Despite the courts declaring the ridiculous offence of wandering as being inconsistent with the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of movement, the Nigerian Police never stopped its sweeping arrest of people for “wandering and loitering” for extortion of “bail money”.
So it was an incredible story when goats not humans became the arrested “wanderers”. It was a media storm. Then a colleague had argued with me that it was impossible till he saw the news (seeing is believing).
The news was that On 5th January, 2013 the Osun State Waste Management Agency (OWMA) had arrested five goats for alleged wandering within residential areas in Osogbo, the State Capital. The goats had allegedly violated Article 101, CAP 11 of the Laws of Osun State which prohibits animals from straying into or wandering in residential areas.
So just imagine it was the scene in a Nollywood movie, with Femi Kuti’s first hit “wanderer” playing in the background, OWMA officials had walked (or run) up to each of these goats and said you Mr/Mrs goat are under arrest for wandering. The stubborn goats would of course resist arrest and attempt to escape but the diligent OWMA officials will outrun and restrain them. Probably handcuffs and leg chains will be employed. The scene ends with the song playing in the background; “wander wander wander wander, wander wander wander wander, till you turn to wanderer”.
A background on animal rights especially goats in Nigeria would help us understand the main issues in the story. Tolu Ogunlesi’ s Article “Enough is Enough: Nigerian Goats Fight Back”, published in Daily Independent Online and will be of a great help.
“Background first. Nigerian goats belong to the bottom of the Global Animal Treatment Index (GATI). They own that space. They always get the short end of the stick. Even Nigerian cows fare better, in a country where everything on four legs is destined for a bowl of soup. At least cows are fed and fattened and – most importantly – feared. Goats on the other hand are always treated as vagabonds. There is something about a Nigerian goat that invites assault, physical and verbal. (See the phrase ‘stubborn as a goat’).
Potbellied children – stick –in-hand – tormenting goats (which are often taller than them) are a common sight on the potholed, pond-ridden alleys (aka roads) of Nigerian cities. Goats are good for nothing save pots of steaming pots of super-peppery soup. Vilified in life, exploited in death.”
To add insult to injury, the state that has granted no rights to animals, arrests goats for wandering. Many Nigerians turned to animal rights activist and demanded the immediate release of the goats who were not even granted bail till they appeared in Court three days later alongside their owners.
Many queried the mental consciousness of animals to understand and obey laws and avoid their violation. Speculations and imaginations ran riot on how the goats would be tried; the charges read to them and their pleas taken. That was laid to rest 3 days later on Tuesday 8th January, 2013 when the goats appeared before an Osogbo Magistrate Court presided by her Worship Mrs. A. O. Ajanaku.
However only four of the celebrity defendant goats were available for trial as the OWMA had alleged the 5th goat had died in its custody. That had set tongues wagging that the deceased goat had been used for isi ewu delicacy by officials of the OWMA.
Probably out of fear the goats would disrupt proceedings over the death of their colleague and to maintain serenity, the Magistrate had ordered the goats be kept outside the courtroom while their owners took their place in the dock. The goats were teetered outside the courtroom while spectators and journalists fell over themselves to take pictures of the celebrity goats. (They were even said to have declined the requests of journalists for interviews probably in honour of their fallen colleague).
The owner of the dead goat was discharged before the trial commenced with the prosecutor Mr. Femi Ogunbamiwo, stating the case against the goats while counsel to the accused goats Mr. Jimoh Daramola, had pleaded for a lenient sentence and promised that the accused goats would be of good behaviour and never breach the laws of the state in future (are you kidding me?).
The goats were found guilty of wandering and their owners fined N2,500 for each of the goats payable within 7 days or the owners would forfeit the animals.
The arrest and trial of the wandering goats was unprecedented and had its many firsts. Though a goat had been arrested, detained and paraded by the Police in Kwara State in January 2009 for alleged attempted robbery, however the goat was said to be a man about to be apprehended for the crime, but changed into the arrested goat.
So the Osun gates were the first animals to be arrested and tried for criminal violations committed in their capacity as animals. The Magistrate, prosecutor and defence counsel also made history courtesy of the case.