The issue this essay will address is one that requires no flowery introductions. On the 7th of January, the Nigerian presidency signed into law a bill which comprehensively criminalized homosexual unions, acts and sympathies. For the purpose of the law, ‘civil union’ included homosexual adult independent relationships, caring partnerships, civil partnerships among others. The overwhelming majority of Nigerians who have applauded this law did on various grounds which I have summed up thus: culture, religion and public choice. I do not agree with this majority. And I will justify my deference by logically and systematically attacking these bases in order to prove that this law is: first, a clamor for public support and patronage and second, a prejudiced attempt by a powerful majority to oppress a minority.
The presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati said about the act of homosexualism, “…it is not our culture…” and millions of Nigerians echoed in agreement. What is culture? If memory serves correctly, it is simply the totality of a people’s way of life, key word being totality, not majority. My social studies class also taught me that culture is diverse and changes with respect to people, place and time; true to this, the numerous Nigerian cultures have undergone transitions. Christianity, health care, education and technology are all additions to the Nigerian cultures in response to the demands of the three referrals listed above – people, place and time. And more additions occur as these referrals continue to transform daily. Where then, lay the boundaries defining ‘our culture’ as a nation?
A friend vehemently upbraided the Europeans for the ‘infection’ of the Nigerian culture with homosexuality; she hailed the law because of her fears that in their usual manner, Nigerians would ‘out-perform the teacher’ in the practice. I wondered, and I still do now, if we also blame the Europeans for ‘infecting’ our culture with fornication, adultery and rape, even of infants as young as 15 months old. If we indeed blame the Europeans for these rising despicable trends, where are the policemen carrying around lists of ‘potential’ offenders on these counts? Where are the vigilantes and mobs religiously enforcing the laws prohibiting these practices on our streets? My answer to this is prejudice.
Section 21(a) of the Nigerian constitution stipulates that “The state shall uphold the Nigerian cultures which enhance human dignity and are consistent with the fundamental objectives…” of democracy and social justice. The recently-passed law in question breaches that.
Not a few advocates took to the pages of the Holy Bible and Koran in the attempt to justify this law. As much as I am tempted to, I will not prove in this essay, my belief, based on my knowledge and experience as a Christian, that God would have handled this situation differently than it has been handled. Nor will I explore the malicious hypocrisy of my discovery that many advocates of this law are spurred to voice their support by their abhorrence of man-on-man sexual activities while harboring a healthy tolerance (even likeness, in many cases) for woman-on-woman sexual activities. What I would rather take issue with is the error, which is quickly gaining popularity among Nigerian leaders and followers alike, of mixing the state and its law with the dictates of religion.
Chapter IV (38) of the Nigerian constitution clearly stipulates one of every Nigerian’s fundamental right as the “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. While Nigeria may be a country of religious people, it is not a religious state hence the absence of any one religion as the National religion. The wrongness of instituting a law based on principles particular to one or a number of religions in a country which legally allows one the right to not practice any religion cannot be overemphasized. The attempt to justify the anti-gay law on the grounds of religion is not only criminal and hypocritical but is also responsible for recent malodorous occurrences like the incessant Boko Haram killings and the subscription of some state governors to religion as disguised psychological blackmail of the voting electorate.
“Religious persecution may shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and over-zealous piety”, Edmund Burke said and I hate the fact that he couldn’t have been righter.
“…Nigerians are happy with it”, the Nigerian presidential spokesman also said. And over the days since the law was passed, voice saying “it is the people’s choice” and “this is democracy, majority carries the vote” have risen in his support. Democracy is indeed a government whose leadership is voted in by a majority but I refuse to believe that it subscribes to the oppression by a majority of a minority who in exercising their fundamental rights of choice and association hurt no one.
If majority did indeed automatically dictate the law and the extent to which it protected its subjects, slavery would have never been abolished in China, Europe and America where slaves were an obvious minority; racial discrimination of the minority black Americans would also have never ended; Hitler’s holocaust of the minority Jews in Germany, Charles Taylors’ crimes against Liberians and Saddam Hussein’s genocidal brutalities would have had heavy stamps of legal approval over them, the ink long-dried. Even when the majority was in support of a revolution as was the case of South Africa in the apartheid era, the law came to the rescue of the victims not because of their numbers but because they sought equality, democracy and social justice – precepts which every law venerates.
If at this point, you are saying “This writer is clearly gay!” I feel no urge to either congratulate or sympathize with you because you have completely, but not for the first time, missed the point. For the readers who would however, put sentiment aside to absorb my arguments and proceed to sift through the facts for themselves, I will now take my stand. My stand is based on nothing else but the exact term of the issue at hand – the law.
Section 14(1) of the Nigerian constitution states: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a state based on the principles of democracy and social justice”. On these counts, the anti-gay law fails woefully. The law criminalizing homosexual unions, acts and sympathies, in my opinion is both wrong and unnecessary.
It is wrong because it absolutely violates six fundamental rights of the Nigerian citizen as stated in the Constitution and exposes a percentage of the country’s people to harassment and abuse. On the count of being unnecessary, the law could have prohibited the public display of sexual acts (homosexual and heterosexual) because such would corrupt the younger and more impressionable populace; it could have criminalized rape and all manner of sexual practices (homosexual and heterosexual) lacking consent of the individual(s) involved because it would clearly abuse the unwilling individual while robbing him/her of fundamental rights. But the law cannot and should neither criminalize a sexual act between consenting adults nor peaceful meetings or gatherings of people united by their sexual orientation.
I fear that the government in a bid to prove that Nigeria will not be bullied by western forces may have gone too far with this law. If there were an argument over the color of a handkerchief and the opponent took the stand that it was black, I needn’t argue that it is white in opposition; there are the options of grey, brown, ash or the good old SILENCE. The irony of this situation is that the sleeping monster whose loud snoring noises the government claims to have targeted with this law may have just been roused as a result. My biggest fear is that instead of the auditory disturbance of snores alone, we may soon have a fully alert, hungry monster on our hands.
The effects of this law are fast unraveling in the uncharacteristic efficiency with which the police, vigilantes and volunteer mobs are enforcing it across the country. Health clinics for health care and rehabilitation of homosexuals have been shuttered and reports of beatings, arrests and manhunts for ‘potential’ homosexuals abound. No matter the terms with which we try to justify it, this law is unjust. And an unjust law is no law at all.
*Written by Chisom Ojukwu who blogs with us on in-depth matters such as this one.
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