Friday, 1 April 2016

Sexuality and jungle justice by Jaden Sodi




I still feel pains in my chest, like I am suffocating, losing my breathe, each time I remember the death of Ejiofor. He was a boy like me; innocent, free, bold, and handsome. He was equally peaceful, outspoken, with olive skin and pure brown eyes.
I met Ejiofor in my days at the university.  My roommate had just informed me of a very feminine guy that looks like me, though slim and quite extrovertive in nature. He told me that everybody believes that Ejiofor is gay – I didn’t know what that word meant. I know about ‘homo’ but not gay, the best I know is that ‘gay’ means to be happy and feeling upbeat. But his tone suggested that gay in this context means something awful, and should be excluded because it is alien.
The first I ran into ejiofor was at the hostel’s cafeteria where I had gone to buy noodles and soap. He kept staring at me, dimming his eyes and half smiling, as if he is mocking me, with his left brows pushed up. He was a beautiful boy, and I felt intimidated by his beauty. We never became friends until he helped me fought off a popular bully at the tap where I had gone to fetch water. He said to me afterwards ‘let your voice be as strong as you look’ and I have never forgotten those words.
Our friendship blossomed through the years, and we always travel and return back to campus on the same day, together. This caused a huge strain on my friendship with my roommates, but it never bothered me because with Ejiofor, I felt whole. He taught me things that empowered me and made me bolder: Your life is a story and you are a blank page, write a story that will be remembered for good things. They can never beat you if you beat them first.
Ejiofor made me accept myself the way I am. It was from him that I heard the word ‘Gay Activist’ for the first time. He used to say ‘I am an activist for things that are authentically a part of me, things that arise from my relationship with the world around me’. He never kept quiet in the face of bullying or any sort of intimidation or inequality. He was loved and hated at the same time but he never let it bother him. He knew things like who is sleeping with whom in the hostel.  During hall meetings, he would nudge me to speak up and be bold, because ‘you have the same valid right as any other student present at the meeting’, and if I don’t speak, he would pull my ears after the meeting and call me a ‘silly boy’, but he loved me and cared about me, and I never wanted to miss a day without him.
After one of our exams in 2009, he told me that would be travelling to Enugu to visit a certain macho guy he met on facebook. He promised to come back with gifts and gists. That was the last time I heard from or saw him. When school resumed, his family came and packed his things and his mother told us that he was killed by armed robbers on his way to Enugu. I cried and could not be consoled. It was his cousin, a church boy, who came to preach to me about heaven and damnation in hell who told me that Ejiofor was lynched by some guys at Enugu for being gay, for his perceived sexuality. He told me that they tore his clothes, dragged him around the streets naked and heavily beaten, and he died on the way to the hospital. That was when I stopped mourning and got angry. I was angry with his family for lying, for not seeking justice for a promising yet wasted maleness, inadvertently promoting jungle justice and group conformity. I was angry at the society for destroying a life that they should be protecting, for being so self-destructive, shallow-minded, and blindly religious. I was angry with my country, culture, church, myself, and everyone around me. The effect this had on me:  it made me more conscious of the society, more conscious of the preachers and their preaching, more rebellious towards anti-gay statements, and group conformity – which scares the skin off me, because it is often a prelude to cruelty towards anyone who does not want to join the big parade.
With Ejiofor, I had learned to have a mind that bear no grudges, that retains nothing. But his passing left a huge vacuum in my heart and I began to feel open and ignore what makes me unique. I began to feel like I was just a yawn.
Just like Ejiofor, Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi was also lynched by some angry youths at Ondo for his perceived sexuality. The gory pictures of Akinnifesi’s bloodstained body, broken skull, and lifeless body made me lose my appetite, and my caged anger began to unleash itself. A helpless young man, Akinnifesi, lost his life, just like that and nothing looks bad about it. Everybody is going about their lives like nothing really happened. Instead his death has incited excitement in people. Some took it upon themselves to condemn his killing on social media, while others chose to uphold his killings as a well deserved act. If homosexuality is a sin, what about Adultery? What about our thieving politicians that steal from us and still brainwash us to keep voting for them? What about our under-aged girls forced to marry men old enough to be their grandfathers, all in the name of culture and religion? What about the innocent young man who will probably spend the rest of his life in jail for a crime he did not commit, because his witness has been bribed? What about our failed education system and power sector? What about our unemployed youth who will end up turning to crime as a means of survival, because he does not have a godfather who could help get him a job? What about thousands of youths that died during the last immigration test in Nigeria? I could go on and on and you could say that I am angry. But of course, yes, I am angry. The late playwright, Esiaba Irobi said ‘Revolution does not start in the head. It starts in the stomach, with hunger and starvation, with marasmus and kwashiokor’ , and I believe that we need a revolution or something like that. We need to go back to our roots and get educated. We need to ask the right questions and mind our individual businesses. We need to understand that love is love and it is divine and natural. We need to know that having a moral objection towards someone’s sexuality is like telling someone how to clean his house. We need to understand that freedom is not dictated but is a right that is for all mankind irrespective of sex, sexuality, gender, belief, or race. We need to know that there is really no difference between the bully and the victim; that life is without variety if different is bad. We are with shadows only when we stand in the light. Normal is living and letting others live and feel comfortable, as long as they are not harming mankind. We need to be real and awake.
I cannot on my own, get justice for Ejiofor, Akinnifesi, Aluu 4 victims, and others who have lost their lives to mob action and group conformity, but I can start by speaking about it, writing about it, acting about it. I will never do anything unless I believe in it, and I believe that tolerance and acceptance and love are what feeds the society and makes it healthy. We are responsible for the definition of our lives and beauty, not the society. We need to be brave enough to let others be their true selves, and positive enough to let others offer their separate gifts to the society. If you can never turn down good food because you love life, then never turn down someone’s natural-ness.