It is not uncommon to see animals in the company of humans as the relationship between man and animals has been in existence since time immemorial. Animals can be used as security, pets and even some have served as best friends to some humans who own and domesticate them. Most common of these animals include dogs, cats, birds, etc among others.
There have however been instances where these animals aren’t adequately catered for or maltreated. A popular and recent example of this unsavory incident is that of Roxie[i]. This story featured a dog that was shot three times in the neck by an individual. The social media went ablaze with a surge of mixed feelings about the act; with arguments for and against the seemingly untoward act.
This article, therefore, seeks to examine the act of cruelty towards animals viz-a-viz the position of the law regarding the topic for discussion. This article seeks to unravel the definition, legal position as well as liabilities that inure when anyone is caught performing such acts.
Animal cruelty is also known as animal abuse/ animal neglect. As basic as this concept sounds, animal cruelty can be defined to mean the infliction by omission (neglect) or by commission by humans of suffering or harm upon non-human animals. More narrowly, it can be defined as the causing of harm or suffering for specific achievements, such as killing animals for entertainment. Cruelty to animals sometimes encompasses inflicting harm or suffering as an end in itself, which is referred to as zoosadism[ii].
From the above simplistic, yet exhaustive definition, it is beyond clear that doing or failing to perform any act by a human upon a non-human animal intended to be done for entertainment or for any reason is known as animal cruelty.
One of these instances would be where rams are made to fight against each other as is prominent in some parts of Nigeria as a form of extreme sport. This is seen as cruelty against such animals and such an act is greatly frowned upon by the Laws of the country as the same is seen to be a crime. The legality or otherwise of this act shall be considered under the next heading.
ANIMAL CRUELTY AND THE LAW
Animal cruelty is a significant issue in Nigeria with many cases going unreported and unpunished. It is apt to mention that although there is no specific law or legislation on animal welfare in the country, there are however provisions in some laws that deal with various forms of cruelty to animals.
“(1)Any person who‐
(a) cruelly beats, kicks, ill‐treats, over‐rides, over‐drives, over‐loads, tortures, infuriates, or terrifies
any animal, or causes or procures, or being the owner, permits any animal to be so used; or
(b) by wantonly or unreasonably doing or omitting to do any act, or causing or procuring the commission or omission of any act, causes any unnecessary suffering, or being the owner, permits any unnecessary suffering to be caused to any animal; or
(c) conveys or carries, or being the owner, permits to be conveyed or carried any animal in such manner or position as to cause such animal unnecessary suffering; or
(d) wilfully without any reasonable cause or excuse administers, or causes or procures, or, being the
owner, permits such administration of, any poisonous or injurious drug or substances to any animal, or wilfully without any reasonable cause or excuse causes any such substance to be taken by any animal; or
(e) subjects, or causes or procures, or, being the owner, permits, to be subjected, any animal to any
the operation which is performed without due care and humanity; or
(f) causes, or procures, or assists at the fighting or baiting of any animal, or keeps, uses, manages, or acts or assists in the management of any premises or place for the purpose, or partly for the purpose, of fighting or baiting any animal, or permits any place to be so kept, managed or used, or receives or causes or procures any person to receive money for the admission of any person to such premises or place, is guilty of an offense of cruelty and is liable to imprisonment for six months or to a fine of fifty nairas or to both such imprisonment and fine”[iii].
The above quotation sets the tone for the subsequent discussion on the position of Nigerian Law on whether or not cruelty to animals is permissible or otherwise.
It is sacrosanct to state at this point that the Law greatly frowns and disagrees with the improper treatment of animals. Some of the common ways by which animals are treated unfairly include kicking the animals, flogging the animals, causing them to fight against each other as in the case of ram fights, and using the animals for any form of entertainment.
Animal cruelty really transcends the realm of animals. It is arguably true that animal cruelty does not only end with animals. The writer holds the opinion that people who are cruel to animals are very likely to be cruel to humans as many serial killers began by torturing animals.
As mentioned earlier, the case of the dog (Roxie) that was shot 3 times in the neck speaks largely to the extent to which animal cruelty may be perpetrated. The Criminal Code Act in the above citation, expressly speaks to every form or similitude of cruelty to animals and regards the same as criminal in nature.
POSER: DOES KILLING ANIMALS FOR FOOD EQUAL ANIMAL CRUELTY?
It is a common stance, even almost religious that in all parts of the world, animals are killed and eaten for food during festivals; hens, goats, rams, cows, pigs, and a lot of other animals are killed for food. Even hunters hunt these animals for game and sell them off for commercial purposes. In this circumstance, it is important to state that these acts in the instance(s)do not amount to cruelty to the animals. From the definition as well as the provision of the Law regarding the subject matter, it is essential to note that the intendment of the law for criminalizing such acts is where any act is done or omitted in a bid to hurt the animal for entertainment purposes; only then can animal cruelty be said to have occurred.
Section 495(3) of the Criminal Code Act provides that:
“Nothing in this Chapter shall apply-
(a) to the commission or omission of any act in the course of the destruction, or the preparation for destruction, of any animal as food for mankind, unless such destruction or such preparation was accompanied by the infliction of unnecessary suffering; or
(b) to the coursing or hunting of any captive animal, unless such animal is liberated in an injured, mutilated, or exhausted condition; but a captive animal shall not, for the purpose of this section, be deemed to be coursed or hunted before it is liberated for the purpose of being coursed or hunted, or after it has been recaptured, or if it is under control.”[iv].
The above provision succinctly clears every iota of doubt that may have lingered. Where an animal is intended to be killed for meat, such animal may be killed and this will not be termed as cruelty to the animal. However, if the animal is tortured or treated cruelly before it is killed, such an individual stands a risk of being prosecuted.
Furthermore, where a hunter captures an animal and mutilates or injures it and releases such animal in that mutilated form, such person shall also be held liable for such criminal acts.
One of the woes that bedevil the Nigerian Legal system and further permits perpetrators of this despicable act to continue brazen-facedly albeit in the face of public reprimand, is the dearth of awareness of the criminal liability of this act. It is also worth noting that most of the animal welfare control organizations which would have been able to curb this act and institute criminal proceedings against persons caught in this act are either non-existent or poorly funded. This in turn gives room for the rampancy of the act.
One relatable instance of animal cruelty and where punishment was meted out to the person is the case of Kurt Zouma, a French footballer where he was recorded kicking his cat[v]. Upon apprehension and trial, Kurt Zouma was made to pay a fine of £250,000 and booed throughout a match as his fans perceived his act of animal cruelty to be horrible and disgusting. Not only was he made to pay a fine, but Kurt Zouma was also suspended by his club, West Ham United and he also lost deals with Vitality and Adidas. Furthermore, the said cat was taken by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
Conclusively, the act of animal cruelty is generally perceived to be terrible and should be avoided as the same is illegal.
[iii] Section 495 of the Criminal Code Act of Nigeria.
[iv] Section 495 (3) of the Criminal Code Act