This past Wednesday, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan elevated crassness and primitiveness to the highest level imaginable by signing into law a bill banning homosexuality in Nigeria. I deliberately crafted the previous sentence so unambiguously. He did not just ban homosexual marriage; he banned homosexuality as a whole! Perhaps if the law had only stopped at “persons who enter into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years in prison,” one might not feel so much outrage. But it went on to state that “any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organizations or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison”! In essence, only heterosexuals are allowed to hold hands in public, sit on each other’s lap, hump each other while dancing in clubs or kiss publicly. What, in the name of God, just happened to Nigeria?
Let me state upfront that I am a Straight (heterosexual) guy who is happily married to a beautiful woman. So, this write-up is not about me or my sexual preference. It is about Nigeria’s lack of originality and lack of creative instincts. We the people, along with our leaders, fail to do the deep thinking, the due diligence, in many respects that will take our country farther and more quickly than we have hitherto done. Lethargy is irredeemably ingrained in our psyche. Otherwise, how does being openly gay draw our country back? We already have thousands of gay people in our midst! How does their gayness prevent those of us who are not gay from going about our businesses?
This law assumes that the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community just arrived in Nigeria yesterday. No, the LGBT has been with us since, at least, when I was a young boy over 50 years ago. I recall growing up in (yes) Zaria, Kaduna State, of all places, and going to watch evening dances of members of the LGBT. We used to call them “Dandaudu.” We, the kids, used to marvel at their public display of amorous acts. This was in the early 60s. They were not hidden behind the walls of any clubs in the middle of the night; they danced in open spaces and in early evenings. I have also personally witnessed “Dandaudus” doing their dances in Bukuru, Jos, Bauchi and Maiduguri in the 70s. And if you lived in the hostel during your secondary school years, don’t tell me that you did not catch a few of your guy friends “doing it.” I have heard from some of my secondary school female friends of the sexual trysts that went on in their hostel. Let’s not even talk about what happens in the dorms of our universities. So, why are we just now finding out that their presence in our midst is anathema and antithetical to our moral fiber?
Reuben Abati, that formerly celebrated anti-bad government champion, who is now a turncoat and who I now detest with so much passion, defended the law with the pedestrian argument that since 90 percent of Nigerians were opposed to same-sex marriage, “…the law is in line with our cultural and religious beliefs.” Ninety percent? First, how did we come up with that percentage? When did we poll the country to ascertain that 90 percent of our people oppose same-sex marriage? And even if they do, what right does the majority have to trample on the basic right of the minority – the fundamental human right to freedom of association? What right does the majority have to deprive the minority of having sex with whomever it wants as long as it is consensual? The worst that the Nigerian government should have been able to do should have been the denial of official recognition of such a union. But to criminalize it is akin to despotism, especially in a democratic dispensation.
And by the way, since when has this government or any past Nigerian government taken a decision in favor of an issue perceived to have received the support of the majority of Nigerians? Don’t 90 percent of our people support the removal or Stella Oduah as Aviation minister, Diezani Madueke as Petroleum minister and Reuben Abati as adviser? Don’t 90 percent of our people support the banning of government officials, especially the President, from seeking medical attention abroad until our medical facilities and personnel are of the same standard as those they use when they go abroad? Don’t 90 percent of our people support the supply of 24/7 uninterrupted electricity to all corners of Nigeria? Don’t 90 percent of our people support the revamping, rejuvenating and reinvigorating of the EFCC so it can better fight corruption? Don’t 90 percent of our people support a massive overhaul of our educational infrastructures from elementary all the way to university systems? Don’t 90 percent of our people oppose the blocking of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway by mega-churches and mega-mosques? Have our lawmakers crafted any laws that criminalize the failure by government to do the things mentioned above? No. But these nosey people are eager to get into the bedrooms of Nigerians.
I find this homophobic inclination that is so rampant in our country as yet another example of religious zealotry and self-righteousness that have been the bane of our society. Everybody is stampeding and trampling each other today in their quest to out-do one another as they condemn homosexuality. But we will find out one day – tomorrow maybe - just as we have found out in Europe and America that even family members of influential government officials can be (and are indeed) gay! In fact, we will soon find out that membership in the LGBT community cuts across all spectra of our society – from the ranks of elected politicians, to traditional rulers, military officers, police officers, teachers, technocrats, pastors, imams, babalawos, traders and what not. And what are we going to do when we find out that one of these influential people whom we had thought was heterosexual was indeed bisexual? Would we throw OBJ or IBB or GEJ or Mama Iyabo or Dame Patience or any of their children into 14 years of prison terms if any of them turns out to be gay? What would we do when we discover that Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye or his wife, Folu do engage in homosexual acts (with other partners, of course)? What about Sheik Muhammad Yahaya Sanni and his many wives? Are we going to give them immunity against prosecution?
This is why I stated earlier that our leaders did not subject this law to a rigorous and intellectual discuss before allowing their emotion, religion and communal bandwagon mentality to overtake their sense of reason. Before the bill was adopted by the Senate in 2011, a few Nigerian members of the LGBT community, supported by some civil rights activists, appeared before the Senate to argue against enacting such a law. The lawmakers and religious zealots in the chambers of the Senate booed and heckled these gay folks till they cried and left in disgrace. Among the booing and heckling crowd were men who maintain two, three, four or more wives – wives who are subjugated, mentally and are physically abused. Among this crowd were women who cheat on their husbands with their pastors and imams to the extent of making babies out-of-wedlock while their husbands thought the babies were theirs. These people, in my opinion, lack the moral right to tell a gay man or woman whom to love and whom to cavort with in public.
Believe me, gays are the least of Nigeria’s problems. Graft in high places, greed in high places, hired assassination, kidnapping, murder, armed robbery, neglect of rural areas, neglect of urban areas, lack of functioning basic amenities like electricity, water, hospitals, education, transportation, youth unemployment – all take precedence over what my neighbor is doing in his/her bedroom. I am ashamed that my leaders do not see this.
And I get it. I get the fact that Nigeria is a deeply religious country. Even if I wonder how truly religious we are when we watch our religious leaders steal from the religious houses and sexually abuse the laity; even if I sometimes wonder why our religious leaders live in obscene opulence while they watch their followers wallow in abject poverty, I still get the fact that Nigeria is a deeply religious country. It is the reason why an issue such as gay rights should have been thoroughly debated intellectually. I hope the passing of this primitive and retrogressive law begins the rigorous discussion of how we allow members of the LGBT to bask in their rightful sense of belonging. We should lead Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Cameroon, Togo, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leon, Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia out of the comity of nations still wedded to the archaic tradition of segregating their own people on the basis of sexual preferences.
We should join South Africa, Zaire, Congo, Gabon, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Mali (yes, Chad, Niger and Mali), Burkina Faso, Benin Republic, Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea Bissau in the comity of nations that embrace the diversity of their people’s sexual preferences and have legislated to protect the rights of their LGBT people.
By Abiodun Ladepo
Los Angeles, California, USA
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters