by Sokari Ekine, BlackLooks
On hearing the news of the passing of the Nigerian “Same Sex Marriage Bill 2011, my reaction was, I was too numb to even have a reaction at the miserable state of my country. Did I really expect anything different?
Chude Jideonwo “Why the Nigeria’s Anti-Gay Bill Sickens Me alludes to the real purpose of the Bill which is to expand the existing legislation on homosexuality to include organisations and individuals who “register operate or participate in gay… organizations” and as he points out this could well including criticisms of the Bill such as his article and this blog post.
It is important to first understand that no gay Nigerian, as far as anyone knows, is seeking marriage — in Nigeria…….You can comb the breadth of our decidedly homophobic media (“Homosexuals are in trouble!” crowed The Sun Newspapers, no doubt mirroring the excitement of its upright editorial board), and there is neither anecdotal nor empirical evidence of a clamor, even a quiet one, for gays to be married in churches, mosques or courts.
I would like to draw attention to the parallels of the “Thomas” tweeted by @rmajayi [ a young man abandoned on the roadside and left for dead in Ado Ekiti]; the non-investigation of the Abia gang rape either by the Abia statement government or the police; and this weeks Senate passing of the Same Sex Marriage Bill 2011. What each of these cases explicitly imply is that citizenship is not open to everyone. The state and its institutions of power both secular and religious, determine who is and what crimes are to be granted recognition; who is worthy of saving; who is considered a loyal citizen and can therefore expect justice. Those who criticize the SSM Bill on the basis that Nigeria has more pressing legislative issues to deal with such as endemic corruption [an example of a decades old obsession that everyone complains about but one in which everyone partakes – but seemingly no one sees themselves as part of the problem] fail to make the connections between homophobia and sexual violence or a violence which allows a man to be abandoned next to a gutter in front of hundreds of shoppers and passers by and to die through lack of attention and care. Even when a “good Samaritan” does attempt to do something she is disparaged and bullied as wanting only publicity for her acts!
Sexual harassment of women or being silent in its presence is so normalised within Nigerian society to the point when it is happening publicly and privately on a day to day basis online and offline in actions and words and body language. Women are constantly being degraded and verbally abused or demeaned on social media sites. Homophobia is horrifically expressed and applauded. These are all continuums of sexual abuse which take place without question. It is this nomalisation of sexual abuse and institutionalised misogyny that allows the police and others in authority to feel comfortable in making statements such as “she wanted to be raped” and to be wholly negligent in their investigations. It is what allows the government of Abia State and the university to sit quietly on the sidelines and do nothing.
What happens to these now normalised and legalised violences when a woman or man is raped, beaten or murdered because they were perceived to be a LGBTI person or this is used as defense? What if the Abia rapists claim they gang raped the victim because they know or suspect she is a lesbian? What if the abandonment of Thomas and others like him is justified on the basis of their sexual orientation? Although these are individualised acts of violence they are representative of a pervasive violence or threat of violence against queer people, women, children, the poor and the vulnerable.
The rationale behind the Same Sex Marriage Bill and its proposed counterpart in Uganda, is a huge deceit being spread by secular and religious leaders that decriminalising LGBTI persons would be an imposition from western imperialists and moral decadents. On the contrary these legislations are part of a continuity of western imperialism and “European heterosexual inheritance”  which were forced on colonial subjects and a mark of our continued colonial dependency. M. Jacqui Alexander -”Erotic Autonomy as a Politics of Decolonization: An Anatomy of Feminist and State Practice in the Bahamas Tourist Industry” 1997]
NOTE: An edited version of this post was first published on New Internationalist.