Sunday, 17 December 2017

Because Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam stands: An open letter to the Nigerian leadership and people requesting the unconditional call of Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam

Dear Naija,

On 12 December 2017, a batch of Nigerian law students were admitted at the International Conference Centre(ICC), Abuja to the Nigerian Bar as barristers and solicitors of the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I recall thinking, in 2015 when I was called, that the my call was the biggest party in Abuja and possibly Nigeria. This is because at every call the world would be alive to watch the Nigerian law students' six or more years of study validated by the creme de la creme of the Nigerian legal profession.

I assure you, it is a big deal not just for the law student, but also peers, family, community and the rest of Nigeria.

At the 2017 call, Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam, a young female muslim law student, was denied entrance into the ICC because she insisted on wearing the muslim hijab beneath her wig.  On the grounds of her visibly identifying as a muslim, she was denied her well deserved admittance into the Nigerian Bar. This denial is completely unacceptable. Section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(as amended) which provides for the freedom of thought, conscience and religion frowns at it.  So does Article 3, 5 and 12 of the Protocol to the African Charter  on  Human Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa which provide for the rights to dignity and state duty to eliminate all forms of harmful practices which negtively affect the human rights of women; protect women who are at risk of being subjected to harmful practices or all other forms of intolerance; protect women from all forms of abuse in school(academic pursuit); Article 6, 23(g), 25 of the African Youth Charter which provide that states shall ensure that every young person shall have the freedom of thought, conscience and religion; eliminate all traditional practices that undermine the physical integrity and  dignity of women; provide educational sytems that do not impede girls from attending, eliminate harmful social and cultural practices that harm and are discriminatory to youth on the basis of gender, age, or other status; Article 4,5 and 8 of Nigeria's African Charter on the Human and Peoples' Rights Ratification and Enforcement Act (African Charter) which provide for the right to inegrity, dignity and the free practice of religion frown at this.

Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam
As always the social media and the real society has diverging stance on the issue of whether or not the system is legit in its withholding Amasa's acceptance into the Nigerian Bar on the basis of her insistence on wearing her hijab while being called. However, it is important to consider precedents on the interpretation of freedom of religion. The African Charter, though an international treaty, has been domesticated in Nigeria as a federal law and is as binding as every other federal law in Nigeria. Articles 61 of the African Charter permits that to interprete its provision, inspiration may be  drawn from legal principles, precedents, doctrines, customs generally accepted as law and recognised by African states. In this light, the decision of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Commission) on the scope of the freedom of  religion are a relelvant reference. Prince v South Africa (2000) AHRLR 57 (ACHPR 1997).

In Prince v South Africa the African Commission addressed among other things the scope of freedom of freedom of religion and its limitation. In this case, Prince argued that his freedom of religion was violated because the South African government denied him admittance into his legal profession on the basis of his use of cannabis (although for sacremental purpose as a Rastafari). The use of cannabis is generally illegalised by the South African Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act. He was made to choose between adhering to his Rastafarian beliefs and his professional career as a lawyer.

The African Commission in addressing the limitations of freedoms enshrined in Art 27(2) of the African Charter, held that human rights and freedoms may be restricted by the state. However, such limitation must be strictly proportionate  with, and absolutely necessary for the advantages, which are obtained. These advantanges include protecting the rights of others, collective security, morality and common interest. In Prince's case, restricting his freedom of religion based on his use of cannabis was legitimated based on the fact that cannabis is an 'undesirable  dependence producing substance'.

A similar restriction, as relied on the African Commission in Prince's case, was held by United Nations Human Rights Committee in K Singh Bhinder v Canada (communication 208/1986). In this case Bhinder, a maintenance electrician at a government owned Canadian National Railway Company, insisted on wearinga turban as prescribed by the Sikh religion as opposed to a safety head gear at work. Owing to this, his employment was terminated. Bhinder alleged discrimination. The Committee, in interpreting the Article 26 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR)(on the rights to equality and non-discrimination) held that the law's requirement of wearing a safety head gear in employment  such as Bhinder's was 'reasonable and directed towards objective purposes that are compatible with the ICCPR, human rights, life, dignity, equality, safety...

The four principles are afloat here are those of proportionality, necessity, reasonability and legality.  Is there a particular ill that wearing the hijab resorts to? Does it violate anyone else's human rights? What purpose does the insistence of the management on Amasa's refusal to take off the hijab serve? Was it necessary for the protection of public morality or safety? Did Amasa's wearing the hijab violate any rule or law? Even if it violated a rule or law, how compatible is that rule or law with the pursuit of the welfare of the Nigerian people, the legal profession or human dignity generally? How reasonable was Amasa's being denied admittance into the legal profession on the basis of her insistence on being called wearing her hijab? If these questions and issues are thoroughly considered, we see that there was absolutely no legit basis for Amasa's being denied admittance into the Nigerian Bar.

The hijab is no cannabis; wearing it to the call to bar ceremony does not infringe on the collective security, morality or right of others like was the case in Prince v South Africa. It has absolutely no safety implication and violates no just legal requirement which exists in cognisance of the humanity, dignity and human rights as was the case in K Singh Bhinder v Canada. Refusing Amasa admittance to the Nigerian Bar on the grounds of her wearing her hijab is of no necessity besides fostering a practice that serves no essential purpose outside falsely role casting the Nigerian legal profession and the rest of Nigeria as a homogenous common law jurisdiction. What has been done to Amasa is totally unacceptable and is against the principles of proportionality, necessity, reasonability and legality.

Granted, Amasa's insistence on wearing the hijab is 'transgressive'. But  even in her seeming transgression she is well within the scope of her freedoms of expression and religion. Have not our legal history shown us that such 'transgressions'  are more salient than cowering silence and compliance, and should be more welcome than not? This is especially in a Nigeria where patriachy and inequality mostly go unquestioned, unjust conventions and practices mostly progress undisturbed. Undisturbed, untransgressed! Unjust practices which span from the ancestral era of slavery, colonialism and the killing of twins to the more contemporary ones such as the preclusion of female offsprings from inheriting family property, ruled against in Mojekwu v Mojekwu (1997); the requirement that married Nigerian women must provide the authorisation letters from their husbands while applying for a new international passport, ruled against in Dr Priye Iyalla-Amadi v Comptroller General, Nigerian Immigration Service and Anor (2009); the mob attacks inflicted on suspected homosexuals in Nigeria which still thrive unattended; unquestioned excesses by members of the police force. I could go on.

But, but, but, Amasa has not only decided to speak and act up, she has, through her firm stand, cast a light on Nigeria's greatest sin, intolerance. Nigeria is more than just a former british colony, it is a diverse territory overflowing with all sorts which the Nigerian state is bound by laws both national and international to protect, preserve and inclusively balance. We are anything, everything,  but homogenous. The fact that 'this is how it has been' is no longer good enough to secure our development as a people. We can test this against history, the past, against our hopes and dreams for our country, our youth, our future. There is a space for Amasa and her message at the Nigerian Bar. There is a space for diversity and inclusion in Nigeria.

The call is such a symbolic ceremony for every Nigerian lawyer because it is an ushering into a life time career of speaking up and standing out. Most of us may never get to do this even after being called. Amasa, however, decided to begin her career with her call ceremony. What has been done to her is a great injustice. It will even be a greater injustice to stall her career for another year. There is no greater humiliation than this. This humiliation shall poison our youth with cowardice and fill our streets with impunity.

As a queer Nigerian man who understands the evil of intolerance and the repression of unquestioned conventions, I join my voice with Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam, and several others, to demand the following from the leadership of  the Nigerian Law School,  Council of Legal Education and Nigeria:

1. The revisiting of the dresscode for the Nigerian Law School and Call to Bar ceremonies to include the wearing of hijabs;

2. A public apology  to Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam for denying her admittance, alongside her peers, into the Nigerian Bar on 12 December 2017;

3. That Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam be called to the Nigerian bar with all the due rights and privileges conferred on her.

4. That the fulfiment of the above request (3) be deemed, for all intentions and purposes, to have been done on 12 December 2017 as was the right date of her call.

I celebrate you Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam. I stand with you. Your ruggedity has begun a stampede. You are on to great things.

Inspired,
Nnanna

(I write this is in my capacities as a Nigerian lawyer and storyteller, none other)

 (Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam's image source from http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/nigerian-law-graduate-denied-call-bar-hijab-171216084329791.html)

Monday, 29 May 2017

Three and still in my heart

Dear Oge,

On 1 April 2017, I saw a dark skinned Ugandan boy, an exact replica of you. He studies Economics here in the University of Pretoria. He is in his first year. I spent about an hour studying beside him. And in that one hour,  I stole a thousand glances at him. I wished he was your ghost. Our studying was cut short because the study venue was being prepared for an event. I made sure to introduce myself before I walked away because every 'apparition' of you deserves my respect. However, I did not feel the need to take his number, offer mine or connect any further. There was no need to incarnate you. You still lived in my heart.

Six days later I saw him again but this time at a distance. He did not see me so I stared as much and as jaw droppingly as I wanted to. But this is not the story I want to tell you on the third memorial of your death. Perhaps this is not the story you want to hear. But I would not know this because you have neither reached back nor connected since you left. It's so frustrating to expect the seemingly impossible. But this is faith isn't it? Believing that the dark silence shall pass and once more there will be words and letters and communication. Or not. Perhaps this silence is bliss. Perhaps this silence is necessary.

You know Oge, sometimes I do not have the luxury of patience or shakara. Time has suddenly become too precious.  I just get up and leave. I now find solace for my writing and reading blocks in the most uncanny and unbecoming things like chocolate muffins and custard, like hiding out in the Engineering Library to study human rights, like crying at midnight when I feel like the wall is caving in.

I have also been banging the door alot these days on my tiredness, on people that won't stop being unreasonable, on my unwaning need to be present even if all it does is feed some age-long misconception that I can not leave.

But then Oge, the days are not always like this. I have learned to love and laugh and stay when I need to. I have learned that the word 'happy' in happy ending is quite relative. But also that Prince Charming is real.

On that Oge, the eagle, that eagle, that very eagle has flown. It flew away in March. Now I feel less agitated, less afraid and less inclined to engage in heated debates to assert or defend myself. I feel more alive! The home front is taking it very well, I think. At the time it felt like the right thing to do. I am very happy that I took that decision at that time. The heavens are still up there, and brown bread is still R12.

This is not the story I want to tell you either.

Oge, the truth is May 27 is still a dark day for me every year. This year I could not bring myself to tell you any story. My heart is still heavy. And for the first time I considered unloving you because grieving for you gets in the way of everything. But I can not because the memory of you blesses everything. Being with you, and receiving from you, giving to you gave me a lot- and still does. Our friendship was not everything. But it was different, complex, and safe. I wish I could look past the pain of your phyiscal absence and embrace your always being with me, in me and for me.

Fimi sile Forever is out, and has been lit up in London and Pretoria. Our names engraved in every copy. I have also temporarily withdrawn from the chaos of social media to attend  to my art, work and academics. More sweetly Oge, cupid has struck!

You are here Oge, alive and present. You still live in my heart. I still appreciate that we have moments to remember.

I still cherish the memory of you. I love you, still- it's not funny anymore.

Happy memorial Oge.

Nodi n'udo.

Oyi gi,
Nnanna




Friday, 19 May 2017

#Childnotwitch

Dear Africa,

As a child I saw the movie 'Battle of Musanga'. A nollywood film. One of the several that I was learning to love. It told the story of Mgbeke, the young Igbo woman who was forced to submit her newly birthed twins to the community because twins were believed to be an abomination.

A few years ago, I read Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart' where the concept of Ogbanje was explained through storytelling. When children get too sick too often, they must be witches. We must mark them, mark them repeatedly with hot razors so that they dare not return to this world in reincarnation.

Ola Rotimi's 'The gods are not to blame' in exploring the Oedipus Rex told us the story that may be explained as the child that should have been killed. And if this child is not killed, the world will pay for it.

Sometime ago, we saw a flush of movies about child witches, lots and lots of them.

Children! These movies and art paint them as blood sucking, dark and demonic creatures.

This rain beats us all. The four year old child in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria now being chained and whipped. The 17 year old gay boy in Owerri, Nigeria starved for days and abandoned in the name of exorcism. Lesbian girls lambasted and raped by prayer warrior after prayer warriors. The victims also include parents, families and communities trapped by age long unquestioned customs of demonising the queer, the beautiful and non-conventional.

They have used art, sermons, conversations, relationships, intimidation, power, patriachy, seniority and status to force us into ignorance. And these are  the strong names in our movie industry and  literati in full support, in applause. 

Let us move beyond this, let us learn. Let us untell these stories. Let us right this wrong. Let us accept and protect children, they are not witches!

Pissed off!
Nnanna









Saturday, 6 May 2017

Counting as human first

It is not often that I identify with the race struggle. One does not become genuinely emotionally aware of it by reading Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, seeing Idris Elba’s rendition of the Madiba or the Sophia town play- although I believe, I came very close. ‘Race’ has not always my reality. I live here in South Africa but I do not pretend to understand it fully, yet. What I do share with this reality is the consciousness of a tedious journey of struggling towards acceptance. If this is anything to go by, the parallel realities of the several immutable features that attract pain and exclusion share the same ‘darkness’. These features, race inclusive, are gender and gender expression, sex and sexuality, disability at several levels, ethnicity and ancestry, social and political class, religious affiliations or the lack of it. There will really be no end to this list. But Freedom Day every year as the celebration of the first time that exclusion was formally stopped as regards the peoples’ right to vote is not only a symbol of so much but a parallel victory for every reality that smacks of discrimination and exclusion.
You see, elections and voting are not just a political exercise of slipping cards through card-board slots. They could be symbols of integration, involvement, community, power and continuous change. They do not only say that my preference is allowed to count. They also mean that I am here validly, unapologetically, protected by the structure, history and aspirations of the state regardless of what, who, where or how I am.  It is not just the protection that counts but that there are mechanisms set up to ensure that nothing derogates from this status with impunity. And this idea of this is a beautiful one, phenomenal even.
However, this idea does not get realised because the people have a legal right to participate and contribute. All rights are linked to one another. A person cannot enjoy his/her/their human rights to participation and voting if their humanity is not first recognised. This humanity entails the respect, protection and fulfilment of every human right in the bill of rights. And for South Africa, given the colonial history, apartheid, the state’s policing of certain citizens privacy and sexuality, post-colonial anti-white sentiments, this humanity is strongly pegged on non-discrimination and inclusion. 
The idea of this protection should mean that I may walk into classrooms and not be looked at differently because my skin is a shade of brown or black. And that my white friends are not constantly perceived as predators and oppressors. That waiters in restaurants do not look at me strangely because I am in a visibly biracial or same-sex relationship. This should mean that I may hold my head up high as I walk through the streets or into health care centres and police stations regardless of whether my sexual inclinations and gender presentations are known and visible. This should mean that the kink in my hair, sway in my hips or the lack of one or both does not get in the way of  working at work, learning at school, and ‘churching’ at church. This should mean that my life, culture, health and living standards should matter when state policies and plans are being made. This should mean that the great, little, dissimilar and similar should see me as deserving and worthy of visibility, audibility and engagement - and I reciprocating the same the whole time.
sourced from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/glenn-garner/southern-gay-men-and-interracial-dating_b_5660825.html
Still, it is not often that I identify with the race struggle. It has not always been part of my reality. I know about the struggles of sexuality, gender, ethnicity and religion. I know about being looked down on because by some standards I am not cis-gender and Christian. I know about being a stranger and hiding my ‘Nigerianness’ to protect myself from homophobia and xenophobia, to guard against physical, mental and emotional hostility and to live one more productive day. I know about being silent because my spoken words do not flow out articulately and struggling to compete with the same rules as persons who do not stutter. I know about fear and repression and that my scars are not instigators but a bench mark on how people must never be treated. Most importantly, I know that the Freedom Day should mean more than voting because history exists as a symbol to be celebrated, learned from, project further and not to be limited by. I know that Freedom Day means that in our dissimilarities, we should all count the same.

Originally published on SOGIE Diaries: http://www.chr.up.ac.za/index.php/sogie-diaries-blog/1795-counting-as-humans-first.html 

Monday, 20 March 2017

On Chimamanda's 'anti-trans' statement

Dear Africa,
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The experiences are not the same for a cis-gender person and a transgender person. This is because while experiences are partly based on internal interpretations, they are also partly based on external environments, prejudices and circumstances. A trans-man while addressing a colloqium on Sexualities a few weeks ago here in the University of Pretoria relayed that he realises that he has come into male privilege  because he now appears to unsuspecting patriachal eyes as cis-gender. 'My girlfriend is ignored when we go out together but I am acknowledged. When the bill gets to the table, it is handed to me.' He is naturally able to see, tell and feel this difference in how the society treats men and women. He is more sensitive to this than I am, and perhaps more than I can ever be.

As a mostly cis-gender male myself, I have never had the feeling of culture shock that this trans-man had and others have when they realise they are treated differently from what had been obtainable before their physical transition. I am not saddled with internal gender struggles or the history of not being taken seriously for not having a dick or not being seen as my family's secure link to the continuity of lineage. Among these, there are several other levels of varying experiences that distinguishes a trans-man from me.


I do not consider trans-men any less 'masculine' or genuinely 'male' than I am. But I have a special respect for them which is defined and fed by my recognition and acknowledgement of  their historical, personal and individual backgrounds and journies. In this light, I strongly understand Adichie's statement to be rooted in  her reluctance to flatten the uniqueness of trangender existence and identity by unduly submerging it in the almost homogenous ocean of cis-gender identity and experience. But she is careful to note that 'diversity is not difference'. As such saying- or I believe she is saying- that there are all sorts of women, but they are women still.

Being a trans-woman does not negate or dilute the authenticity of womanhood. It only makes you the trans-woman part of a category(transgender) within a category(women). Of course, the conversation is still on, but I believe that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a valid position on the subject. It is  misconstruing, I believe, to regard her respect for the trans-community as being exclusionary and demeaning.

And to Chimamanda, I celebrate and agree with you. Jisike!

Resolved!
Nnanna

Image of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche sourced from https://www.wsj.com/articles/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-on-the-world-of-african-literature-1430504839

More on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's statement :
http://www.vox.com/identities/2017/3/15/14910900/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-transgender-women-comments-apology

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-transgender-women-channel-4-interview-views-lgbt-raquel-willis-a7628571.html


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Women I Celebrate

Dear Africa

Today I celebrate the 'Sahhara's and 'Caitlyn's among us. The 'Anastacia's, those of us who are genuinely women whether the world likes it or not. I celebrate the Tamales and Khumalos, those whose femininity are not contested but who choose to jump in the fire still to be the voice of those who are not yet powerful enough to speak and be heard.

I celebrate the Owenus and Nnajis whose gifts have paved the paths of our childhood. Whose talents have taught me love, coquettery and 'Ekwe'.

The most of all, I celebrate those who have lived their lives singing, yet unsung, pouring their core into us: My mum Doris Ikpo, my  sisters, cousins, aunts and even neices and daughters unborn- unconceived even.

I celebrate the men who do not think they have to step aside but are happy to stand beside unchallenged yet applauding. And the men who can tell the emptiness of violence, chauvinism and suppression from the blessings of inclusion, affirmation and conversations and the choose the better.

I celebrate the children that are watching(reading, learning, hearing, feeling and knowing) . Also I celebrate the large board rooms, organisations and little backyard kitchens that discuss women in a positive light. And the ones that have opened new doors, written new books and requested that we all be feminists.

Feeling a bit festive(and nervous)
Nnanna


(#HappyInternationalWomen's Day)

Monday, 13 February 2017

The sun was rising

Mum woke everyone in the house: dad, three of our cousins, two uncles and one aunt, all my sisters. We assembled at the Obi downstairs. Mum while in her night dress had adorned herself with the traditional red coral beads. And dad as well. We said a short prayer. She asked my partner and I to kneel before her and dad. She asked us to wash our hands together in clear bowl of water with so many udala seeds in them. After we did that, she asked the youngest of our cousins to pass the bowl round till every one got a seed. It finally got to us, but one was left. She it
placed on the floor between us. Then dad spoke, ‘we don’t pretend to understand why you have chosen this man, we don’t understand why he has chosen you. But who can question the validity of what you both have and share? We cannot question the hand of God here. We all bare witness to your union this night. We bless and agree with you. Our ancestors and God before them agree as well. You both will grow forests together. Your seeds shall be nourished with the purest of rain and soil. The storms shall rage fire and not blow it out. You both shall enjoy this youth and grow old together. Let the ancestors curse whoever gets in the way of this blessing. Let the ancestors bless whoever gives way for this blessing. Let God Almighty never blink on your case….  ’ the blessings went on, tears poured down my eyes. Finally I was getting married.

When we left Nigeria, a few weeks later, we had yams and palmoil. And lengths of plain goerge material. My partner's skin glowed contrasting sharply with red wrist corals that dad had given him to celebrate his manhood. Mum’s corals hung lightly on mine. Nigeria was giving in, the sun was rising.

Happy St. Valentine's Day Africa!