Naming A Dog “Buhari”, Police Impunity And The Law, By Inibehe Effiong
have taken pains to elucidate on the issue under consideration which is
as simple as ABC. It is not because there are no serious and pressing
legal controversies in the country requiring my intervention, but to
basically portray the reckless, arbitrary and intolerable abuse of law
enforcement powers by the police. This matter calls to question the
level of institutional sanity in the Nigeria Police Force.
piece was written by Inibehe Effiong. The views and opinions expressed
here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official
policy or position of 360Nobs.com.
30-year-old trader, Mr. Joe Fortemose Chinakwe, of No 10, Omikunle
Street, Sango-Ota, Ogun State was arrested last Saturday and
incarcerated for about three days by the police for naming his pet dog
“Buhari”. The arrest and detention followed a complaint by an unnamed
Mallam, who is said to be an alien from Niger Republic. Confirming the
arrest to Vanguard newspaper, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in Ogun State, ASP Abimbola Oyeyemi had this to say:
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.”
Continuing, he said:
was arrested last Saturday and we are taking him to court later today
(Tuesday) or tomorrow morning (Wednesday). 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.”
Narrating his ordeal and the rationale for naming his pet dog “Buhari” to Vanguard upon his release on Tuesday, Chinakwe said:
is annoying because the complainant is from Niger Republic and I am
sure he is one of those illegal aliens in this country. He connived with
one Police Sergeant from the Northern part of Nigeria called Musa, who
works at Sango Police division to humiliate me. Worse still, the
Divisional Police Officer there, did not help matters as he refused to
entertain any plea from me after I was arrested that Saturday night. He
simply ordered his men to throw me into the cell.”
said “I did not commit any offence. I named my beloved pet dog Buhari,
who is my hero. My admiration for Buhari started far back when he was a
military Head of State. It continued till date that he is a civilian
president. After reading his dogged fight against corruption, which is
like a canker worm eating into the very existence of this country, I
solely decided to rename my beloved dog which I called Buhari, after
him. I did not know that I was committing an offence for admiring
From the foregoing, the sole issue for determination is
whether the arrest and detention of Mr. Chinakwe in the circumstance is
The starting point in resolving the above issue is
whether the naming of a dog “Buhari” is a criminal offence. The Police
is of the view that it amounts to “conduct likely to cause a breach of
public peace” because according to them, “an average Northerner will
feel bad over such a thing.
This is where the police got it all wrong.
offence erroneously alluded to by the police is provided for in Section
249 (1) (d) of the Criminal Code Cap 29 Vol.11 laws of Ogun State of
Nigeria 2006. The provision is to the effect that “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.
How does the naming
of a dog “Buhari” amount to a conduct likely to cause a breach of the
peace? The conduct envisaged by the law should not merely be offensive
to an individual’s or group’s perception of acceptable conduct. The fact
that an individual or a section of the public considers a person’s
conduct repulsive and reprehensible does not necessarily bring such
conduct within the contemplation of Section 249 (1) (d) of the Criminal
Code so as to occasion a likelihood of breach of the peace.
correct test for determining whether a conduct is likely to cause a
breach of the peace was articulated by the then Federal Supreme Court of
Nigeria in the case of Nelson Ohanyere & 9 Others v Inspector General of Police (1957) SCNLR 213, where Jibowu, AG. F.C.J. (as he then was) held thus:
test to be applied is whether the conduct of the accused was such that a
breach of the peace might reasonably have ensued, and the fact that no
breach of the peace, in fact, took place is irrelevant.”
is a decisive consideration as correctly stated by the court. There is
no reasonable likelihood of a breach of public peace in an individual
deciding to give his pet dog the name of a human being. In the eyes of
the law, it is immaterial that the human name so given is equally borne
by a public figure, such as the president of Nigeria or any other person
for that matter.
The Supreme Court of Canada took a more definitive position on the issue in the case of Frey v. Fedoruk ET AL (1950) S.C.R. 517 when it held that:
not otherwise criminal and not falling within any category of offences
defined by the criminal law, does not become criminal because a natural
and probable result thereof will be to provoke others to violent
retributive action; acts likely to cause a breach of the peace are not
in themselves criminal merely because they have this tendency. It is for
Parliament and not for the Courts to decide if any course of conduct,
which has not up to the present been regarded as criminal, is now to be
that case, the appellant was chased, caught and detained by the
respondent, Fedoruk, after he had been seen on Fedoruk’s property
looking into a lighted side window of the house where a woman was
preparing for bed. A policeman, the other respondent, was called and,
after some investigation, arrested appellant without warrant.
a charge that he “unlawfully did act in a manner likely to cause a
breach of the peace by peeping …” appellant was convicted by a Police
Magistrate but acquitted by the Court of Appeal. In upholding the
appellant’s claim for damages for false imprisonment, Kerwin J. who read
the leading judgment of the court insisted that the act of peeping was
not in itself a crime as such the appellant could not be prosecuted for
acting in the manner likely to cause a breach of the peace by peeping.
The court emphasised that for such a charge to be sustained, the
particular act complained of must itself be a crime.
precedent only has a persuasive effect on Nigerian courts. It is not
binding. I submit that despite its non binding nature, the decision is
logically tenable and legally sound.
It is not permissible under
our constitutional law and criminal jurisprudence for a person to be
prosecuted for conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace contrary to
Section 249 (1) (d) of the Criminal Code when the very conduct
complained of is not in itself a criminal offence.
In the instant
case, is it a criminal offence in any Act of the National Assembly or
law of any State House of Assembly of the federation, including Ogun
State for a person to give his pet dog a human name or name a dog after a
particular human being, irrespective of the status of the human being
after which the dog is named?
The police knew that the answer to
this simple question is a capital NO. Yet, it recklessly and unlawfully
proceeded to effect the arrest and detention of Mr. Chinakwe for naming
his pet dog “Buhari”.
Section 36 (12) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) states thus:
as otherwise provided by this Constitution, a person shall not be
convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the
penalty therefore is prescribed in a written law, and in this
subsection, a written law refers to an Act of the National Assembly or a
Law of a State, any subsidiary legislation or instrument under the
provisions of a law.”
constitutional provision enshrines the right to be tried for an offence
that is known to law. It forbids the arrest, detention, prosecution or
conviction of any person except for a crminal offence that is prescribed
in a written law. This provision was first tested in the locus
classicus of Aoko v Fagbemi (1961) 1 All NLR 273 where the
Apext Court unanimously quashed the conviction of the appellant for
adultery since adultery was found not to be a criminal offence in any
written law in the South.
police stated that Chinakwe’s “conduct” was “likely to cause a breach
of public peace” because “an average Northerner will feel bad over such a
This is most ridiculous.
Why should “an average
Northerner” feel bad because someone named his dog “Buhari”? Is
President Muhammadu Buhari the president of Nigeria or the president of
the North? While it is morally imperative for the office and person of
the president to be respected by all, refusal to accord Buhari “respect”
is not a crime.
There is a distinction between calling President
Muhammadu Buhari a dog on the one hand and naming a pet dog “Buhari”.
While the former on the face of it is offensive and derogatory of the
president, the latter may be either innocous or derogatory depending on
the circumstances and motive of the owner of the dog. However, none of
the two cases can justify arrest, detention or prosecution. The reason
being that no criminal offence is committed in either case.
worst, such “conduct” is merely ‘contra bonos mores’ (Against good
morals) but not ‘contra pacem’ (Against public peace) in the sense of
being a breach of the criminal law. The maxim is ‘nullum crimen nulla
poena sine lege’, that is, there is no crime nor punishment except in
accordance with law.
The owner of the dog told Vanguard
that he actually named the dog “Buhari” because of his “admiration” for
Buhari who he said is his hero. Even if he did so out of sheer animosity
and disdain for President Muhammadu Buhari, it will still not justify
his arrest and detention. There is nothing sacred about the name Buhari
in the eyes of the law. Our president is not the only person bearing
The allegation by the police that Chinakwe inscribed
“Buhari” on both sides of his dog’s body and walked around with it does
not make any difference. It is fashionable for people to give dogs human
names. It is also fashionable for pet dogs to be carried around. Some
people even go the extent of putting dogs in their vehicles and sleeping
with them on the same bed.
If there was a law that criminalise
the “conduct” of giving a human name to a dog, it would have had a
universal application in the country or any part thereof where same is
other words, it would not only be a criminal offence for a person to
name his or her dog “Buhari”, it would also be a crime for a dog to be
named Moses, Musa, Antonio, Chukwu, Okon, Babalola, Christiana, Halima
and so on.
such unthinkable law to be capable of enforcement within the framework
of the legal system and the criminal jurisprudence, it must not only
define in clear terms what a “human name is” but also equally list the
names so defined.
is legislatively, humanly and logically impracticable. Supposing
without conceding that it is practicable, such an absurd law would still
be manifestly unconstitutional as it would violate the fundamental
right to freedom from discrimination under Section 42 of our
Constitution since some human names will be unavoidably omitted.
Nigeria Police Force has an uncharitable way of shaming itself. This is
a case where the complainant is said to be an alien from Niger Republic
but was able to maliciously and illegally set the police in motion
against a citizen of Nigeria.
In its characteristic manner, the
police detained Mr. Chinakwe beyond the period allowed by law and denied
him bail despite entreaties by his family in violation of his
fundamental right to personal liberty under Section 35 of the
Constitution. He was only released on the fourth day after his arrest.
This is condemnable and unacceptable. Mr. Chinakwe should seek redress in a court of law.
conclusion, unprecedented and radical reforms are needed urgently in
the Nigeria Police Force. Countless innocent Nigerians have been
serially humiliated, tortured and murdered by the police for the most
flimsy and senseless reasons.
We cannot continue like this as a nation.