We assume, if you’re the kind of person who reads YNaija.com, you know that this week, Idrs Okuneye, who you would know as Bobrisky, served up a storm, without necessarily doing anything.
He was invited to speak about Unusual Engagement on New Media – a subject on which he, with his 150,000 daily views on Snapchat, is qualified – at the New Media, Citizens and Governance conference, and immediately, the Internet was up on in arms, for and against. And two of the speakers pulled out (and, by all accounts, the conference didn’t miss them).
Because, apparently, we have to debate if Bobrisky is a Nigerian citizen, who uses social media – even where he clearly is.
More important than the specifics of the conference and the debate though is this: the organizers of the conference.
It was sponsored by Facebook, Google and the Omidyar Network. More importantly though, it was hosted by a triage of Enough is Enough Nigeria, the sterling non-profit brand BudgIT and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria. These are three of the most respected brand names in the governance activism space – and the CSO space generally – for a new generation.
The executive directors of these organisations are ‘Yemi Adamolekun, who attends the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Seun Onigbinde who attends Covenant Christian Centre, and ‘Gbenga Sesan, who attends Latter-Rain Assembly.
As far as we know, we haven’t seen at least two of them express vocal support in favour of sexual minorities, or gender identity. This is not an issue they are necessary weighed in or, on invested in. They are also, to all intent and purpose, and this is a wild guess, social conservatives, actively involved in Pentecostal churches famously hostile to non-traditional gender and sexual identity. Heck, in at least one of those churches, feminism is a dirty word.
Yet. They took an unusually bold step, and marched into controversial waters (and surely, they are smart, they knew the reactions) by inviting a well-known cross dresser and gender bender to speak in the same stage as presidential advisers, respected entrepreneurs and global influencers.
And they stood by that decision, without a fuss. No dramatic defenses or explanations. Just a stubborn, quiet but loud, marching forward with the decision they had already made: to allow a minority voice speak, to allow all voices a legitimate change to contribute to a world they belong in.
And in doing that, they forced a national debate, that quickly showed that, at least for young, educated Nigerians – the culture has largely shifted, bigotry is now a lightning rod, and we are increasingly on the side of progress, equality and a respect for human rights, including the rights of those who are out of the mainstream.
Remarkably, when someone dared suggest that he may be harmed at the conference, Sesan’s response was chilling.
And then the was the incomparable government-appointed chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, making the case.
— RightsAfrica (@chairmanNHRC) October 26, 2016
It takes a lot of courage to be @TheRealBobrisky in a narrow society like #Nigeria & that deserves respect
— RightsAfrica (@chairmanNHRC) October 27, 2016
And, civil society having taken the lead, the rest of the country was free to follow suit.
Oh I disagree. Bobrisky is exactly why New Media is so awesome. Nothing more serious than a guy who organically breaks through media fuzz https://t.co/tpOaScktnY
— Editi Effiòng (@EditiEffiong) October 26, 2016
Then the organizers amplified the panel.
Great news. #NMCG2016 "Engagement Unusual" panel will no longer hold as a parallel session. It's now a main session. Everyone participates!
— 'Gbénga Sèsan (@gbengasesan) October 26, 2016
This is how societies move forward, you know. These small, definite steps by people who know better.
As history is a guide, what these three bold souls have done is consistent with the role of civil society globally – small, definite, deliberate steps, that force society to confront its own contradictions, it’s own unfairness, and to move forward.
Even Bobrisky couldn’t believe it – and he said as much in an interview with YNaija.com.
“At some point I felt reluctant to be here. So I called the organiser, sent an email saying: “call me please because I am weighed down I should not have to come here because of these bad comments”.
“But the guy spoke to me and said “Bobrisky you have to be here”.
“And I got so happy. I was ‘gingered’.”
Heat that: “He said, ‘ you HAVE to be here. And I got so happy’.”
He thought he was joke.
They told him: No man, you’re a human being, like the rest of us.
That’s the most powerful validation there is in the entire world.
Bigotry lost this week in Nigeria, people. It lost, big time.