Nigeria: Anti- Homosexuality Law- A common sense Issue
In the past couple of days the Nigerian media, to some extent the international media and online media, have been awash with discussions, opinions and video clips on the issue of the recently passed anti- homosexuality law in Nigeria. I have listened to the news media and read the opinions expressed online by the proponents of the law and the fewer but considerably very vocal opponents of the law. People on Facebook have not been left out of this discourse either. I have also heard some prominent celebrities and businessmen like Richard Branson make statements on this issue.
I initially did not want to join the fray, but after I watched a video clip of an interview Vladimir Duthiers of CNN conducted with two homosexuals, I became convinced that it will not be wise to keep quiet but rather it would be more educative to espouse my views on the matter. I hope in so doing, I will also answer a few other questions that have constantly been brandished by opponents of the law. However, before I proceed I want to make it clear that the primary reason I am writing is that I am a Nigerian and so are my young children. As a wife, mother and citizen of Nigeria, I owe it to my family especially my children, to pass on to them the common values that define me and many Nigerians as Nigerians. This is critical because, unlike my generation and my parents’ generation, my children are growing up in a world that is becoming increasingly unrecognizable due to the fast diminishing reality of absolute values in terms of what is good and/or bad in favour of a world where the doctrine of ‘relativity’ has been pushed to absurd levels.
In Part 1 of this write up, I will answer 5 frequently asked questions voiced by opponents to Nigeria’s new legislation on homosexuality.
In Part 2 of this write up, I will discuss certain aspects of the law namely: enforceability and repeat offenders.
As a general rule please note the following definitions:
• Democracy is government of the People by the people for the people.
• Democracy is instituted through votes – one person, one vote.
• A democratic government has three arms of government – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. The President ( or prime minister) and the Legislature get their mandate from the people.
• The Legislature passes laws and the President signs the laws into effect.
• The Judiciary interprets the law.
In a recent CNN video clip of an interview by Vladimir Duthiers, one of the interviewees in buttressing his opposition to the law asked “what is this law for if it cannot put food on your table, give you electricity, give you good roads, then what is this law for?”
This question will be the first of five questions I will answer. So paraphrasing the question:
Question 1: What is this law for if it doesn’t meet the material needs of Nigerians?
To answer the question we have to first review and understand who the Nigerian referred to in the question is.
In the life of the average Nigerian there are 2 main spheres of existence:
1. The material – every Nigerian yearns for better roads, more purchasing power, food, better healthcare, electricity, etc.
2. The spiritual – 99% of Nigerians have a core spiritual belief in the creator of the universe, God. The Christian, Muslim, Osun worshipper, Sango worshiper, Amadioha worshiper etc all have a deep reverence for the creator of the universe. Thus, the spiritual forms the foundation upon which the moral and social code of Nigerians are based.
So answering question 1, this law is not to address the material sphere of existence of the Nigerian but to address the spiritual sphere and by extension the moral and social spheres of the average Nigerian.
During elections in the US, it was often said that Americans, after all the electioneering, typically vote their pocket books. The popular saying ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ is a uniquely American saying and was popularized by President Bill Clinton and it reflects, in no small measure, the social cum material sphere in which the average American thrives.
In sharp contrast, Nigerians exist and define themselves in the two spheres of the spiritual and material with the former taking precedence over the latter. A great many Nigerians will never agree to subsist in only one of these spheres. Consequently, this law is about the spiritual, moral and social values of the Nigerian nation.
Question 2: Why would Nigeria violate the human rights of homosexuals and violate their right to freedom of association? This statement ( not a direct quote) was credited to the current Secretary of State of the US.
The average Nigerian as described in question 1 above does not view or regard the homosexuality issue as a human rights issue. The reason is simple. The term human is singular and any right so apportioned must deal with the singularity of the human. For example, a child is born brown chocolate( or as the West say ‘black’) and is brown all by herself. A child is born milk ( or as the West say ‘white’) and is white all by herself, same with a male, female, man, woman. The brownness of the child in question is not determined by another human outside the child. The ‘girlness’ of a girl-child is not determined by another girl. That is the singularity of our humanness to which human rights applied until homosexual advocates turned this definition upside down. Homosexuality, by definition, thus contradicts the singularity of human rights because one can never be homosexual all by himself. The definition of the term is intrinsically relative to another human so the idea that homosexuality is a human rights issue falls flat.
The second aspect of the question above is on freedom of association.
If a law says that a certain act amounts to criminality, would the country that declared this allow self described violators of the law to associate freely without repercussions? As an illustration, I will use an issue that has troubled Nigeria and the West for sometime now – 419 scams. 419 refers to the section in Nigeria’s penal code that addresses financial scams. The code expressly states the punishment of 419ers if caught and convicted by a court of law within Nigeria. Supposing a group of self described 419ers decide to start a club to promote 419 and call it the ‘419 rights club’ – 419RC’ would John Kerry, the West and their supporters still argue that their freedom of association is not being respected and that they are being denied their right to freedom of association? I am certain some would easily dismiss this argument and declare that homosexuals are not like 419ers because unlike 419ers, homosexuals do not harm anyone. Unfortunately majority of Nigerians do not think so. I also strongly beg to differ with anyone that thinks that homosexual association doesn’t harm anyone in the country. Homosexuality harms Nigeria’s spiritual, moral and social sphere and most Nigerians feel strongly about this.
Question 3. What business does government have with what people do in their bedrooms? To rephrase as a statement ‘Government has no business in people’s bedrooms’
Of all the questions I have come across, none is as ridiculous as this one. To answer this question I will tell a true story, of a court case in a Southern African country in mid-2013. A woman had a much loved, healthy, well immunized male dog. She ‘loved’ the dog so much that she decided to display her love for the dog by having sexual relations with the dog in her bedroom. Unfortunately, a neighbor discovered what was going on and alerted the authorities. The government immediately charged the woman to court, found her guilty, and sent her to jail. So what business did government have in this woman’s bedroom? This Southern African nation’s government sentenced this woman because she violated all norms of civility and more importantly, the laws of the land.
A number of people opposed to this law would by now have argued in their minds that the dog is not human and thus could not have spoken the words of consent as humans can and therefore the government had every right to move in on her. It is important to note that the question being answered is about the right of government over what someone does in his or her bedroom. So the illustration clearly fits the answer.
It will be good to also mention here that communication is more than words and that in every love situation there is power even among humans. If some argue that the woman abused her power over the dog and that alone makes the act illegal then many marriages will be ‘illegal’ because with love comes power which can be wielded for good or bad even among humans.
Supposing the case was of a consenting adult father and his consenting adult son in their bedroom? Would that be more acceptable? It may not be far fetched to hear in the near future of a father and son who are two consenting adults demanding for their right to have sexual relation and to get married. Depravity is a dark hole. Once a nation starts descending into it there will be no end.
So what do Nigerians expect the role of government to be in their lives? According to numerous polls conducted, over 98% of Nigerians are in support of anti-homosexuality law. Nigerians expect that government, as the institution elected by the people to serve the people, must enact laws that reflect the values that define the people who make up the society.
Furthermore, there is inherently in this question a hypocrisy of sorts. In Nigeria, both traditionalists and muslims endorse polygamy. In the United States and most of Europe, polygamy is outlawed because it violates the values that their people cherish. Would the West be willing to adopt polygamy as it is practiced in Africa and specifically in Nigeria? Furthermore, if government has no business with what people do in their bedrooms then these governments ought to have recognized the rights of marriage of the man who has two, three or four wives. Or would the man not bed his wives in his bedroom? Or do the wives not have a right to marry their husbands in a civil union? Or do the husbands and wives not have human rights? In some other cultures a woman can have 4 husbands, so following the same logic why is the West opposed to the human rights of these people to marry and be recognized as married? The illustrations above highlight one dimension of the stupidity of question 3 and reveals the ignorance and/or hypocrisy of those who use it as a basis of their arguments.
Going further, the European court of Human Rights a few years ago ruled on the case of an adult brother and his adult sister who were so ‘in love’ that they felt their right to marry was being denied them by the their Government. So they fought for their rights all the way to the European court of Human Rights. The court ruled against them. I wonder why.
A father and daughter in Australia ‘fell in love’. The love was so strong that they vowed to one day have their right to marry respected by the government. I still wonder why that government refused their right to marry if government has no business whatsoever in what people do in their bedrooms.
The summary of the answer to question 3 is that the Nigerian government makes laws for Nigerians in accordance with the expectation of Nigerians of the role their government should play in their lives with respect to the material, spiritual, moral and social spheres of existence of the Nigerian. And Nigeria by no means expects or demands that other nations should hold the same view.
Question 4: Homosexuals are humans and so deserve the right like everyone else to love, live, and marry.
In the eyes of over 98% of Nigerians, if a man speaks, a Nigerian sees just that – a man. If a woman speaks, a Nigerian sees just that – a woman. The concept of a person defining him or herself by their sexuality and by extension their sexual preferences is not only alien, strange, uncultural but just downright perverse. Adulterers, fornicators and heterosexuals do not go around defining themselves by their sexuality. It is not only taboo in our culture but it flies against our spiritual and religious beliefs which we cherish. So that is why asking that a person’s sexual preferences be recognized is disgusting and distasteful to over 98% of Nigerians.
In Nigeria one of our social norms is that we simply do not go out in public to discuss sexual preferences or sexual relations. Interestingly, this is the same in many African cultures and in many conservative societies around the world including Asia and the Middle East. Homosexuals violated this social norm and since they brought it upon themselves, over 98% of Nigerians have told them what we think. It is clear they don’t like what they heard. Our society rejects homosexuality and it’s blatant expressiveness. Incidentally, this expressiveness is very common in the West. In most Western cultures, two adults can be seen kissing, snuggling and fondling each other in the open as an expression of their love even with children passing by. In Africa, while it is not uncommon to occasionally see people pecking, it is not the norm. Sexual relations are a private matter and must be done in private so as not to offend the sensibilities of others. This is the same in Dubai where a lot of Europeans and Americans reside. It is the same in Nigeria.
What a Nation considers vice should be vice. Prostitution is legal in many countries in the West but is a vice in Nigeria. Does it mean that there are no prostitutes in Nigeria? Certainly not. But should a society of prostitutes ie. ‘Prostitutes Defense Club PDC’ match to the Legislature and demand recognition by law so that they can display their craft in the open, they will receive an unmistakable message from Nigerians. When doors are opened to such vices and given official endorsement, there is no telling where things will end. Perhaps in the near future, Adulterers and Adulteresses, people who are pedophiles, necrophilliacs, and those that engage in bestiality or incest will demand recognition. This is what happens when there is a total breakdown of spiritual, moral and social order as we are witnessing in the West. Lee Kuan Yew, the respected elder statesman and former Prime Minister of Singapore has voiced this about the West. Nigeria has done the right thing in not opening the floodgates for moral and spiritual lawlessness to reign.
So what about ‘to love and marry whom they wish?’
People simply have to keep in line with what nature serves. Nigerians believe in Creationism ( for Christians and Muslims who make up over 90% of religious or faith inclined people of Nigeria, that is Adam and Eve as the first couple) and continue to believe that naturally born man is for naturally born woman and vice versa. This is by intelligent design. Going outside the sphere of sanity as defined by nature and created by God is a violation of everything our country holds dear. It still takes a sperm from a man and an egg from a woman to make a baby. As long as 2 eggs do not make a baby or vice versa, homosexuality remains an abominable act!
Question 5: Of all the issues affecting Nigeria, how is it that the government perceives the anti-homosexuality law as most important.
This question is like saying that Nigeria has no ability to multitask. I think most Nigerians will find that insulting. So in the minds of those who cling on to this question, Nigeria cannot be tackling the material sphere challenges, while at the same time, addressing the spiritual, moral and social sphere concerns?
Finally, it is quite shameful that some defenders of homosexuality have compared the refusal by over 98% of Nigerians to accept homosexuality as akin to the killing of twin babies in ancient times. For those ignorant of this history, twin babies were killed in the Calabar region of Nigeria until Mary Slessor fought for the abolition of the practice and thankfully won. Twin babies were never in any position to even know whether they were male or female or to determine their sexual preferences unlike adults, men and women, who know their God-given, nature-imposed gender yet decide to manipulate, alter and debase it. Twin babies were in the truest sense of the word vulnerable because babies are in no position to argue their cause- they cannot talk or even babble. Babies are entrusted at birth to adults to take care of them until they are grown enough to care for themselves and then as adults also care for others. That is the natural cycle of life. That such adults will abuse and kill those babies was a crime against humanity the same way slavery was a crime against humanity. What is mildly amusing about the use of this sad episode in our history by the homosexuality lobbyists is that they deliberately forget to mention that a man and woman gave birth to those babies. Not a man and man or a woman and woman. In defense of their amoral act they will resurrect even the ghosts of the innocent babies of that era? The minuscule pro- homosexuality elements of the society will stop at nothing no matter how debased, senseless and devoid of simple logic their references may be to push down the throat of the majority their views of this unnatural practice. There is an adage in Igbo land that says ‘when an abomination is allowed to fester it becomes a tradition’. Hopefully this law will ensure that no such abomination festers lest generations yet unborn think it is the Nigerian tradition!
A few people have raised concerns about the enforceability of this law. Some have gone as far as opposing the law on the grounds that they feel it will be difficult to enforce and would be abused. A former minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria voiced her opposition to this law on the grounds that she did not see how it could be enforced. It is one thing to say a law will be difficult to enforce and another to oppose the law on those grounds. This law is not the first sex offenses law passed by governments all over the world. Long before this law came into effect, countries have passed anti- rape laws. As with anti- rape laws as with this law: sex offense laws are challenging to prove but no one has ever called for the scrapping of anti-rape laws anywhere despite the attendant difficulties in enforcing such laws. So the question is how have similar sex offenses laws been enforced in countries that have them? It is a known fact that in many countries including United States, many cases have been concluded on the strength of circumstantial evidence backed up by scientific analysis such as DNA evidence. Circumstantial evidence means that the individual was not caught in the very act per se but there was enough evidence to prove that the act did take place. Is this perfect? Of course not. But has it been used effectively? Absolutely. So when someone opposes the law on the basis of the perception that it cannot be enforced and that it will be abused, then the question needs to be asked whether there is any law anywhere that does not face similar challenges? Does that mean that all the sex crimes laws including anti- rape laws be scrapped because of the challenges in proving such crimes were committed? If your answer is a resounding No as mine is , it then becomes apparent that rather than tweeting mere criticisms, truly concerned Nigerians should offer suggestions on how to improve the law to make it more potent in addressing the issue for which it was signed. For instance training our police in investigations, setting up DNA labs, etc. for starters. Enacting the law is the first step because a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. It is just not enough to raise concerns and announce your opposition to the law. May our people of influence not play the prostitute to Western powers by denying our core values as a people all in an attempt to get the crumbs of recognition from the West. May we not play politics with the spiritual, moral and social life of the nation.
Another aspect of this law that was not addressed by the law in its current form is the issue of repeat offenders. What happens to a person who has been convicted and sent to prison for 14years and upon release breaks the law again? Would the person be sent to prison for another 14years?
Here are my suggestions for this scenario.
Suggestion no 1: This involves going the traditional route. The first but less likely to be accepted is that the person be sent to his village and the traditional ruler be empowered to proscribe a commensurate reformation punishment for such a person. Every Nigerian can be traced to their ancestral village and their ancestral compound so finding a traditional ruler that covers every Nigerian will not be difficult. The national identity program will have to be fully functional for this option to work. I have been told that in times past the discipline and punishment for crimes instituted by the family and village heads was very effective in combating deviant behavior. We should not in our bid to modernize belittle the traditional institutions because with a little bit of support and oversight these institutions can come in handy at times like this. They are our asset not liability.
Suggestion no 2: It could be proposed that a repeat offender who is a citizen of 2 countries say Nigeria and Britain, would be given the red card. His or her Nigerian citizenship will be withdrawn in lieu of another term of 14 years in prison. The person thus can peacefully depart Nigeria never to return.
Suggestion no 3: If a repeat offender is the citizen of the one and only Nigeria with no other citizenship. I would suggest that Nigeria enters a pact with countries like Canada, US ( specifically the US states that allow homosexuality), Britain, France and such other countries. This pact could, once signed, be ratified by the United Nations to ensure no side reneges on their responsibility. This pact could be called the ‘Homosexuality Repatriation and Asylum Pact ( HoRAP) that would allow such repeat offenders to peacefully depart Nigeria to any of the countries that sign the pact so they can live out their ‘human right’ without fear of being returned to a Nigerian prison. The Pact will make it clear that such individuals can never set foot in Nigeria. This idea has in some ways been voiced by President Barack Obama when he asked all the United States embassies to watch out for countries who do not respect homosexual rights and further directed the relevant organs of State to be prepared to provide a shelter for such homosexuals. This directive can be formalized and ratified thus bringing it to life in the said pact. Such a pact would be a win-win for Nigeria and those countries that have vociferously defended and promoted homosexuality as a human right issue. On the one hand it would show that Nigeria is able to temper justice with mercy in the implementation of the law. On the other hand it would give those countries the opportunity to match their words with commensurate action.
Nigeria in the view of many Western countries is a secular nation with deeply conservative people. This misinformed view may have in no small measure contributed to the expectation of the West that Nigeria could not possibly pass an anti-homosexuality law. This view is an erroneous one. Nigeria is a religious nation, possessing deep conservative values but a nation that has a reasonable degree of tolerance for secular values as long as such values do not affront the deeply held religious and conservative values. If other nations understand this about Nigeria then they will be better equipped to deal with our laws.
Finally, there is a need to understand what human right means for the Nigerian. A former Chinese president responded to the US about China’s own perception of human rights. He said to the US that the greatest human rights duty and record China has is in lifting millions out of poverty for without that nothing really can be classified as ‘human rights’. Likewise let Nigeria continue to build its material, spiritual, moral and social spheres of existence for the average Nigerian. That is our greatest human rights!
By Peace Peter
Poet and Writer