The news media reported last week that the senate of the federal republic has before it a bill for a law to save donkeys. It is in its second reading. It generated a mild public interest, obviously. I am sure you must have entertained a quiet chuckle over the story. Not a few people who read the story are wondering why the distinguished senators sent into the upper legislative chambers to make laws for the good governance of our dear country, would concern themselves with whatever hand fate has dealt, is dealing or is about to deal with donkeys. This is not a country of animal-lovers. So, why should the law-makers care about this particular animal?
I will tell you why.
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Donkeys, also known as asses, are not anyone’s favourite domestic animals. Take that back. But for donkeys, lepers would not ride. We do not give donkeys credit for the content of their grey matter. They are quiet animals that give no one any troubles, if you discount their braying at odd times, as if seeking attention from those who are reluctant to give them any attention. Donkeys are said to be stupid. They are the animals who wear the inglorious label of stupidity. When the law behaves in a manner that it confusedly misspells justice, we dismiss it as an ass; meaning that the law is as stupid as the donkey.
Anyway, back to the bill under consideration. In the arcane language of law-making it is called “A bill to regulate the slaughter of donkeys and establish breeding and ranching of donkeys through export certification value chain to mitigate the extinction of donkeys.” Do not crack your head over the full meaning of that. Law is always a puzzle; one good reason why we pay lawyers to unravel them. The bill is sponsored by Senator Yahaya Abubakar Abdullahi, the senate majority leader from Kebbi State. In its entirety the bill seeks to deal with environmental, economic and social problems in the states with significant donkey populations.
Fear not, people of Akwa Ibom and Cross River states. Dogs are not about to enjoy the same level of legal protection as the donkey. Your cherished delicacy, 404, is fully safe from the prying eyes of the law.
You would not believe this but the donkey bill became both urgent and necessary because of the Chinese. They are here as donkey buyers, donkey slaughterers , donkey eaters, and donkey exporters. The primary purpose of the law is to stop them from killing off our donkeys. The Chinese cottoned on to the uses of a dead donkey long before we did in Nigeria. They followed the donkey trail and it led them to our country where, to their God-given luck, they found the animals roaming in our towns and cities, seemingly uncared for as if they have no owners. They came with Ghana-must-go bags bulging with mint Naira notes the sight of which would make a donkey owner readily part with his donkey. And the donkeys are doing just that.
The donkey may be stupid but every part of it gives wealth. The Chinese know this. Its hide is precious; its bones are precious; its flesh is precious; in short, in manner of hyperbole, the donkey is crude oil and gold rolled into one. Next time you hear the donkey braying do not insult it.
I am not sure we know the population of donkeys in Nigeria because no one really cares that much about them. But it is fair to suggest that they must number in millions. What is more certain is that Kebbi State has perhaps the largest donkey population in the country. It is no surprise that the bill is sponsored by a senator from that state. He must be pretty much alive to the needs of his people.
The donkey is a source of good meat but perhaps more importantly, it is central to farming, commerce and transportation in the state. Without it, inter-village and inter-community transportation of goods and human beings would be difficult if not outright impossible. If the Chinese deplete the population of the donkeys in the state, its implications would be horrendous for the people. Farming would be arrested because the donkeys are used to plough the land; commercial movement of goods and people would be badly affected because in most of the rural areas in the state, the donkey is the lorry, the limo and the jeep.
In sponsoring this bill Abdullahi seeks to draw national attention to a) the possible extinction of this beast of burden, not only in his state but in the entire northern Nigeria where the donkey had been in the service of the people for so long we take their being there for ever for granted and b) to ginger up the state governments to take up the challenge of saving the donkeys from being lost to Chinese money in order to save our peasant farmers who depend on the donkeys to plough their small holdings with which they still manage to sustain themselves and their families.
To be fair, the Chinese are not the only threats to the donkeys. Locally, hundreds of them are slaughtered daily for their meat and hides for both local leather business and export. The Igbo slaughter them, smoke them, and export them home as bush meat.
The law proposes regulating the slaughter, indiscriminate at that, of the donkeys to arrest the rapid depletion of their population. If there are no donkeys, lepers would not ride either. Donkey ranches would not be a bad idea. It would not be controversial because only the states with a sizeable population of the beast would be required to provide facilities for the ranches.
I support saving the donkeys. Their extinction or the significant depletion of their population would confront the states where they predominate with new and critical economic and social challenges. If the donkeys go, more people would descend the ladder below the abyss of the poverty line and compound the current rising poverty level. Survival of the donkeys would help to arrest that descent and save President Buhari the headache of taking the donkey owners out of poverty too.
Sonala Olumhense will be back next week