posted on Feb 21, 2024 by

My name is Sikiru Adewoye. An indigene of Ila Orangun, Osun State of Nigeria born over 50 years ago. A legal practitioner and Partner in the law firm of Lateef O. Fagbemi SAN. An Animal fancier and an Author of the first major work on Animal Rights in Nigeria.
I am humbled by the privilege of giving a keynote address at this unique and conscionable gathering. It is conscionable because we gather here to dissect a very important aspect of our purpose on the planet earth as humans whose responsibility is to safeguard the earth and make it a better place. Plants and animals (human and non-human animals) are crucibles of the earth.
Permit me to digress a little bit to celebrate the history of SARP and recount its past accomplishments. SARP came into existence in the wake of fight against Ram Lovers/Ram Owners Association engaging in the dastardly act of Ram Fight/Charging Competition in Ibadan. A criminal act ignorantly recognised by the Oyo State government as one of traditional games. The keynote Speaker who had physically protested againt this blood sport got wind of the legal tussle among the stakeholders applied to join the suit filed at the High Court to resolve their internal crisis. My application was granted but the Court reasoned aloud in one of the proceedings alluding to my want of interest not being a member of the Association or an owner of any Ram used for the blood sport hence a challenge to my locus. This challenge gave birth to SARP with the help of other members of the Trustess of SARP. Ever since, SARP has been bearing true allegiance to its objects clause and today’s event also bears eloquent testimony to its giant stride. Presently, SARP is in the forefront of a challenge to the Oyo State Government in court for its destruction of the natural environment of Agodi Gardens originally known as Agodi Zoological and Botanical gardens seeking to protect its flora and fauna.

Moving forward, the theme of today’s discourse is meant to achieve

  1. To sensitise the public that animals as our lower neighbours have feelings like us and deserve our love and compassion; and
  2. To show that this idea of Animal sentience and prevention of cruelty is not a recent phenomenon or a kind of strange anachronism, which imperishable legacy must be guided jealously.

This discourse is meant to have a second look at the perspective of human animals considering non-human animals as dumbs. particularly when events here at home and elsewhere have proved have forced humanity to ask this question that “Are the animals dumb as commonly held by man? “. One of the events that provoked this question came on the heels of Tsunami, a natural disaster that ravaged Indonesia. A disaster that recorded no non-human animal casualty. The Elephants and other animals that saw the calamity coming, broke the shackles and moved to higher grounds escaping the disaster and suffered no casualty. Conversely, the humans who had no clue of the impending danger and fell victim of the calamity? That event and many more after it have provoked another question “Who is dumb afterall?” The answer is best imagined. That tells us that animals speak to us but we might not hear.

Situating that into today’s discourse, Animal sentience and prevention of cruelty. The correlation is not far fetched. It is a clear evidence that animals are sentient beings. This means they have the capacity to experience negative and positive feelings such as pleasure, joy, pain, distress that matter to us human animals.

What is more, evidence abounds from multiple scientific studies that animals are sentient beings. The Internet is awash with indices of animals expressing varying degrees of feelings. Cows striving to save their calves in distress or human interference in the Mother-Child bonding ; Animals shedding tears in fear of danger of being killed; Birds fighting to protect their eggs and offsprings. Dog, man longest companion in history has demonstrated in no small measures this capacity in all spheres of human life, be it in Medicine, Agriculture, Security, Entertainment etc. In other words, the positive feelings of animals for the core values of their rights while the negative feelings constitute the main elements of cruelty which the laws seek to prevent that which they cannot do on their own as hapless creatures.

Some may argue that some animals are savage and cruel to humans too. This argument is weak in that animals particularly with respect to wild animals in captivity. Like animal, no man is born knave. It is either time or event pushes him into knavery. Human interference with their rhythm and natural environment in most cases brings about their savagery in defence.

For pets and domestic animals, more often than not, human actions of cruelty ranging from neglect, misuse, overuse to starvation and other vices experienced by these animals particularly in food industry provoke their violence. Animals, through positive feelings, reciprocate kind gestures and in some cases return positive feelings for negative actions of man even in the face of their cruel manipulation by their owners or keepers.

Interestingly, all religions recognise animals as sentient beings and several verses of the Scriptures allude to this in terms of divine injunctions and admonitions.

Before the real emergence of Science and Technology between 16th and 17th Centuries, our progenitors never doubted the positive and negative feelings of animals. These feelings of animals are variously expressed in the Yorùbá juristic thoughts, folklore, proverbs, cognomen, panegyrics, songs, religious faith, beliefs and practices. A few example of these are as follows:

  1. Akẹ́yinjẹ o mọ pé ìdí ń ro Adìẹ
  2. Ajá ò gbàgbé Olóore. Àgùntàn ò gbàgbé eléèérí

This is also confirmed by Yoruba expressions rooted in the magical words of Ayajo Ìjìnlè Ohùn Ifè which goes thus: “Béwúrẹ́ bá sunkún àánú wọlé, àá fojú àánú wò ó ni. Bágùntàn bá sunkún àánú wọlé, àá fojú àánú wò ó ní. Bájá yán o níwájú ẹni, àánú ẹni a ṣeé”
This teaches us as humans the virtue of compassion for animals.

Our Speakers would do justice to this aspect. However, it suffices to note that it is the recognition of this capacity that the laws were made with a view to safeguarding same hence the theme of this noble gathering.

The first port of call on legal framework is the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights by UNESCO in 1978 (hereinafter simply referred to as UNDRA). The entire gamut of UNDRA deals with human compassion for animals welfare and wellbeing and protection against their sufferings in varying degrees. Articles 3 and 9 of UNDRA are of note in this regard.

These sufferings I consider in the context of this discourse as pains. Some of these pains have been captured by our municipal laws particularly sections 495 of Criminal Code dealing with offences of cruelty against animals. Cruelty brings pains to animals in experimentation in laboratories, food industry, entertainment or amusement, pollution, depravity of freedom even for educational purposes are all pains associated with sentient beings to which animals form an integral part.

There is no gainsaying the fact that animals have capacity to experience positive and negative feelings. The negative feelings I have adumbrated above as pains. To do away with them is to guarantee pleasures for these animals and that is the gospel which UNDRA and other laws preach in order to have a better society.

Sentience is about the capacity to bear pain and pleasure. Inflicting pain on animals in any form is cruelty and must be avoided no matter the purpose. We as humans must recognise and respect that. The morality for recognition of this capacity is love. God is love and desires love for all His creatures, humans and animals. Percey Shelley in his words said ” The great secret of morals is love and the principal means of exciting love is imagination. A man to be greatly good must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own”

Untill the pains and pleasures of animals become the concerns of Nigeria’s teeming intelligentsia, we cannot properly beat our chests as Good People nay a Great Nation and the National Slogan which we pride in becomes a mere superficial veneer.

Centuries from now, it will not matter the house we live in or how much wealth or riches accumulated in a lifetime. But the world will be better because we help some of God’s Lower animals on his earth during our time here.

May I also seize this opportunity to invite audience members to embrace the future mission and vision of SARP.

I thank you all for listening.

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