Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Are Homosexuals Human Beings?

The theme of the 1993 United Nations world conference on human rights in Vienna was Women’s Rights Are Human Rights. I was with the Civil Liberties Organization then and attended the conference. Why was it necessary, you might ask, to state that incontestable fact 45 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the very first article of which asserts unequivocally that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights?” Aren’t women human beings? Funny as it may sound, the status of woman as human wasn’t always “settled.” Indeed, a much earlier conference is believed to have been convened in France, circa 586 A.D., to resolve the question whether or not women were human!  It was my former colleague at the CLO, Chidi Anselm Odnkalu, now chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, who first mentioned this outrageous outcome of prejudice born of the fear of difference—whether it be racial, gender, religious, sexual, or even plainly ideological.

In having her humanity doubted, woman, the primal Other of history, the first to embody difference (ab-normal-ity, deviance from the perceived norm), shared a common fate with Africans, other so-called persons of colour, and many oppressed groups. Thus, as the great white men behind the American Declaration of Independence proclaimed the fact that “all men are born equal” to be a “self-evident” truth, their diction betrayed the exclusion of women from equal humanity. And it was not until 1920 that the 19th Amendment ensured political equality for American women by making them voting citizens in the self-vaunted land of freedom.

One of the disingenuous yet appealing justifications for the frightful antipathy to gays and lesbians in Nigeria is that same sex relations are foreign to African culture. Those who bay for the blood of homosexuals, who would have them jailed for 14 years even when billion-dollar thieves in government and business are awarded national honours—not to mention election riggers, wife beaters, child deserters and abusers, rapists, paedophiles, Daddy Overseers who fleece their flock and sleep with their female congregants (married and unmarried), etc.—justify their lack of Christian love, charity, or plain fellow feeling by resort to a cheap and convenient cultural nationalism. Respect for the equal humanity of gay persons, they say, is a foreign concept being imposed on us by the imperialistic West. And then without batting an eyelid, they quote from the Bible or the Koran—as if Christianity and Islam were African religions! But they fail to cite one African religious or cultural practice that punishes homosexuals with the force of law. Or an African jurisprudence that sanctions imprisonment as a form of penal justice.

In a series of essays published in December 2011 and January 2012 on the dangerous tide of homophobia in our land—see “Homosexuality and Nigeria’s Enochs and Josephs,” “Homosexuality, Biology and the Bible,” and “Sex and the Church’s Missionary Position” (The Guardian, 19 and 28 December 2011 and 9 and 10 January 2012), as well as “Ekwe and the Raging Army of God’s Protectors” (Vanguard, 23 January 2013); also available online, I asked the venerable Rev. Jasper Akinola, the spiritual-cum-political leader of the anti-gay movement, why, if he was the ├╝ber-cultural nationalist that he claims to be, he scorned the Church of Orunmila and chose to be a priest of the Church of England? An Anglican congregation, if he needs to be reminded, founded and headed by King Henry VIII in protest against the Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to indulge his appetite for adultery.

A church, moreover, that was the ideological bulwark in Britain’s imperialist mission of colonial conquest through the “wiping out of the tribal (read cultural) memory” of the natives (to adapt Major Pilkings’s apt rebuke, in Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, of Joseph, his native houseboy who, converted yesterday, had become the next day an unwilling native informer on the “primitive,” unchristian, ways of his recently colonized Yoruba people). I am yet to receive an answer from the retired primate of King Henry’s Nigerian converts. We know, however, that the purported defence of African values (defined by whom?) is only a fig leaf to cover an onerous legacy of the Abrahamic faiths: making a sin of sexual desire, whether it be hetero- or homo-social in nature. Not even after marriage—a social undertaking not to be confused with the natural, hormone-driven, impulse of sexual orientation—was sanctioned as an inconvenient solution was the problem solved.

But in blaming the West for something that has been present in every human society and in the animal world as well from the origin of time, the self-righteous army of God forgets that the West persecuted homosexuals until quite recently. Now more Catholic than the pope, they cannot bear to hear the same West that brought them the bible change its mind about any of its creeds and catechisms. “How dare you admit,” they shout, foaming at the mouth and wagging a finger at the Archbishop of Canterbury, “that gay people do not choose their sexuality any more than heterosexuals choose theirs, and then proceed to treat them as human beings equal to us virtuous heterosexuals? How dare you ordain a gay bishop in OUR church?”

The zealotry of Nigeria’s army of the faithful fits perfectly the ungovernable fervour of the reformed sinner who, once converted, must prove him- or herself more devoted to the cross or crescent than his pastor or imam. Thus, if Pope Francis, reminded of Christ’s admonition, “Judge not that ye may not be judged,” can say in response to the question of gay priests, “Who am I to judge?”, Nigeria and Africa’s religious leaders say, “We are the ones to judge and punish. God is too merciful and his judgement too long in coming.” This is the sort of holy frenzy that makes full-grown African men and women sing with all pious sincerity, “Wash me [Lord Jesus] and I shall be whiter than snow!”

But the question is inescapable: are homosexuals human beings? If the answer is yes, then they must be accorded their human rights and dignity. Sexual relations among consenting adults are no more harmful to society in same sex relations than in opposite sex relationships. If there be any harm, it is the mad rush in the name of a strange and false notion of African values and the dictates of foreign religious doctrines imposed by conquest, to erode the laws of privacy and civilized behaviour to criminalize what is at worst a sin, as if God cannot be trusted to punish that among other sins on judgment day. Yet, by pandering to the prejudices of a majority closed to reason, that cannot be persuaded by logic—recall that it was the majority that freed Barabbas the murderer and crucified Jesus—or scientific evidence such as is changing the mind of the West that once thought homosexuality was a disease, the result of a psychiatric disorder, to authorise the Draconian re-criminalisation of same-sex relations, President Jonathan may have unwittingly done the gay and lesbian community, all of rational humanity, a favour.

For the law will not make homosexuals disappear from, or cease to be born in, Nigeria. After all, where do homosexuals come from, if not from heterosexual parents? Persecuting them will only make that barbaric stance solidify Nigeria’s reputation as a country quick to descend on the weak, poor and vulnerable while straining every muscle to protect and honour the rich and powerful. Yet, it is invariably the case that whenever power has to resort to maximum force to have its way, it has lost the moral ground and is very close to defeat. And so to our brothers and sisters persecuted for being gay, I say take courage: the darkest hour of night is just before dawn.

This was originally published here and here.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

When we legalise discrimination..

When a law such as the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Law recently passed in Nigeria is met with the kind of widespread support within Nigeria that we have seen, we know for sure that Nigeria is in deep, deep trouble. This is a country now firmly on its slide down the slippery slope of repression and discrimination against a segment of its own citizens. 

As a diversionary tactic, this law has been an unmitigated success so far. It has diverted the minds of long-suffering Nigerians from the real issues; the poor quality of life for its citizens which the country's successive governments have made sure to maintain for decades, the lack of security, the lack of basic services and amenities that are taken for granted by the populations of most of the other top-50 largest economies of the world, of which Nigeria is one. (Nigeria is the country with the 37th largest GDP in the world, according to the United Nations, The World Bank, the IMF and the CIA Fact Book, all authoritative sources.) It is also the only country, which, although clearly regarded as a wealthy country, has nearly 85 percent of its population living on less than $2 per day and classed as a Low Human Development country in the UNDP's Human Development Index, lower even than the Republic of Congo and Tanzania. (See the 2013 HDI Report here). 

Respecting the law is not what Nigerians are known for, (it would be hard to disagree with me on this). The presumption, therefore, that this law is likely to be badly abused is not unfounded. If anything, this is a highly likely outcome, and more so given that the law's application extends to non-homosexuals who are alleged to be associated with suspected homosexual persons. I foresee widespread abuse. I predict situations where scores are settled between adversaries with allegations relating to homosexuality being wildly slung about and the myriad consequences of such, of the sort that we cannot now even begin to imagine. In short, this is a very bad law. It is a law that allows for Nigerians to be arrested on the streets on the mere suspicion that they may have homosexual associations. I personally, feel nothing but shame at this point in time, for I am connected with a country that promotes and upholds such hate, ignorance, intolerance, bigotry and prejudice. 

I will conclude with this very apt posting by someone on Facebook:

"For 50 years, Nigeria has been undermined by violence and rampant graft. Their solution? Bash harmless gay people.
Barely a day after they started their anti-gay witch hunt, Boko Haram launches a major bomb attack. Glad the Nigerian regime is focusing on the real danger, the gays!" - Brian Farenell
I came across the following in today's Premium Times, a progressive Nigerian publication. 

"We, the undersigned, wish to ally ourselves with these voices of reason. We unreservedly condemn the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Law and urge civil society and human rights groups to start a campaign that we hope will soon result in its abolition.
We also urge the eminent personages across the world who have condemned the so-called law to go beyond diplomatic gestures and put pressures on the Nigerian government wherever they can. Specifically, the United States and the United Kingdom should, forthwith, impose diplomatic sanctions (e.g., denial of visas) on all Nigerian functionaries, including journalists, the clergy, and policymakers associated with the passing of the law.
There are many reasons why every right-thinking person should oppose this law.
First, it is based on a spurious, uninformed and one-dimensional reading of ‘African culture.’ Second, it criminalizes a section of Nigerians for nothing other than their natural sexual inclination.Third, it ignores the fruits of many decades of scientific research which proves decisively that homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Fourth, the law threatens to reverse the gains made by programs aimed at fighting the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the country.Fifth, it is absurd in terms of the jail time it stipulates for those who associate with LGBT people. Sixth, it casts Nigeria in a bad light for no good reason, putting it in the vulgar company of other countries where homosexuality is criminalized.Seventh, it gives law enforcement agents an open check to go after innocent Nigerians in the name of upholding the law. Finally, the law impinges on Nigerians’ freedom of speech and association, and expressly violates the rights of minorities in a free and democratic society.
It is not the business of any state, let alone the Nigerian state, to interpose itself in the private affairs of two consenting adults. Any human act or practice that does not infringe on the freedom of others cannot and should not be criminalized. Homosexuality does not harm us as a society and people. It is the hypocrisy, venality, and corruption that pervade our society that are the source of our problems.
Ebenezer Obadare, Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Akin Adesokan, Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Wale Adebanwi, Davis, California, USA; Lola Shoneyin, Abeokuta, Nigeria; Jude Dibia, Lagos, Nigeria; Jeremy Weate, Abuja, Nigeria; Chido Onumah, Abuja, Nigeria; Amatoritsero Ede, Ottawa, Canada; Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome, Brooklyn, New York, USA; Olufemi Taiwo, Ithaca, New York, USA; Tejumola Olaniyan, Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Ike Anya, London, UK; Kunle Ajibade, Lagos, Nigeria,; Moradewun Adejunmobi, California, USA; Sean Jacobs, Brooklyn, York, USA; Adeleke Adeeko, Ilorin, Nigeria; Olakunle George, Providence, Rhode Island, USA; Wendy Willems, London, UK; Ikhide R. Ikheloa, Maryland, USA; Rudolf Okonkwo, New York, USA; Jide Wintoki, Lawrence, Kansas, USA"