Mad, killer-cows and the rest of us
By Reuben Abati

On Sunday, June 12, I wrote the present piece in The Guardian on Sunday. With what has now happened at the Port Harcourt International Airport, namely the head-on collision, between a herd of cattle and an Air France aircraft, the article has suddenly assumed an even fresher significance. By yesterday morning, I had received several calls asking me to reproduce it. I do so in deference to those callers, but even more so, to underscore the need for government to regulate the grazing of cattle in the country. Cows on an airport runway? It is bizarre. It conveys the definite impression to the international community that Nigerians, in 2005, are living in one big zoo without boundaries. The accident involving man, machine and animal occurred at 4.30 am. Six cows were killed, the aircraft was badly managed, all the 196 passengers on board escaped unhurt - lucky fellows! The issues involved include airport security, the negligence and incompetence of the relevant authorities and the crisis of underdevelopment. But, by the way, here is the article of June 12:

TWO sad incidents, involving man and animal occurred last week with such consequences that must compel us to address once and for all the menace that is posed to public sanity and human lives by the continuing presence in wrong places of cattle, or other dangerous animals kept as livestock by persons either for sport or commercial purposes. At the Trade Fair Complex, along the Lagos-Badagry-Cotonou Expressway, a cow was said to have strayed from the herd being shepherded around by its owner, and the stray cow simply went mad. It ran into a motor park and held the traders in the nearby market hostage. It was obviously a mad cow which was no longer obeying the commands of its owner.

It went after a commercial driver, 45-year old Godwin Adodo, and rammed its hoofs into the poor man's head. Mr. Adodo, a graduate of Yaba College of Technology was reportedly rushed to a nearby clinic. He died within ten minutes. The owner of the cow has since been arrested. His explanation is that the cow had earlier escaped from where it had been sheltered; that he and his colleagues were trying to cage it when it suddenly ran amok. The cow has also been arrested.

The Vanguard of Saturday, June 11, has the photograph of this killer-cow on page two under the banner: "Stories that touch the heart". The photographs of the cow and its master should actually have been on the front page. For this is indeed a story that touches the heart and a comment on the disorganisation that average Nigerians have to deal with daily. Married with five children, the late Adodo was the sole provider for his family, his wife we are told is bedridden and has been in that condition for a long time. Adodo had to opt for commercial driving "because of hard times". And now that he is dead, his family has been placed in more difficult circumstances as it were, all because a cattle-man, did not put in enough "duty of care" to prevent the escape of his dangerous property.

The same day (Wednesday, June 8 - the day of mad cows), another cow went mad in Apapa, Lagos. This was on Malu road (no pun intended as Malu means cow in Yoruba, this is actually the name of the street in Apapa). The said cow strayed to a dunghill where it attacked a mad woman. The lunatic tried to avoid the mad cow, but in the end the latter overpowered the woman, lifted her off the ground, slammed her on the dunghill and started attacking her. The lunatic managed to break loose, she became momentarily sane and started running away from the mad animal. The animal gave chase, as if to prove that "madness passes madness". In the ensuing melee, the cow, the woman and an Okada cyclist collided. The Okada rider and his passenger sustained serious injuries. And the woman eventually bled to death. In this particular incident, there are no reports of any arrests having been made. Still it is sad.

What we are faced with is a situation where cattle rearers, operators of cattle markets and abattoirs have turned themselves into an organised nuisance in the city of Lagos and I suppose elsewhere. I cannot count the number of times I have had to run into the spectacle of cattle actually being shephereded on the very busy streets of Lagos in broad daylight. When this happens, the cattle rearers become lords of the road. Both motorists and passers-by would all be on alert. The same Lagosians who defy motorists and traffic regulations don't ever disrespect cattle on a promenade. Traffic would automatically grind to a halt. And the cattle-men with their long and short sticks could be seen having a free passage with their cattle. They instil fear and I guess they enjoy doing so.

One night on the Third Mainland, I almost ran into a cow. It was in the evening and it was raining heavily, with almost no visibility. Motorists were supposed to worry about visibility and the risk posed by the cattle on Third Mainland Bridge! Faced with a cow that suddenly turned around and faced my car, I didn't know what to do, but miraculously, it moved away and I drove past. We know about the two incidents that have been reported above only because they were brought to the attention of the media. Only God knows how many other families have lost their dear ones, how many innocent lives have been damaged, due to attack by mad cows or other animals. Something has to be done, and urgently too.

To serve as a deterrent to others, the owners of the two mad cows in the present case, must be prosecuted and punished accordingly. They are the real murderers not their cows; they should be brought to justice under both tort and criminal law. They have a duty to ensure that their dangerous animals do not escape and cause injury to others. Allowing cows to escape unto highways and busy neighbourhoods, or actually grazing animals in such unnatural territories for that purpose as the Third Mainland Bridge is an act of public nuisance that has gone on for too long. There is no highway or municipal road in Nigeria that is purpose-built for cattle rearing, so grazing a herd on Malu road or at the Trade Fair complex cannot be said to be lawful.

The principle is as spelt out in Cox v. Bumbridge namely - "If I am the owner of an animal, I am bound to take care that it does not stray on to the land of my neighbour; and I am liable for any trespass it may commit, and for the ordinary consequences of that trespass, whether or not the escape of the animal is due to my negligence is altogether immaterial". Where the animal is naturally dangerous as in the two cases above, and the attack is not due to any fault of the victims, a strong case can be made. But would the victims sue? In the superstitious society in which we live, families are likely to interpret a murderous attack by a cow, as a supernatural incident, or annoyingly as an act of God which it is not. Even the state for political reasons may ignore the criminal indications of the case.

The kind of silly explanation that I have heard since the two incidents occurred for example, is that cattle rearing is a cultural thing; to impose any restrictions on how that is done or to punish any Nigerian involved with cattle may result in charges of unfair treatment and/or marginalisation by a section of the country. This is the problem with us in this country. We read politics into everything and politics in our view means the latitude to be dishonest. Who says cattle-rearing is cultural? More than 40 years after independence, is it not scandalous that our management of livestock is still at the level at which our ancestors left it? People eat beef in other parts of the world, but you won't see cows on the streets of America where there are even richer and fatter cows.

Here in the 21st century, cows are killing human beings on the streets of Lagos in broad daylight. The Trade Fair Complex on the Lagos-Badagry-Cotonou expressway is an international events venue. Can you imagine a cow straying into an ongoing International Trade Fair at that venue, and battering a tourist or a prospective investor in the Nigerian economy to death? Apapa is one of the main commercial neighbourhoods in the city of Lagos; that is where the Lagos port is, it is also an international commerce area, and yet in the same place, you have mad cows killing innocent people. How about that and the appeal to the international community to come and do business in Nigeria?

The ethnic or political excuse cannot stand. In fact to use it all is to be inhuman. What is required is to find ways of putting a permanent stop to the grazing of animals inside the city. Operators of abattoirs, the leaders of cattle markets and cattle-men must be stopped from transporting cattle on foot across the city. They must use trailers and do so only at specific periods at night and through specific routes. Cattle markets should also be moved away from residential neighbourhoods and business districts. Law enforcement agents must become more vigilant. Anybody who flouts the regulations must be sanctioned. We need not wait until lives are lost before we begin to make the right noise. Beef is sweet, but we should not enjoy its sweetness at the cost of human lives.

The other issue is the care of the animals. Veterinary medicine is such a grossly underdeveloped branch of medicine in Nigeria. Our society is littered with mad and sick livestock and nobody really cares. One problem is that of poverty. But the other problem, and the bigger one really, is widespread ignorance. People dealing with cattle rely on ancient wisdom, instead of taking advantage of science and technology. It is the duty of government therefore to begin a programme of education for livestock farmers. Someone once championed the cause of nomadic education in this country; may be we need to revisit some of his recommendations in order to move cattle-rearing in particular towards a post-ethnic, post-modernist culture. Godwin Adodo does not deserve to die. The nameless mad woman of the Apapa incident also has the right to live and to be treated with dignity. All the rights of the other persons who were injured are similarly sacrosanct.

Let me add however, that apart from the threat posed by cattle as dangerous animal, I also see on a regular basis on the streets of Lagos, groups of jokers going about with terribly dangerous animals: foxes, hyenas, lions- with their jaws ostensibly firmly clasped down - which they parade by the roadside to provide fast entertainment for the public. Sometimes, snakes are used. Nigerians being professional spectators actually gather at such scenes and amuse themselves.
I have seen children touching the animals for fun. Policemen and other uniformed officials also take part in the macabre display. I have always imagined that one of these days, one of those dangerous animals would suddenly break loose and behave true to type. Not to do anything about these matters is to court that eventual disaster and embarrassment. I rest my case.
The Guardian.