Opinion: Why you should be worried about Nigeria’s anti-gay law
by Ayo Sogunro
The words of Jesus are more logical: he whom has no sin, let him cast the first stone.
Before You Proceed
Two guiding premises underlie this article. The first is this: this article does not support or reject homosexuality as a sexual orientation. The purpose of this article is not to plead the cause of homosexuality as a lifestyle—there are many who have done that, and this is no place to rehash the argument. This article instead recognises the existence of homosexuals as a distinct sub-culture—a minority, if you prefer—within a larger culture, and is concerned, instead, about a philosophy of hate and prejudice against this minority which is about to be set in motion in the guise of legislation.
The second premise is this: that you, the reader, are not entrenched in some belief system that supersedes any attempt at reason. And so, this article is not for those who rely on prejudice, and by “prejudice”, I mean the bigots, the fanatics, the fundamentalists and all those who will support the stoning of a woman to death in the belief that she is a witch. It’s a waste of time and ideas to attempt a rational discussion with a person whose fundamental philosophy precludes being reasonable. If you see yourself as one of these: Dear Sir or Madam, the following paragraphs are probably a waste of your time, and the insults you intend to hurl in the comments are assuredly a waste of your talents. You would derive more satisfaction by exiting this page now. The button is quite easy to locate.
However, on the assumption that you are the sort of person who resolves a dilemma through a sequence of rational principles; the sort of person who weighs consequences against actions, understanding the relationship of cause and effect, and has the ability to separate between similar but distinct ideas, then let us reason together on the superficial logic of targeting homosexuals in Nigeria through the following arguments.
The Legal Argument
An average student of law will eagerly tell you that there is a clear difference between civil law and criminal law: he will explain to you that civil law “punishes” one person for his irresponsibility towards some other person while criminal law punishes the person for his irresponsibility to the state. If you have some time on your hands, a student of jurisprudence will inform you that there is a clear difference between law and morals, and while it is the role of the state to prescribe laws for the protection of the individuals and the state, it is the role of the society to prescribe morals for acceptance in that society. He could also tell you, if you care to listen, that there are situations where the goal of morals and law overlap in the same activity and that there are situations where the law says one thing and morals state another. If our imaginary student also has ample time, he could give you this example: if you are standing by a pool and you see a child drowning, you have no obligation to save the child, and you will not go to jail for murder—except of course, you pushed the child in. Society may call you a scumbag and you may forfeit your dinner invitations, but you are not a criminal as far as the law is concerned.
In case you are puzzled, the jurist will further tell you that basic role of law is—should be—the protection of the state and other individuals from the acts of other individuals or other states, and every other function of law derives from that basic premise. He will explain that as long as an individual has not threatened the welfare of other individuals, the law has no—should have no—problem with that individual. You see, jurists generally concede that the role of law (with the exception of canon or religious law as agreed to by the adherents of that religion) is not to dictate private action, but to ensure the safety of all persons and property under general parameters. Our jurist friend could give you another example: you can decide to jump off a mountain ledge in the name of sport—that is a private action. But when, in the name of sport, you push someone else off the ledge without his consent, it becomes a crime, punishable according to the gravity of the consequence of your push. Law, therefore, prevents harm to people who have not consented to an action, either directly or indirectly. Law does not—should not—decide on what your private action should be—that’s for a Big Brother reality show. Public opinion should be left for the public, and a legal system should never, compulsorily, substitute a person’s private opinion with that of the public.
But, celebrating a gay marriage is public, you may say. Let us not digress on the issue of whether a marriage celebration—gay or not—is necessarily public. In fact, let us assume that the marriage in question is celebrated just as loudly as church marriages are celebrated. But the law in Nigeria already takes care of that by declaring such a marriage invalid. If you are naturally antagonistic to homosexual marriages—if you think the troubles of a married life are the natural reserve of a heterosexual couple, then fine, the Nigerian law already invalidates homosexual marriage. But this issue is about criminalizing what is already invalidity. An invalid action is far different from a criminal action. Entering a wrong password to your account is an invalid action, hacking into another person’s account is a criminal action. The gravity is determined by the damage it does to other people. A marriage conducted by a pastor in a Nollywood movie does not harm anybody, yet it is invalid—the law does not recognize it as a marriage, because it does not meet the legal requirements for a marriage. That’s enough. Going further to imprison actors in a Nollywood marriage ceremony is just as petty as it is absurd. And this is exactly what the Nigerian legislators propose to do.
The Moral Argument
Maybe you are worried about your sexuality being doubted. If that is a worrisome issue for you, then let me reassure you: No, you do not need to be in support of or approve homosexuality itself in order to disapprove of a law that sets out to make life difficult for homosexuals. Your heterosexuality is intact. You may relax.
This is a basic principle of conscience: just as you do not have to be black to fight slavery, or Jewish to be repulsed at Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Justice defines circumstances—your stand against an injustice should be irrespective of the nature of the person against whom the injustice is committed. Opposing the Nigerian government on its prejudicial law does not automatically commit you to a life of homosexuality.
What you are opposing is simply the use of the law to target a group of people who pose no threat to the life or property of Nigerians. You may find a homosexual person intolerable, you may forget to invite them to your dinner parties and thanksgiving services. But when you target them for jail—or keep silent while this is being done—makes you no different from the Nazis of Germany and their hatred of Jews or the Apartheid whites of South Africa and their repulsion at blacks. You see, it’s easier to sit down and criticize other bigots in history—but do nothing when faced with a similar situation.
But even worse is the criminalization of associations that support or advocate gay rights. Any student of human rights will tell you that an attempt to ban people from discussing gay marriage or promoting it is just as bad as an attempt to lock up Arsenal Football club fans. The Nigerian situation is not a joke, however, and I am confident that a court of law in no distant time will adjudge that aspect of the law as unconstitutional. It is bad enough to put homosexuals in jail—it is repugnant to natural justice to then try to muzzle any support for them. And your individual silence in the face of such an injustice is a tacit approval of its execution.
The Cultural Argument
A common argument in support of the prejudicial legislation—and one infamously and misguidedly utilized by Mr. David Mark, the Senate President, states that homosexuality is not part of our “culture”. Let us ignore the obvious fact that Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups with diversified cultures out of which at least one involves a woman “marrying” another woman, another involves a husband “gifting” his wife to a male guest, another approves raiding a neighboring nomadic camp to kidnap a wife, and several involve a brother or son taking the surviving wives of a deceased as inheritance—let’s ignore all of these disparate sexual and marital cultural phenomena and focus instead on the nature of culture. What we call “our culture” is not a set of fixed, written rules handed down by our forefathers in a leather bound book. Instead, “our culture”, like any other culture, is an interwoven set of constantly changing practices. Culture, a student of sociology will tell you, is constantly in a state of flux: it grows new ideas, it borrows from other cultures, it ceases some long-held beliefs, and it is forever changing. You see, the only permanent culture is a dead culture. Jackets and fast cars are not the African culture, but I am yet to see a black man going to jail for perfectly stringing a Windsor knot.
The Religious Argument
Arguably, the two major religions in Nigeria are against homosexuality—but what about those who are not adherents of the major religions? On the absurd assumption that every Nigerian is either a Muslim or a Christian, then why not let’s adopt the full canon of the Old Testament and Sharia? You see, as an average bible student will tell you: every head will roll. From the Christians who enjoy pork and bush meat—despite the clear injunctions of Leviticus 11—to the Muslims who have a fondness for beer. The only people left alive will be the fundamentalists, and they will soon kill each other from sheer intolerance. We might as well speed up this process and hand over the reins of government toBoko Haram. After all, what these terrorists want is the criminalization of sins and the banning of ideas from the “West”. And if we now start deciding to criminalize our sins, then we are all convicts waiting to be sentenced. The words of Jesus are more logical: he whom has no sin, let him cast the first stone.
The Political Argument
The Nigerian democratic setup—in the words of Byron—is an aristocracy of blackguards. Like the Greek gift, the goal of the legislature is to secure the affections of the unthinking Nigerians through a diversionary illusion while plundering us through other orifices. Let us not be ashamed to call a farce a farce. The threat of Boko Haram—and now Hezbollah, the devaluation of the currency, the escalating corruption in the public service, the rising price of goods, the unavailability of electric power—and several more—are far more real and dangerous threats to the welfare of the average Nigerian than the marital issues of homosexuals.
Whatever your inclinations about homosexuality, your bank account has not diminished through the sexuality of a gay person—unless, of course, you set out to spend money on some deliverance mission, which then is your own fault, but let us not digress. The point can be shown to you by any keen student of political science: as a political goal, banning homosexual marriage is at the bottom of the list of resolutions for Nigeria’s 2013. It takes a smug legislator, self-assured in the gullible nature of the average Nigerian, to hurriedly push through a law dealing with a non-issue to score cheap popularity while ignoring pressing matters.
And now, here’s the worst part: if this law is allowed to sail through, it could be your affairs that will be considered criminal tomorrow. You use your left hand to write? Criminal. You squeeze your paste from the bottom of the tube? Criminal. You wear your wristwatch on the right hand. You criminal! The facts may be different, but the principle is the same. This law is a test by the legislature, a measurement of how much nonsense can be dumped on the public. Of course, it is general public opinion that there is a number of clowns seated in the legislature—some whom attained their claim to lawmaking solely by affiliation with their political party and not through a personal resume—and there is a tendency to just ignore them. However, when clowns begin to create dangerous precedents, then it is time for the audience to get serious and put them in place.
Read this article in Ayo Sogunro’s Chaise
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.