April 6, 2015 is one of those days of frustration and vexation specially confectioned by Esu, the Yoruba trickster God of the crossroads. On such a day, when trees of frustration fall on trees of vexation, we appeal to Esu to drink a glass of cold water and take a chill pill. I woke up to news that the Oba of Lagos, the traditional ruler of that Nigerian megalopolis, had assembled some Igbo folks in his palace and trampled on their civil and democratic rights in a horrific manner which borders on breaking the law. There is an election coming up for a new governor in Lagos state: Igbos in Lagos had better vote for the Oba’s candidate or perish in the Lagoon under the supervision of tradition!

Pius Adesanmi I thought the situation was grave and decided to head out to my office to draft and release a public statement condemning the Oba in clear, unambiguous, and unequivocal terms. How I was I to know that audio and video evidence would subsequently be released to show that the Oba’s action was even considerably worse than I had imagined? I got to campus, parked, and embarked on the ten-minute walk from the parking lot to my office, my mind completely preoccupied with the statement I was going to draft. If I didn’t get a condemnation of the Oba’s terrible action out of the way, I wouldn’t be sufficiently composed for my graduate seminar later in the evening.

As it happens, my walk to the office on the campus of Carleton University usually takes me through the atrium. On campuses in Canada and the United States, the atrium is a bazaar of activities and sociologies: coffee and other shops, mingling and socializing areas for students, and open spaces for all kinds of causes, movements, awareness campaigns to set up store and distribute awareness pamphlets and literature to passersby. Human rights activists, civil rights activists, and the entire spectrum of identity movements and causes (gender activists, LGBT activists, environment activists, animal rights activist, Moslem rights activists, Christian rights activist, Buddhism rights activists, disability rights activists, small people’s rights activists, obese people’s rights activists, immigrant people’s rights activists, minority people’s rights activists, etc) are always on hand to engage you, give you material, have a conversation and tell you to visit a website at your convenience and “sign up for the cause” – with the ever present hint of the welcome donation.

As a citizen of the global Left shaped by all the global “isms” moderated by iconic names like Bob Marley, Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, Jean-Paul Sartre, Steve Biko, just to mention a few, I am already a de facto participant in many of these movements and causes in my spheres and praxes as a public intellectual. When it comes to human rights, civil rights, any rights, when it comes to justice and fairness for all irrespective of differences, I have always felt that I need no solicitation or proselytizing from the spokespersons of causes. If you are a sentient global citizen of conscience, you do not need to be recruited into the services of the great causes of humanity. Your conscience ought to give you your marching orders in the service of local/global justice, equity, and fairness.

But, often, I do enjoy the indulgence of stopping to listen to cause proselytizers as I pass through the atrium. I do this only when I have the time – of course. I collect literature. I watch a podcast. I listen to the damage that loggers are causing in the amazon, etc. However, yesterday, I was in a hurry to get to my office to lend my voice to the condemnation of what I deemed an egregious violation of the human and civil rights of the Igbo by a monarch. I really was not in the mood to be solicited for causes. I was mistaken.

He got in my face and asked if I had a second to look at the pamphlet he was waving in my nose. Instinctively, I reached out for the pamphlet: a glossy, beautifully-produced affair with fantastic colour schemes for maximum effect. Photos of poultry farms with fowl from all over the world are on display. Then there are photos of abattoirs where the birds are killed. And photos of roasted chicken, ready for consumption. I had fallen into the hands of an animal rights activist whose calling is to protect and guarantee the civil rights of fowl to a happy and fulfilled life and to induce sentiments of guilt in me for consuming chicken without ever giving a thought to the inhuman conditions in which they are raised and killed.

I thought about the irony of the situation. There was I, worrying about the rights of human beings in Nigeria and hurrying to get to my office and solidarize with fellow Nigerian humanists and people of conscience only to be accosted by a fellow who is more worried about the life of broilers and layers! Do I tell this guy that human rights, and not animal rights, are what I have on my plate right now? I did nothing of the sort. I’ve lived long enough in the West to understand that the farthest a particular cause is away from human issues the more fanatical the devotees of such a cause are to creating an imperialism of conscription in which it feels somehow politically incorrect not to be a participant in their cause. The consequence is an atmospherics of guilt which somehow casts you as insensitive.

Thus, those fighting for minority rights and racial equality of human beings, for example, are not nearly as fanatical as those fighting for the rights of pet pythons, pet tigers, and pet crocodiles to enjoy life in human neighbourhoods and apartments. “Boko Haram struck and killed hundreds of people in your country? How awful! Were the donkeys and camels also affected?” You’d better reassure this activist that no donkeys and camels were killed lest he forgets the 200 people killed and directs you to a website to sign up for a campaign to compel Boko Haram to be more sensitive to animal rights. I collected the pamphlet of the fowl activist, listened to his campaign for a few minutes, and hurried to my office, determined not to shelve my agenda on Igbo human and civil rights in order to concentrate on the animal rights of chicken.

On other days in the same atrium, I’ve fallen into the hands of vegetarian and vegan awareness activists and proselytizers. I’ve been handed pamphlets on the joys of that mode of life which I absolutely respect as their choice. It is just that I wish they’d also respect my rights as an unapologetic meatitarian. Where does the right to proselytize a cause stop? If you proselytize vegetarianism, are you violating my space as a meatitarian? Considering that meat consumption is art and culture across Africa, if you guilt-trip me into criminalizing its consumption, are you trampling on my culture of peppersoup, nwobi, asun, suya, and orisirisi in a pot of egusi or edikan ikong soup? Meat gourmandizing being a zone of culture, what are the psychological effects on a Nigerian who is asked to forget peppersoup, nwobi, asun, suya, orisirisi and other meatitarian delicacies?

There is an ethical grey area of who has the right to proselytize what to whom and it is not being seriously addressed in the West. These unaddressed tensions and then sent on errands to Africa and the postcolonial world, causing serious culture clashes. I did draft and release my statement on the human rights situation in Nigeria after escaping the fowl rights activist yesterday. But passing through the atrium on my way to the office today, I wondered if I would encounter somebody this time whose cause is the right to the pursuit of happiness by those poor anopheles mosquitos that are being killed by insecticides in Africa or being starved to death because human beings are shielded by mosquito nets distributed by Western charity organizations and the poor mosquitos can no longer reach their source of nourishment.

I was lucky. My encounter today was not with a mosquito lover as I had feared but with an anti-fur activist who gave me a pamphlet and told me to help save animals by joining an online movement at makefurhistory.com. I was advised to take the fur-free pledge and “speak out for animals on social media networks”.

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