Opinion: Nigeria needs to embrace- not silence- diversity

by Feyisayo Anjorin

 

The fight for justice and equality – not just for personal reasons but for the sake of posterity – should be a lifetime battle, for individuals and for nations. In fact, for nations it is the only way to sustain freedom and progress; for where would the world be now if not for the rebels, the innovators, the intellectuals, the activists, the ones who asked questions many try so hard to avoid; how far can any civilized society go without vibrant intellectual examination, debates and questions?

The month of June (2017) started on a very sad note for lovers of decency and order in Nigeria as news filtered in on social media about the arrest of investigative journalist and publisher of Conscience, Charles Otu. The man was at a popular junction in Abakaliki – Eastern Nigeria – when a bus suddenly parked beside him, like in an action film. He was then overpowered by the thugs, bundled into the bus and taken away. A couple of hours later the pictures of his badly bruised body were on the internet; alive but looking like one attacked by wild animals. As it turned out, Charles Otu had written an article that was perceived to be hostile to the governor of his state.

As if that was not depressing enough, a writer Chihuibe Obi was kidnapped on his way to the University of Nigeria Nsukka in Enugu state where he was supposed to be at the Poetry Friday event.

Mr Obi had recently written an article ‘We’re Queer, We’re Here’ on Brittle Paper to express his views on the intolerance endured by LGBT people in Nigeria and the need for the people to be aware of the inhumanity of a large section of Nigerians, supported by the laws of the land, against queer people.

Mr Obi’s article attracted anger and threats. Evil men and women began their secret plans, which eventually manifested in his abduction by unknown assailants.

When Romeo Oriogun won the 2017 Brunei International African Poetry Prize, it was received in some quarters as an inferior, not-so-significant feat, not because Oriogun’s work has been assessed by these disgruntled individual based on artistic merit, but because the prize had gone to a writer who happens to be queer. Art should be assessed based on merit, not based on race, gender or sexuality.

The persecution of journalists and writers, especially when their views question our bias, or challenges the mediocre service delivery of the government, is a statement on the diseased condition of a nation or society. It is an indication of the sickness of a society that masquerades as democratic. It tells of the insecurity of the leaders, it speaks of their lack of profound ideas to challenge ideas, it tells of their arrogance.

If someone is not happy that queer writers write, why not ignore the writings?

If someone merely says Jesus is the only God, what should that be a problem? Another person can say Mickey Mouse is the king of kings!

If Romeo Oriogun is an excellent writer – which the credit he’s been getting says he is – what has that got to do with his being queer?

It is unfortunate that a section of our society still lives in denial of the changes that have resulted in the inevitable redefinition of what it means to be African, and what is African. Some still see our continent as it was in pre-colonial tribal days, they still see Africa with the eyes of their tribal enclave, forgetting that Shaka Zulu is not South African, and Uthman Dan Fodio is not a Nigerian. Now we live in new political entities born of the new world order. Now we interact in a global village, now we can’t fight the dynamism of culture and tradition.

I was very happy with the response of the literary community all over the world to these early June aggressive acts against these young African voices.

The issue was on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, spearheaded by the author of Satans and Shaitans Obinna Udenwe, and academician and publisher of Brittle Paper, Ainehi Edoro. Tweets were retweeted, reasonable men and women, and even organisations pledged their support.

Eventually, we got to hear the good news that the men have been released, even though with bruised bodies.

But beyond social media, a lot needs to be done to strengthen democracy as an institution in our nations; so that pseudo-democracies can actually give way to thriving democracies. I remember the Kony 2012 campaign and all the noise and all the awareness; and the end?

We are in a time in history when one could be tempted to think a lot has been done by merely retweeting a tweet or liking a post, yet the pictures of a tiger on paper is not the same as a living breathing one.

We should walk our talk; we should channel our social media anger towards a decision. A decision to promote freedom of speech, to engage with those who are not too lazy to listen to us, to resist those who unwittingly put our society on the path of chaos by their extremist views. Those who think foreigners are evil, whites are evil, blacks are demons, homosexuals are the reason for the failing economy, those who want to force their religion as general practice; we should face them – those with these simplistic views – with the demand for justice and equity. We should do this in the songs that we sing, we should go on strike when the need arises, we should gather and protest, with our placards; we should vote for politicians who value justice.

The world is a place of diversity in taste, and views, and resources. Technology and the ease of migration have changed Africa’s interaction with the world, resulting in more diverse views and tastes. Beyond slogans and sleek speeches, we need equal rights and justice to retain sanity, to kerb religious extremists, ethnocentric folks, and intolerant government officials.

Our demands for justice and equity should be beyond social media.


 

 

 

Feyisayo Anjorin is a writer and an actor, known for his role as Cassius on Mnet’s Tv soap ‘Tinsel’. His works have appeared in Bella Naija, Brittle Paper, African Writer, Bakwa and Litro.

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