Nigeria’s 9-year-old lions

Busuyi Mekusi

Many wild animals have been domesticated by humans for reasons that are reflective of conquest, innovation, aggrandisement and selfishness. Animals reared as pets or for agricultural reproduction, from the dog, cat, and bird families, among others, have had their wildness diminished through crossbreeding and psychosocial taming, to take them out of their purely predatory propensities to the domain of friendliness. To this end, these days, lions are not just in zoos but some of them have been cultured and confined to domestic spaces as agents of protection to their classy owners. Some institutions in Nigeria do not just have lions that are fed in their zoological gardens, but some Lebanese Lagos-based expatriates sometime ago kept a lion in their residence, with the wild cat described as a menace to the entire neighbourhood, leading to its immediate evacuation.

Wild dogs have also been reported to have visited grievous havocs on people across the country at various times, even as different breeds of dog get infused into the Nigeria domestic space. While some of these dogs are products of quest for security at homes, a few others belonging to the pet category are now used for status-making by not just people whose riches come with their diligence in ageing and business successes, but some of the new breeds that accumulate wealth using the deceitful or scamming arithmetic of the tortoise, the notorious Yoruba trickster. Just like the dangerous preponderance found in the crossbreeding of wild animals, the younger generation of Nigerians are predominantly vicious, inpatient, materialistic, dubious and disruptively reckless.

Because of the fastness of technology that is central to the digital revolution that contrasts with, and suffocates, the older analog, the new breed want everything fast-tracked; from food to clothing; from shelter to automobile; from reasoning to writing, etc., with the journey to the grave hasten by reckless living. Nigeria domestic spaces have been intruded by wild cocks, turkeys, ducks and goats. While the first three sometime now act carnivorously, the last would not just bleat but bite, not necessarily responding to the Yoruba proverb that the goat could bite when pushed to the wall, but because the times have changed. At any rate, in certain climes, it takes honey and snake to secure territories that are prone to the reigns of vampires!

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Evidently illustrative of how the order in human and animal spaces has been reversed, Nigerians were few days ago greeted with the unfortunate killing of a zookeeper, Olabode Olawuyi, by a nine-year-old lion in the zoological garden of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. An error was said to have been committed when the handlers went to feed the wild cats the faithful day, and the animal went for a woman who mistakenly opened the gate to the pen of the lion and got distracted by a phone call. The deceased was said to have rescued the women from the aggressor and fell a victim to its rage instead. Olawuyi was said to have taken care of the lions since they were born nine years before the unfortunate incident, and the dangerous cat chose to prey on him rather than stay with the normal staples they had been hitherto fed with. My thoughts are with the family of Olawuyi, who died on his relevant theatre space, like a gallant soldier that died in the battle, or the licensed swimmer that got drone in the middle of the high sea.

Available literatures show that lions are large and powerful magnificent apex predators that only kill those who raise them by accident. Talking about the motivation that drives the eating pattern of lions, it was reported that a prey would get consumed beyond recognition if a lion is motivated by hunger. Lions are said to naturally exhibit frustration, irritation and play/prey drive, that leads them to hunt. Specifically speaking, domesticated or caged lions are considered to be naturally aggrieved, as complex social animals, as they need entertainment to exhibit natural behavior, a large habitat to roam in, as well as social contact from their own kind. By so doing, even though some humans are metaphors for lions, they would not pass as qualified neighbours to the wild cats that have been supplanted from their limitless wildlife existence to a prison that the controlled and regulated space they are confined to are, in nature and action.

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Quora’s opinions are that even though caged lions are fed, given water, and provided sleeping space, they feel inadequate because of their inability to express their natural urges to pounce, attack, chase, scent, etc. Largely responding to their unpredictability, lions are believed to experience mood swing, making them to have good and bad days. To this end, handlers are encouraged to study their mood, to relate to them. Given the high alertness lions are gifted with, being naturally aggressive and predatory, it is believed that handlers could precipitate predatory responses such as turning a back, running or even shouting. When such cacophonic manifestations are noticed, they could send wrong signals to a touchy lion who could have seen these strange reflexes as mere violation, negating codes of desired respectful behaviour.

With some of the things shared above bearing verisimilitude with the OAU transgression and mauling, apart from the negative consequences of escapades of some who sought spiritual validation as biblical Daniel and got caught in the stony teeth of lions, the killing of a handler by lions could be traceable to likelihood of human error, and not the fault of the wild cats. In order to stay out of the trouble of lions, one is encouraged to; avoid boisterous play with them, avoid cajoling, beating or poking them, but rather they should be treated with utmost respect.

As ‘hard times’ continue in Nigeria, Nigerians have apparently been taken from comfort to discomfort, and are evidently caged, denied of food, water, shelter, and incapacitated, but not amputated. Like lions, they are naturally predatory and aggressive when provoked. Just as found in the likely human errors that could turn the anger of lions on their keepers, Nigerian leaders are living in the errors of incompetence, corruption, nepotism, deceit and personal aggrandizement. They continue to cajole, beat, and poke the less privileged, transgressing boundaries that deny them respect. The mood of poor Nigerians keep changing because of the squeezing deprivation unleashed on them by corruption, insecurity, fuel subsidy removal and floated naira. Some of them have started street protests that the ruling party blamed on the opposition. The claim of economic sabotage is tenable but not convincing in the face of poverty.

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Nigeria economy keeps demystifying known economic theories, as the World Bank and IMF remain obtrusive monitors that hold on to the lever of loan approvals to goad Nigeria government to implement their economic principles. The government at the centre gets lampooned by the day, while sub-national entities under it needlessly escape the scrutiny of citizens. Governors have simply ignored the advice of President Tinubu, as they would spend the people than the money, to alleviate the suffering of their people. While it is true that the ruling APC has successfully blamed the sixteen years of PDP as responsible for Nigeria battered economy, one is worried that we are in the ninth year of APC rule at the centre. Firmly in the grip of numeric symbolism, and correlation between figure nine of the age of OAU killer-lion and the duration of governance of APC in Nigeria, and viewed against the waves of protest in the country, one may argue that Nigeria’s lions may have suffered mood swing, and could contemplate the mauling of their handlers that keep committing disruptive provocative errors.

If the OAU nine-year-old lion was not starved to death in the zoo, in spite of the poor funding of public universities in Nigeria, and that not being the reason for which it attacked and killed Olabode Olawuyi, its longstanding handler and caregiver, it is outlandish that Nigerians should starve to death, either due to citizenship indiscretion or leadership aggression. Rather than resort to ethnic condemnation and justification of hardship, there must be a collective frontal confrontation of all the negative conditions that presently reflect the ideas in Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease. True to Nigeria’s absurdity, the offensive lion that the university authority, in a release, claimed was euthanized was later seen in an amateur social-media-circulated video being shot with a gun, while the dehumanised remains of its victim was lying peacefully. We are strange beings!

Farewell, dear Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, SAN, CON. We appreciate all you were to Ondo State, Nigeria and humanity.

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