A Goat Named Saddam – By Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Once when we were much younger, our neighbours in Jos had a furiously fertile she-goat that birthed a litter of two or three kids now and then. But in the year that Saddam Hussein defied the world, invaded Kuwait and stared down a US invasion, this fertile goat gave birth for the first time to a single kid, a wobbly brown goat with lanky legs and unsteady gait.
At that time, Nigeria’s north was torn between supporting Saddam and deriding him. The owner of the goat, a stocky, taciturn man with severe expressions, made his stand known when he joked that he had named the newborn goat Saddam. I guess people were not used to him joking about anything so they assumed he was serious. Or maybe he was. Whatever the case, the name stuck. People fancied a goat with a name and the news trickled from ear to ear.
As Saddam of Iraq grew in defiance and then wilted under the US and its allies’ fire, Saddam the goat grew in health, from a wavering little goat to a sure-footed sturdy one. Even when it was just a kid, it pranced with unmatched elegance for a goat, clip-clopped across the compound and strolled down the street with confidence that other goats lacked. It answered to its name and stopped to be petted. I remember still the feel of its brown fur as I ran my hands down its side.
Saddam’s fame blossomed and everyone in the street knew him. Those who didn’t soon heard of him. Children from other streets came to see him. Saddam was talked about like a person, his deeds recounted with embellishments and a fondness for a much-loved character. I remember how admiration gleamed in the eyes of the children who came to see him, how excited they were if he allowed them to pet his fine coat of fur.
The day a man tried to steal Saddam as it munched happily on a patch of grass in an alley, it was one of these admirers who raised the alarm. We gave chase in the direction the boy pointed.
In the grip of the thief, Saddam protested his abduction fiercely. He wriggled and wiggled and bleated like a demented thing. With our little voices calling out barawo, and a crowd threatening to follow, the thief dropped the goat and scurried into an alley, disappearing like a rat into a sewer.
For days the failed kidnapping of Saddam was talked about. Our roles in foiling the crime, and our courage in given chase became legend. In each recounting, the distance of the chase grew, the speed increased, the size of the felon was escalated and the excitement of the chase dripped with extra sauce.
The story of the failed abduction soon gave way to another as one day, Saddam was pursuing his mother for an amorous congress when he hopped onto the cover of the well in the compound. The flimsy cover flipped. Down went Saddam bleating, plunging into the depth, crashing into the body of water meters below.
We were playing football on a patch of land down the street when the news reached us.
“Saddam has fallen into a well,” echoed from lip to lip, at once a question, at once a statement, whispered and proclaimed with varying degrees of apprehension. Abandoning the ball, we sprinted to the house to find bedlam. Women running helter-skelter, frenzied children shrieking and a crowd forming around the well’s edge. Inside, Saddam floundered against the water, bleating like a banshee. One of the owner’s wives had the bright idea of fishing Saddam out of the well with a bucket tied to a rope. The experiment failed.
People who had never set foot in the “Ba Shiga” compound found their way in—strangers, passersby, neighbours from far and wide. One of these passersby stripped his shirt, kicked off his shoes and climbed down the well. He gripped the goat by the foreleg, hauled it onto his back and using one hand for grip, an anxious goat wriggling on his back, climbed towards the eager arms stretched out to help. As soon as he was within reach, they grabbed hold of Saddam and relieved him of the burden. The cheer that rang out tickled the ears of the birds flying above.
The hero was thanked. He put on his shirt and squeezed through the crowd, was patted on the back as he went, while prayers and blessings showered on him. But no one asked him his name or where he had come from.
For weeks, the great rescue was all the children could talk about. The stern man who owned Saddam, replaced the cover of the well that evening and continued, as usual, to dump hay or chaff in a makeshift trough for the goats before leaving for his business. Publicly, at least, he was not an affectionate man, but sometimes you could see him looking at Saddam with soft eyes.
With that incident, the legend of Saddam grew further as did the fondness for him. Perhaps the fondness people have for the goat was frightening, perhaps the owner feared his own growing fondness for the creature, or maybe he was just hungry, or tired of the circus around it. One day, he summoned the goat, tackled him to the floor and put a knife to its throat. Bloody deed done, he asked his wives to prepare the goat for a stew. One of them cried so much and refused to have anything to do with the task.
News of the murder was greeted with shock and disbelief. Yet, while grief spread, some people gloated and mocked those mourning the death of a goat.
By the next day, it had emerged who and who ate Saddam and who declined. Each was eye-judged accordingly. And when the owner carried his ware of plastic bags to head out to his trade, the children outside stopped their plays to watch him, eyes cold with judgement and disapproval.
I don’t think he noticed, and if he did, I don’t imagine he cared.
In time, Saddam became only a memory, remembered by those who had grown fond of him, those too docile to protest his slaughter and eating. In the end, there was only the reluctant acceptance that Saddam was just a goat destined for someone’s soup pot, be it a thief or the owner.
Why am I reminiscing about a long-dead goat from my past, you wonder? I guess it is because I am weary of writing about murders and deaths, and ethnic and religious tensions. Because I don’t want to write about the video on BBC Hausa of the sister of the slain soldier Warrant Officer Linus Audu, who was travelling with his relatives and his fiancé, Private Gloria Mathew, to formalise his marriage proposal to her family in the Southeast. She laments that since their murder on May 1, the army has offered her neither condolence nor assurance. Nothing. Now she is left to beg for the return of their corpses so she could bury her loved ones properly.
Nigeria today has got me feeling the way I felt that time in the 1990s when Saddam was slaughtered. The slow acceptance that it is normal for goats, no matter how fond one grows of them, to be slaughtered and feasted upon and for the slaughterers to carry on with their business as normal.
Except Harira Jibril and her children (five including the one in her belly) are not goats, neither are those family travelling from North to South to seal a bond of love, neither is Deborah Yakubu, or the villagers in the Northwest, or the kidnapped train victims who remain in captivity for months now with no rescue and no apparent concern for their return.
Nigerians are not goats, to be slain, quartered and feasted upon by the terrors of the east or the north. And because in the eyes of the law and the terrorists, we are no different from Saddam, not even a voice or finger is raised to address these killings. Not even a convincing pretence.
We cannot accept this complete disregard for the sanctity of human life as the new normal. It would be the basest thing to make us accept it. Saving Nigeria should start with saving our humanity.