Similar attack trashed & looted renowned drill conservation project
LAGOS, Nigeria––Amid the chaos and violence engulfing Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria, the October 14, 2020 mob destruction of the Nigeria SPCA has so far not even won local media coverage.
But the attack crippled the oldest institution in Nigeria that offers humane education and teaches nonviolence, as well as providing outpatient animal care, just as the nation urgently needs the kind of leadership the Nigeria SPCA has for 73 years offered.
The latest wave of violence to sweep Nigeria erupted on October 7, 2020 with a homegrown counterpart of the Black Lives Matter movement active in the U.S. and Britain.
Police brutality fueled violent protest
Explained Laura Smith-Spark for CNN, “Nigeria has been rocked by nationwide protests over police brutality, following widespread claims of kidnapping, harassment and extortion by a controversial police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
“For more than a quarter of a century,” Smith-Spark told viewers, “SARS took the lead on the country’s most serious crimes––armed robbery, kidnapping, assault and murder. But over time it became notorious for alleged abuses committed with apparent impunity.”
Amnesty International in June 2020 reported that “Detainees in SARS custody have been subjected to a variety of methods of torture including hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence.
“Reform” suggests same abuses under new name
“Findings from our research,” Amnesty International said, “indicate that few cases are investigated and hardly any officers are brought to justice on account of torture and other ill-treatment.”
By then the Nigerian government had already been promising for two years that the SARS unit would be reformed. Only after sometimes violent street demonstrations broke out, however, did the inspector general of police announce on October 11, 2020 that the SARS unit would be disbanded and replaced with a Special Weapons And Tactics team (SWAT).
This is widely seen as a continuation of the same abuses under a different name.
Toll includes 51 civilians, 11 cops, 7 soldiers
As of October 22, 2020, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari acknowledged, at least 69 people were known to have died: 51 civilians, 11 police officers, and seven soldiers. Another 37 civilians were reportedly injured, mostly by police gunfire.
Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had released a list of 23 police officers who had either been charged or were expected to be charged with offenses including murder, manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, armed robbery and causing grievous body harm.
Numerous buildings, including at least one prison, had been set on fire.
As of October 23, 2020, the streets of Lagos and other major cities were reportedly quiet, under 24-hour-a-day curfews.
Nigeria SPCA victim of land grab
The diversion of Lagos police attention to suppressing protest for most of three weeks provided an opening for resurgent crime of all sorts, including land seizures by squatters, scammers, and goondas taking advantage of weaknesses in Nigerian real estate titling records.
That included the takeover of the Nigeria SPCA property.
Posted longtime Nigeria SPCA chief executive Emmanuel Eyoh to Facebook on October 19, 2020, “Our building has been destroyed by trespassers/scammers.
“On the 14th of October,” Eyoh explained, “thugs came to the premises of the Nigeria SPCA shelter to vandalize and tore the building down.”
A simple concrete block structure, “The building, located at 11 Gray St Sabo, Yaba, Lagos has been the office of the NSPCA, shelter for stray and abandoned animals, and storage for our documents, equipment, and kennels since 1959,” Eyoh recounted.
“We are completely lost”
“We are completely lost on why these individuals did this action,” Eyoh said, “as they claim they just recently acquired the property, which we didn’t put up for sale, and we remain the rightful owner.
“We are especially pained for the loss of property, documents and records that we have maintained for several decades,” Eyoh continued. “We lost the kennels, pet food, bowls, COVID-19 relief supplies, veterinary items, etc. They sent the dogs [on the premises] away,” meaning that they were scattered about the neighborhood.
Not just any neighborhood, the immediate vicinity includes the Yaba Magistrate Court and Chief Magistrate Court directly next door, the Independent National Electoral Commission one street away, two schools, and a police barracks two blocks east.
Supposedly the Nigeria SPCA was in one of the most secure parts of Lagos––but it had also come to occupy some of the most pricy real estate in the city. That made it an easy target for the unscrupulous.
“We have served since 1947”
“We have served our Nigeria and Lagos state since 1947,” Eyoh said.
“We reported the matter to the police and some people were arrested by the police, who claimed one lawyer, barrister Bada Olamilekan esquire, and Chief Ayodele Williams, sent them, saying that they have bought the place.”
Eyoh asked concerned people worldwide to “Please help save the Nigeria SPCA by sending an email to the Lagos State Governor [asking him] to arrest and prosecute the culprits and to compel them to rebuild the place and pay for the items destroyed and stolen by them.”
Eyoh furnished the email address for Lagos governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu: [email protected].
But under the current circumstances of Lagos, and of Nigeria as a whole, the plight of the Nigeria SPCA may not receive immediate attention.
“Court processes are very slow here”
The takeover of the Nigeria SPCA “could be fought in court,” Eyoh said “but court processes are very slow here.”
Both barrister Bada Olamilekan and Chief Ayodele Williams are well-known names in Lagos, Bada Olamilekan as “editorial manager, African Law Reports,” and Chief Ayodele Williams as a prominent Lagos lawyer for nearly 50 years in the mid-20th century, after whom dozens of other prominent Nigerians are named.
Ironically––or perhaps coincidentally––property allocations in the estate of Chief Ayodele Williams gave rise to one of the most prominent land claims cases in Nigerian legal history, decided in the Nigerian Court of Appeals on June 27, 1988.
That case was probably well-known to Bada Olamilekan and the namesake of Chief Ayodele Williams before their alleged forcible takeover and demolition of the Nigeria SPCA premises.
“Met them at the police station”
“I haven’t met them in person until at the police station last week Thursday,” Eyoh told ANIMALS 24-7, which if Eyoh was correct about the date, would have been the day before the Nigeria SPCA building was actually torn down.
“I think it’s because the property is for animals they feel it’s wasted,” Eyoh ventured.
And perhaps some of the influential neighbors of the Nigeria SPCA objected to the barking and odors associated with the presence of the animal shelter.
Whatever happened, and why, the destruction of the Nigeria SPCA building undid many years of dedicated work by Eyoh, who as Africa Regional Coordinator for the International Vegetarian Union led a long campaign to revitalize the organization and renovate the premises.
Founded as Nigeria Branch of Royal SPCA
“Our refurbished Nigeria SPCA hospital and shelter were formally commissioned and presented to the public on June 22, 2011 by Dr. Deinde Shoga, district governor of the Rotary Club of Lagos,” Eyoh wrote to ANIMALS 24-7 after the ceremony.
“The Rotary Club of Palmgrove Estate in Lagos was among the supporters who helped in the rehabilitation,” Eyoh acknowledged.
“The Nigeria SPCA was founded in 1947 as the Nigeria Federal Branch of the Royal SPCA of Great Britain,” Eyoh recalled. “The hospital and shelter were built in 1959 by Trevor Scott, who later became the first director general of World Society for the Protection of Animals (now called World Animal Protection). Records at the society’s office indicate that the Nigeria SPCA was the first branch of the RSPCA outside the British Isles. It was administered directly by the Royal SPCA until 1963.
Save Nigeria SPCA Project
“Unfortunately, after 2000 the organization nearly died,” Eyoh said. “The hospital was in ruins, used by hooligans as a hideout. In 2005, I formed the Save Nigeria SPCA Project to seek help in restoring the organization and the facilities.
“Stephen Chacha, then the World Society for the Protection of Animals manager for Africa, visited Nigeria in 2007. With WSPA support,” Eyoh continued, “we began rebuilding and refurbishing the building in 2009. N.G. Patel, the president of Rotary Club of Palmgrove Estate, and Chief C. Dugad, the executive director of the Chandaria Foundation, both patrons and supporters of the Nigeria Vegetarian Society, which I founded and still direct, made their annual donations to the Nigeria Vegetarian Society to support the rehabilitation work at the Nigeria SPCA instead.
“We completely rehabilitated the shelter”
“We completely rehabilitated the shelter, the hospital building, and the entire complex,” Eyoh said. “In addition, we were able to acquire adjacent land to expand the Nigeria SPCA structures. The organization had tried for more than 25 years in the past to acquire this property.
“Above all, we began doing work that directly helps animals, such as street dog vaccination, vaccination of pets, de-worming, sterilization, and humane education.”
Eyoh also thanked the Alice Morgan Wright/Edith J. Goode Trust, the Africa Network for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International, the Capital Humane Society in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the Gambia Horse & Donkey Trust for helping the Nigeria SPCA revival.
Drill Ranch sacked
The destruction of the Nigeria SPCA was not the first mob attack on an animal protection organization in Nigeria during 2020.
Reported Anietie Akpan for The Guardian on February 9, 2020, from Calabar, the capital city of Cross River State, Nigeria, about 120 miles east of Lagos, “Thirty-one-year-old Drill Ranch, perhaps the world’s most successful captive breeding program for endangered drills in Buanchor, Boki, which holds about 600 drills (close relatives of mandrills) and chimpanzees, is under serious threat.
“Recently youths from Buanchor, numbering over 20, on motorbikes, were alleged to have invaded the camp at the ranch. They took hostage a co-founder of the ranch, Liza Gadsby, from Oregon, and Zack Schwenneker, from Michigan. A Dutch citizen, Sebastian Pirns, who visited the camp to effect some repairs, was beaten up and later let go on grounds that he was a visitor.”
Mob retaliated for police vehicle accident
Founded in 1988 by Gadsby and Peter Jenkins of the Oregon-based Pandrillus Foundation, both of whom were on site at the time of the attack, and have also assisted the Nigeria SPCA, the Drill Ranch was burglarized on December 29, 2019, according to Gadsby’s account posted to the foundation web site on February 29, 2020.
Taken were two MacBook Pro laptop computers and about $2,000 in Nigerian currency just delivered “the night before to pay staff year-end bonuses,” Gadsby wrote.
Local police took five Drill Ranch staff members into custody. On January 8, 2020, a police vehicle crash killed staff members Kyrian Tah, of Buanchor, and Peter Eyo, of Oron, also injuring six police officers.
“The next day, January 9, news of the accident reached camp by radio from Calabar,” Gadsby said. “There were no details on who was killed. As we struggled to grapple with the tragedy, the news reached Buanchor. Dozens of village youth stormed our camp. They poured in on motorcycles, armed with clubs and machetes. They ransacked the camp, smashing our vehicles, generators, equipment, tools, structures – everything they saw. They manhandled me and project manager Zack Schwenneker onto motorcycles and whisked us to the village.
“All damaged, destroyed, stolen”
“In Buanchor it was chaos and mayhem. Hundreds of people were shouting, pushing, pulling and struggling to chain us. Zack was pulled into the street, savagely beaten and dragged away. The community leadership were powerless. After a few hours Zack and I were rescued by friendly factions, reunited, and returned to camp.
“We found camp heavily damaged and looted,” Gadsby recounted. “Vehicles, the kitchen, the main lodge, the tool shed, fuel stores, radios, cameras, phones, binoculars, etc. all were damaged, destroyed or stolen. The office was looted, including $1,700 in local currency.”
Fortunately, Gadsby found, “The animals and enclosures were untouched. Ikom Police Command sent four armed officers that night, who helped to secure the camp for the next month, for which we were incredibly grateful.
“We are struggling to see our future here”
“Without our Land Rovers or a driver willing to go to into the village, we struggled the first week to get enough animal food,” Gadsby said. “Fortunately, two men with vehicles from Buanchor stepped in to carry animal food at reasonable rates.
“We don’t know if Drill Ranch is sustainable at this location,” Gadsby added. “Buanchor is unlikely to improve. It is rife with gangs and the leadership, however well-meaning they may be, cannot control the youth. Despite being amongst the largest private employers in the Boki tribal area, spending up to $1,000 cash every week buying animal food from villagers, Drill Ranch was not protected from rampaging youths.
“We are struggling to see our future here ––a place Peter and I, with the help of the Cross River State government, federal government and many others, committed 30 years to establishing,” Gadsby said.
Recent Facebook postings indicate that as of October 13, 2020, Drill Ranch is still near Buanchor and still functioning, but how long any animal protection project can survive amid the present Nigerian chaos appears to be an open question.