowd before continuing.

“What?” somebody raved.

“Burukutu don smash dis yeye man’s head”, another noted.

“You see”, Baba Lekki continued without being fazed, “the problem is that the real rulers of this country are animals”.

“Yeparipa!!!!!” one old man screamed.

“Baba, dis one na pabambari. It is gaju. Make una finis dem patapata”. A sinister-looking gap-toothed old man crowed as Baba Lekki renewed his offensive with a daring poser.

“Or have you ever seen another country driven to civil war by cows before? You see these are not ordinary cows. These are abami cows. Among them are Lord Lugard and his wife and the entire British royalty and military High Command”, Baba Lekki concluded with a flourish and lumbered out of the hall.

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