Last year, a ban on same sex relationships in Nigeria was passed in the Nigerian parliament, and then a couple of days ago, it was signed into Law by president Goodluck Jonathan. This law which is called the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition bill makes it a criminal act to enter into a same sex marriage contract or civil union, it bans gay clubs and will imprison gay people who display public displays of affection. Any same sex marriage contracted outside the country will be considered null and void in Nigeria. The sentence terms for these acts are between ten (10) to fourteen (14) years imprisonment. This law can be read to say, you can be gay but we do not need to know. Remain in the closet. I shook my head! (1)
Nigeria is a deeply religious country which often vacillates between a deeply traditional mindset and modernity. My shock did not come from the president making this decision but the fact that he signed this into law without looking at the impact that this decision will have on several law abiding citizens in the country. He has also refused to acknowledge that with the high corruption Nigeria has, this law has opened up an avenue for rampant abuse and blackmail to occur. This bill is one that is negligent in nature because it criminalizes adults who are involved in a consensual act.
As I mentioned earlier, Nigeria is an ultra religious country and many of its citizens are either Christians, Muslims or traditional worshipers. For many Christians and Muslims, the act of homosexuality is an abhorrent one that is not allowed in their holy books. But, what about the others who do not fall into these religious classifications? Should their perspective be nullified because they aren’t one of the majority and majority rules the day? Is there no sense of the separation between religious institutions and states or are people being forced to follow a particular religious order because the president belongs to it?
The president has argued that a poll was conducted and that about ninety percent of Nigerian citizens are pro this bill and they are anti homosexuality. I will love to see the questions in this poll to see if it was made up of questions with the questioners bias inherent in them? I will love to know where this poll was taken? The particular demographic details of those who responded? Basically, how he came up with his numbers.
Many Nigerians will argue that the president is right about the numbers because homosexuality is a choice and that it is an imported Western culture. But, according to research, homosexuality might not be a choice as many will think, there are those who are gay by choice because it gives them easier access into industries and money but then a majority of gay people believe they were just born that way. For many, they struggled with this difference for many years before they just chose to accept that’s who they are. Many gay people that I’ve spoken to, have argued that a thinking gay person will choose to be straight particularly with the kinds of persecution that exists for many of their kind. So, dear moralistic hypocritical Nigerians, could you be punishing people who were just born that way with this new law? (2)
The hypocritical part of this argument lies in the fact that there are many wealthy men and women who do not call themselves gay but they do sleep with young poor men and women. These poor menand women become the victims and if they are caught, highly likely these poor men and women will be the ones in prison. In addition, for many wealthy young people that are gay, they have no problems relocating to a place where they can be true to themselves. So, what happens to those who are too poor to relocate? This becomes an issue of economics.
Beyond the economical part of this issue, we have to look at the health impact. It is quite clear that this will have a psychological and possible mental health impact on many gay people in Nigeria, because now they will have to live in fear. Now, more will be depressed. I hate to say this, depression could lead to a more permanent ending. But beyond the psychological, there is another health impact which is the spread of STDs as more gay people will decide to hide in the closet to continue their acts. Now, some might argue that many are already in the closet in Nigeria but I will argue that it will become worse. Now, more gay people will need to prove their ‘normality’, many single men and women of the same sex loving persuasion will be forced to go into marriage and continue their now illicit relationships which might lead to the rampant spread of STDs to more innocent bystanders.
Another issue I have with this bill is one of the methodology of collecting information. Now, this bill leaves it open ended as to how people will prove that they aren’t gay. Will the courts of law just go by hearsay? Will the police just go with their gut instincts based on the superficial, i.e, how a person speaks, sits, the friends he/she has etc? What kinds of proof will be needed before one gets punished and will there be a standard way of collecting this proof?
My thoughts on this issue are quite simple. First, I do not believe that homosexuality is a western import. I believe that this has been in Africa as well as other parts of the world for centuries but that traditional Africans knew how to manage it. These people were given a place within society and in some parts of Africa were allowed to participate in society. For example, amongst the Igbos, women married women, I do not know if they had sex with these women that they married but the fact remains that traditional Igbo society of the past had a place for same sex marriage. (3)
Secondly, the misinformed fear that is being spread in Nigeria is that homosexuality is catching. That isn’t the case. If you are a person with strong values and you are heavily attracted to the opposite sex, then there is no way that you can get caught in homosexuality. It becomes ‘dangerous’ for those who have questions and are curious, then they might try and realize it isn’t for them or they might find out that is where they are most at peace. What of those with weak values? I will argue that those with weak values can be caught anyway either with aristos, sugar mummies, sugar daddies or same sex loving people. That homosexuality is catching argument isn’t a valid one.
Further more, I mentioned two years ago, that I was in Nigeria and I saw that Nigeria still needs a lot of work in terms of its infrastructure, corruption, education and the list goes on. I believe that will be a more worthwhile venture for the president to pursue with his bills than pursuing human rights violations against people who are participating in a consensual activity. There is a problem of misplaced priority and I wonder if this new bill is not being pushed by the 2015 election which is around the corner. Maybe the president is leveraging the verbally homophobic tendencies (because we know that many do other things in private) of the citizens to push this ploy of a God fearing president who would not allow his citizens to rot in eternal damnation. The problem is that he is forgetting that straight and gay are his citizens. He will be respected more and voted in without playing the homophobic card but by actually playing the card of the man who accomplishes what he set out to do. Obasanjo (that crazy ex-president who should seriously just be focused on his farm work) is tied to the mobile phone era and telecommunication in Nigeria, though some could argue that he was just at the right place at the right time. So dear president Goodluck Jonathan, what will be your legacy? Human rights violations? Finally, If he is against same sex relationships and marriage because of his personal and religious beliefs, he could have left that bill pending and focused his energies on other things because that will be humane and will be protecting your citizens human rights. Same sex marriage isn’t an issue in Nigeria. Finding new cartegories of people to persecute will be an issue in Nigeria because of this bill.