Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Thoughts on what equality could possibly mean in my country

I am suddenly not sure of my dictionary or trusting my several years of learning to aid me in the defintion of the word 'equality'. But I shall try- honestly I shall- to see beyond the burdens of being 'normal', 'mainstream' or 'silent'. Then again I see that the fate of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersexual and Ally rights in Nigeria has been a hot international topic for some time now owing the enactment of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act. In summary, the Act criminalises same-sex marriage, same-sex public show of affection, rendering services to LGBTIA individuals and the existence of LGBTIA organisations with sanctions of 14 and 10 year imprisonment.
Before the enactment of the said Act, Nigeria had always been a homophobic state and as such LGBTIA individuals always had to contend with fear, victimisation, blackmail and discrimination. Homosexual acts had already been criminalised and referred to as unnatural offences by the Nigerian Criminal Code and Penal Code. This was further expedited as patrons of the two major religions in Nigeria- Christianity and Islam- maintain that LGBTIA individuals are demonised, social misfits, bad influence and as such have no rights to their dignity in the civil society. This is more so as homosexuality is generally regarded here as ‘un-african’ and contrary to our cultural and religious beliefs.
Regardless to say, the pathetic state of LGBTIA rights in Nigeria has been one long unbroken thread which has only thickened with time.
2.0.        The Fate of the Nigerian ‘Queer’
Harvey Milk’s victory and life stands in full glare as hope for the LGBTIAs worldwide. However, Bisi Alimi’s Nigerian story seems to stand as a warning to all Nigerian LGBTIAs. After he was alleged to be gay by a campus magazine in the University of Lagos- and denied his certificate in the same school on the grounds of his sexuality- in 2004, he went on air to become the first Nigerian gay man to come out on national television (that particular show Breaking Drawn was stopped soon after as a result). Following this, attempts were made on his life in 2007. But he was lucky enough to flee Nigeria and was granted asylum in the United Kingdom. In as much as this solution has often been subscribed to by LGBTIA Nigerians, not all of them have been this lucky or even have this option.
Bisi Alimi is an activist, and like other Nigerian LGBTIA activists- such as Rashidi Williams, Davis MacIyalla, Michael Ighadoro, Yemisi Ilesanmi, Jide Macaulay, Ifeanyi Orazulike…-threats, fear, attacks, vulnerability, intimidation and struggling is an everyday routine to see that the situation is somewhat ameliorated.
Nonetheless, after going back and forth in the legislature, there is now an elaborate enactment that legalises the flagrant violation of LGBTIA rights. In this light, January 2014 saw dozens of alleged gay men arrested in Bauchi, Nigeria.[1] Outside the Sharia Court, a rather violent mob protest broke out to compel the speedy conviction and execution of 11 LGBTIA individuals who were alleged to be members of gay organisations. It was so intense that the trial had to be suspended so as to enable the suspects return to prison safely.[2] The same court convicted a young man of homosexual charges and whipped him 20 lashes according to the Sharia Law. Regardless, the court submitted that it was being soft handed in this sanction which otherwise would have been death by stoning. This, they said, was owing to the fact that the homosexual act in question was a single incident
which had occurred several years ago and had not repeated itself ever since.[3]
Dorothy Akenova
Further in this light, Dorothy Aken’ova, the Executive Director of Nigeria’s International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights based in Minna, reported that a law enforcement officer, passing himself off as a gay man, joined in a group being counselled on AIDS leading to the police detaining and torturing of four gay men into naming several others, resulting in a compiled list of 168 gay LGBTIA Nigerians who now face the threat of similar treatment. The police have also subscribed to using the phones of LGBTIA suspects to lure others in by way of text messages. More arrests have been carried out mostly in the North leading to the exodus of several LGBTIA individuals from Bauchi in Northern Nigeria.[4]  Similar arrests have been on since the Christmas holidays 2013 owing to the buzz that the then bill may soon become an Act.
As at January 2014, the Chairman of Bauchi State Sharia Commission (a body set up to oversee the regulation of Islamic Law in Bauchi State), Mustapha Baba IIela, admitted to being on the hunt for other LGBTIA individuals(not stating how many were in contention) after having successfully arrested 11-ten of whom were muslims and the other Christian. He also said that the community members have so far been of immense help in fishing out the suspects.[5]
Other parts of Nigeria have equally felt the heat, as has been submitted by the Executive Director of of the Nigerian based International Centre for Advocacy on Right to Health, Ifeanyi Orazulike.[6] Within two days of enacting the anti-gay law, arrests of more than thirty LGBTIA were conducted nationwide: 12 in Oyo State (south-western Nigeria); six in Imo State (south-eastern Nigeria); eight in central Abuja(Nigeria’s capital territory); and six in Anambra State (south-eastern Nigeria).[7][8]
Olumide Makanjuola, the Executive Director of Initiative for Equality, submits that LGBTIA individuals also have been blackmailed into paying sums to ensure that their sexuality is kept secret- for their own safety, and the safety of those in their lives.[9]
Hands on Deck!
Rashidi William
There are several Nigerian non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations and individuals both within the country and outside that work tirelessly towards ensuring that, as much as possible within the given circumstance, LGBTIA individuals and their rights are preserved and protected.
Ifeanyi Orazulike
Some notable locally based activists include: Dorothy Aken’ova- the Executive Director of Nigeria’s International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights; Olasunkunmi, Michael Olanrewaju and Babatunde Samsodeen, all three with Our Right Defense; Uche Sam- the Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria; Rashidi William- the Director of Queer Alliance; Ifeanyi Orazulike- the Executive Director of International Centre for Advocacy on Rights to Health; Olumide Makanjuola- the Executive Director of Initiative for Equality… These and several others too numerous to mention.
Olumide Makanjuola
Some notable Nigerian LGBTIA activists in diaspora include: Ade Adeniji- the owner of Walk With You Coaching and Consulting based in Netherlands; John Adewoye- the Manager of Courage Nigeria based in the United States; Michael Ighodaro- a United States based LGBTIA rights activist who founded the first Nigerian organisation to cater for HIV positive LBTIA individuals; Yemisi Ilesanmi- a United Kingdom based LGBTIA activist and author of Freedom to Love For All: Homosexuality is Not Un-African; Bisi Alimi- the first Nigerian gay man to come out on national television and renowned gay rights and HIV activist based in the United Kingdom; Jide Macaulay- the Founder/ Project Director of House of Rainbow Fellowship Worldwide based in the United Kingdom; Davis Mac Iyalla- an LGBTIA activist and UK based founder of Changing Attitude Nigeria…these and several others too numerous to mention.
Olanrewaju Dabiri
It would be a surprise to see Nigerian public figures, other than activists, advocate for LGBTIA rights. As surprising as it was when a Nigerian rapper Olanrewaju Dabiri, popularly known as ‘Eldee’, went on a social media in December, 2013 to declare his support for the LGBTIA community following a post made by the Richard Branson CEO Virgin Group in a similar light. Eldee clearly stated ‘Hopefully one day soon, Africa will realize that the #anti-gay sentiment is no different from racial or religious discrimination. # RaceCreedSexualOrientation  #Discrimination’.[10]
Similarly a good number of Nigerians with the aid of the internet and social media advocate for LGBTIA rights. An instance of this is the mass-signed column on the Sahara Reporters website, ‘Nigeria’s Anti-Gay Law Is A Crime Against Reason.[11] Another is the Open Letter to the Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission from Yemisi Ilesanmi.[12]
In spite of all these, the National Human Rights Commission has been mute over the incidents, consequences and dire events that have resulted from the enactment of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Law.
Speaking Up
Strong word has it that soon there shall be a demonstration against the said law in Abuja by the LGBTIA community, under the umbrella of the Rights Defense.[13] Similarly, there shall be a protest rally on 20th February, 2014 outside the Nigerian High Commission, London, against the said anti-gay law. Part of the program for that day is that a letter to the effect shall be delivered to the Nigerian High Commissioner and also, there shall be a kissing spree outside the embassy in the course of which Nigerian LGBTIAs shall hold hands hug and kiss in protest, to demand their rights, to preserve their humanity.[14]
Recommendations and Conclusion
The Preamble of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as Amended, clearly celebrates, amongst other things, the principles of freedom, equality, justice and for the purpose of consolidating the unity and understanding amongst our people. Nigeria was built and thrives on diversity.
Pride flag
We have to admit that the new Nigerian anti-gay law has shed so much light on the fact that Nigeria, like every other country in the world, has several individuals in it with varied lives, needs and expectation. We can do a whole lot more than criminalising a person just because we think he/she is not good enough to share in our oxygen. We can chose           to listen, to love, to see that every human is part of God and that God is part of every human. We can lift the veil of darkness we have thrown over our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, employees, neighbours…and see them for who they truly are: individuals who are indeed individuals of God’s brand just as everyone else (Acts 10 –especially 15). We can realise that as humans only so much is subject to our dictation and these do not include our race, fate, sexuality, life span and future. We can realise this and much more. A resolution that demands more pain than progress is an unjust one…perhaps only if we can truly see such for what it is.

The spotlight is still on the Nigerian LGBTIA and this is a great chance for so much. A chance to have that conversation; write that book; sing that song; take that step explaining through movies, music, plays and books what exactly these principles (as mentioned in our preamble) demand as we are taken through the art of drama, music and storytelling into the soothing realms of leading life in through the eyes and sensations of others, as we remind ourselves once more that equality- and understanding - is recognising that ‘I am wonderful and there are others who, though not similar, are as wonderful as I am.’ 

[1] Akpos, Luckingson, Same-Sex Law: Dozens arrested for being gay in north Nigeria http://www.brimetime.com/2014/01/same-sex-law-dozens-arrested-for-being.html (retreived on 3/02/2014)
[2] Saulawa, Shehu, Protesters throw stones, disrupt gay trial http://news.yahoo.com/protesters-throw-stones-disrupt-nigeria-gay-trial-160617779.html (retrieved on 4/02/2013)
[3] Jivanda, Thomas, Gay man whipped 20 times for single homosexual act- but is spared stoning to death http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/gay-nigerian-man-whipped-20-times-for-single-homosexual-act--but-is-spared-stoning-to-death-9067480.html (retrieve on 04/02/2014)
[4]Associated Press, Dozens arrested in Nigeria after Anti-Gay Law Passes   http://nypost.com/2014/01/14/dozens-arrested-in-nigeria-after-anti-gay-law-passes/( retrieved on 5/02/2014)
[5] Ibid.
[6] Associated Press, Arrests of suspected gays spread across Nigeria, dozens more detained under under anti-gay law http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/01/17/arrests-suspected-gays-spreads-across-nigeria-dozens-more-detained-under-anti/ (retrieved on 4/02/2014).
[7] Ibid.
[8] Karimi Faith and Duthiers Vladimir, Group: Nigeria arrests gay suspects under new law banning homosexuality http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/16/world/africa/nigeria-anti-gay-law-arrests/ (retrieved on 04/02/2013)
[9] Associated Press, Dozens arrested in Nigeria after Anti-Gay Law Passes   http://nypost.com/2014/01/14/dozens-arrested-in-nigeria-after-anti-gay-law-passes/( retrieved on 5/02/2014)

[10] Mgbolu Charles, Rapper Eldee advocated for gay rights, as fans go wild! http://www.vanguardngr.com/2013/12/rapper-eldee-advocates-gay-rights-fans-go-bonkers/ (retrieved on 04/02/2014).
[11] Onumah Chidoh, Nigeria’s Anti-Gay Law Is A Crime Against Reason http://saharareporters.com/column/nigeria%E2%80%99s-anti-gay-law-crime-against-reason (retrieved 04/02/2014).
[12]Ilesanmi, Yemisi,  Open Letter to Chair Person, National Human Rights Comissionshttp://nigerianlgbtindiaspora.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/open-letter-to-chairperson-national-human-rights-commission-nhrc/ (retrieved on 04/02/2014)
[13] Lequte, Nigerian Homosexuals Plan Protest Against Anti-gay Law http://www.nigerianbulletin.com/threads/nigerian-homosexuals-plan-abuja-protest-against-anti-gay-law.36656/ (retrieved on 04/02/2014).
[14]Protest Rally Against Nigerian Aanti- LGBT Law: Love Not Hate!  http://nigerianlgbtindiaspora.wordpress.com/tag/anti-lgbt-law/ ( retrieved on 04/02/2014)

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