by IJEOMA EKOH
According to Nigeria’s Ministry of Information, its web portal was attacked on July 4th by a “group” of gay rights activists, who were ostensibly hoping to successfully fight Nigeria’s anti homosexual rights laws by ambushing its governmental portals. As the special assistant to the minister of Information, Joseph Mutah, puts it, the attacks were attempts to not only “promote” homosexuality in the country but also to “blackmail” Nigerians into abandoning their commitment to a “highly cultured and religious society.” Admonishing the group to lawfully campaign for queer rights through the institutions of Nigeria’s “robust” democracy, Mutah warned the gay rights villains that Nigeria’s government would not succumb to their immoral whims since the majority of its people’s remain “overwhelmingly opposed to the imposition of gay rights and marriages as practiced in other countries.”
Now one might be tempted to laugh out loud at the preceding press release, as there are certainly reasons to find it amusing. For instance, there is the issue of Mutah’s assertion that Nigeria is a “robust” democracy despite a deeply entrenched culture of vote rigging, grosshuman rights violations, corrupt and ineffective legislature and judiciary. One would have to suspend disbelief in order to embrace the idea that although Nigeria remains a country where most citizens lack access to electricity and the internet, gay rights activists could electronically subvert deeply entrenched homophobic attitudes to “promote” queer rights by compromising its web sites, if only for a few hours.
Yes indeed! For Mr. Mutah and his ministry there are big bad gay bandits lurking around menacingly on the Internet hoping to change Nigeria’s anti gay culture instantaneously and compromise the country’s high moral standards.
But perhaps the biggest reason why one might find all this satirical is that it signals the first time the Nigerian government appears very much committed and invested in representing the will of the people. Yes, Mr. Mutah is right! Although the majority of Nigerians are in dire need of three square meals a day, electricity, drinking water, security from domestic terrorists and a more rigorous guarantee of their human rights, they are also “overwhelmingly” homophobic. And to this end, its ever-prudent government has chosen to disregard the people’s more urgent material needs to prioritize its human rights denying will. It has in an unprecedented display of bowing to the presumed desire of the people passed a repressive legislation that could imprison homosexuals for up to 14 years.
More scarily, they have given moral licence to the continuation of the type of jungle justice that was recently practiced in Imo state where a number of individuals accused of being gay were stripped naked, tied up with rope and paraded around the community. Indeed Mr. Mutah and like-minded officials are continuing Nigeria’s noble tradition of maintaining an exemplary commitment to the principles of democracy and human rights!
Yet this author urges all to hold their laughter. If only because Mutah’s deployment of democratic rhetoric while simultaneously justifying the denial of democratic rights to a segment of the population is worrying and should be for every Nigerian committed to the principles of human rights. Indeed despite signing on to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the continued violation of the human rights of homosexuals means that Nigeria’s government cannot be relied upon to protect the inalienable rights of all its citizens.
What is more, the attack on queer rights ought to be seen by Nigerians of good conscience as part and parcel of the human rights violations that characterize the daily lives of most Nigerian citizens. The culture of impunity enjoyed by the titans at the top of the Nigerian food chain against ordinary people is the same one that legitimizes the attack on the human rights of LGBT members of the national community. My fellow–Nigerians, the oppression of queer people is bound up with your human rights and should not be seen as alien and different! Martin Luther King was right on with his bold declaration that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
But if one needs further reasons to hold their mirth, another look at Mutah’s pronouncements is also helpful. What does Mutah mean when he asserts that Nigerians will not accept the “imposition of gay rights from abroad”? Why, one may ask, is a presumably educated Nigerian official with access to enormous resources and the world wide web, reproducing the now debunked fable that homosexuality is a western and an un-African import? Should we at best, view Mutah’s pronouncements as a commitment to ignorance; or at worst an attempt to miseducate the people, a state of affairs already facilitated by his government’s neoliberal policy of disinvestment in public education? Whatever the case may be it behoves me at this juncture to recommend the book Boy-wives and Female Husbands: Studies in African Homosexualities, edited by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe, on the matter of homosexuality and Africa. It should help dispel the seemingly stubborn idea that homosexuality was brought to Africa by the Europeans much like Christianity, elaborate “white” weddings, and the white wigs worn by our esteemed judges.
And what about the oft deployed argument, explicit in Mutah’s pronouncements, that guaranteeing basic human rights to homosexuals is a threat to moral order in Nigeria? Although, we have all come to expect irrational statements from Nigerian politicians dressed in grandiose language, one must still wonder as to the basis for such declarations? Since homosexuality has been demonstrated to be as African as Mutah himself is and has always existed in Africa, to what extent does the notion that it threatens Nigeria’s “highly cultured and religious society” rational? One could only believe this assertion if one is partial to the false premise that homosexuality is un-African. If one does not pander to the “out-of-Africa” thesis, how can the decriminalisation of homosexuality now threaten Africa if it has always been on the continent? And where homosexuality has been legalised, in what ways has it threatened the society’s moral order? Perhaps Mutah, the Ministry of Information, the federal government and like-minded people in Nigeria should enlighten us as to this special rubric that they use to measure morality in which Nigeria apparently ranks higher than the rest of the world?
To conclude, the bottom line must be that Mutah’s rhetoric and the current climate of extreme homophobia in Nigeria is far from humorous. Indeed if the federal government’s recent rejection of the United Nation’s recommendations on the human rights of LGBT people is anything to go by, the only people that might be laughing are those Nigerians that erroneously view the guarantee of basic human rights to homosexuals as distinct from their own human rights.
Congratulations to the morally upstanding and virtuous national legislature for successfully distracting the people from the manifold social, political and economic issues that undermine their quality of life and actually threaten the country’s moral order.
Ijeoma Ekoh is adoctoral student at York University (Canada) and Director at We Are From Ihe.