We have to wonder when it became our culture imperative to marginalise, to victimise, to hate. To witch-hunt a particular section of the otherwise law-abiding population.
This one came upon us like a mist, the kind that brings no good, settling gradually over the general populace. Did he or did he not?
Confirmation, unfortunately, came from the president’s special adviser on media and publicity on Monday 13, January 2013.
Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the Nigerian president, had signed the controversial Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill into law. Not surprisingly, it must be quickly be added. “This is a law that is in line with the people’s cultural and religious inclination,” the adviser, Reuben Abati, said. “It is a law that is a reflection of the beliefs and orientation of Nigerian people. Nigerians are pleased with it.’’
He is right. As Nigerians grapple with post-colonial identity disorders we have become uncomfortable with minorities, a people who have allowed ourselves be defined by bigotry. 98 per cent of Nigerians believe society should not tolerate homosexuality, according to a Pew Research Center survey from last year.
But then, he is also wrong. Dead wrong.
This is a bad law, and not just because it fails the tests of certainty, public interest and other important pillars of effective legislation. It is a bad law because it fails every test of human decency and dignity – violating the innate rights of Nigerian citizens simply because they are a minority.
In a nation where, some activists say, almost 10 per cent of the population is gay, Nigeria has outdone itself in the race to show its lack of respect for the human being, in passing through this law that brazenly discriminates against the right of association, expression and free movement.
It is unnecessary to state the obscenity in further discriminating against a people whose government has yet failed to provide security, basic infrastructure and other elements of baseline good governance. Even if Nigeria had intelligent lawmakers, a popular president and a crushing abundance of power, food security, and well-managed oil wealth, this law would still be unconscionable.
It is unconscionable in a country where Senator Chris Anywanu is still struggling to pass the Sexual Offences Bill. It should be inconceivable in a country where a majority of its states are yet to domesticate the Child Rights Acts. It is incredible in a country where 13-year-old girls are legally allowed to marry men thrice their age.
The arguments are obvious enough that they are tiring to recap: the logic of this bill, that of a homosexual epidemic galloping at us from the West is not just illogical, but silly. There are no legitimate mainstream scientific, social or economic justifications for any argument about the dangers of homosexuality on societies. History makes a solid case for both the legitimacy and appropriateness of same-sex relationships.
And, above all else, why is the suppression of homosexuals a matter of paramount national importance? Have gays and lesbians taken over the news wires with daily reports of deviant behaviour the way rapists and pedophiles have become an epidemic? Have the sexual choices of consenting adults derailed the achievement of our Millennium Development Goals, or the practice of pious and earnest religion?
It is unfortunate that not one legislator has made a lucid, logic-based case, on the facts, for this law. It is a shame that the presidential spokesperson could not speak with intellectual clarity of the justifications for this draconian law. No complex set of ideas have been expounded as normative context for this deeply dangerous legislation. All we have is drivel about cultural imperatives.
We have to wonder when it became our culture imperative to marginalise, to victimise, to hate. To witch-hunt a particular section of the otherwise law-abiding population. To call for a 14-year sentence for folks convicted of nothing other than legitimate sexual preference, to approve a 10-year spell for “a person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria’’. To make life unbearable not just for people who want to leave peaceful, peaceable lives as sexual minorities – but those of us who refuse to join in the hysteria of hate against them.
Already the consequences of legalising homophobia have begun. In Benin City, barely 24 hours after the bill was signed into law, alleged homosexual men were gathered and hunted down. And in Bauchi, dozens were arrested and shamed into naming accomplices in some form of plea-bargain. Another man was whip-lashed 20 times and police authorities have reportedly compiled a list of the city’s gay men with an intent view to punish. All of this by a police force famous for ignorance and prejudice so pervasive that three-quarters of Nigerian prisoners are being held without cause, according to the Nigerian Prisons Service.
Even more sinister is the 10-year jail sentence for show of public affection and association. This clause will broadly restrict access to health and counselling services for Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) citizens who, like any other person, have a fundamental human right to health and to life – in a country with the second highest global HIV/AIDS burden is totally unacceptable.
We will risk repeating ourselves – this is unacceptable.
No law, no country should discriminate against a people based on sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or any prejudice. No law should trample on the dignity of citizens, to force conformity in a world that advances based on diversity.
We do not need the international community to tell us about the wrongness of this law – on social media, in newspaper columns, through prominent politicians and celebrities, it has been made clear; no, Dr. Abati, not all Nigerians are pleased with this law.
What we need to be having now, like any evolved society, is an open conversation about sexual diversity. Instead of hounding the LGBT community, we need to remember that they are human beings with a legitimate right to exist. In a country where it is almost a death sentence to be gay, we must approach with compassion and empathy the fact that difference is the essence of the world as God created it. And it cannot be right, it cannot be true, it cannot be love to hate those who are our brothers, sisters, lovers, parents, friends, colleagues simply because we do not approve of the manner in which they have consenting sex. Until we remove the barriers of hate, we will never be able to see them for what they are; the same as us.
And at a time of despair, such as this, as to the nature of country and humanity, and as a response to those who would religion as a crutch for hate, it becomes important to listen to His Holiness Pope Francis; overseer of the largest congregation of Christians worldwide. “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” he asked at the World Youth Day celebrations in Brazil last year. “You cannot marginalise these people.”
Martin Luther King Jr assures us that the moral arc of justice might bend ever so slowly, but ultimately it will bend towards justice.
In the meantime, we will continue to do our bit to fight this unacceptable law. We will continue to actively and aggressively make our rejection known, clearly and insistently, until our country finds its way – back to the right side of history.
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