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‘Offensive’, ‘Repugnant’: An Academic in Africa

'the senators asked to vote on this bill must have been mystified', DR reports on the fight to make homosexuality in Nigeria even more illegal.

I read an interesting story the other day.  It was based around a statement from various gay rights activists in Nigeria (local rather than international) pointing out the lather that various bodies had worked themselves up into, almost in a vacuum.

The reason for this is a bill currently being considered by the Senate here, the “the Same Sex Marriage Act”.  Now, this is a bit of a misleading title for various reasons.  Firstly, homosexuality is already illegal here and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.  Which given that people routinely stay in prison awaiting trial for longer than the actual full sentence they could possibly receive for their crime also means precious little.

making it possible to arrest someone over even the slightest hint of lavender

Secondly, the bill is not proposing the legalisation of same sex marriages (or the opposite – how can you ban something that is already illegal?).  In fact, as far as I can tell, it is basically about making it possible to arrest someone over even the slightest hint of lavender.  Actual sexual activity does not need to have occurred, but living with a representative of the same gender, being too friendly with them or, presumably, showing a disproportionate interest in Barbra Streisand are enough to get you up to a decade and a half in the penitentiary of your choice.

However, it appears that many of the senators asked to vote on the bill did not realise this.  They, including the Senate President, who made a particularly rousing speech denouncing the very idea of same sex coupling as unnatural and against “any religion”, appeared to take the title of the bill literally and think that they were being asked to vote for state-endorsed buggery.  “It is offensive,” he said, “it is repugnant.  I will preach against it… I don’t know where the whole idea of same sex marriage comes from”.

the feverish depths of bizarre paranoia

In a way that’s not surprising, as the idea doesn’t come from anywhere other than the feverish depths of bizarre paranoia.  Or as the article I read puts it, “Imaginative Christian soldiers, these souls that are girding their loins and going off to war to fight against a figment, a fiction, a ghost.”  And these imaginative soldiers are everywhere – media outlets have also reported on the bill as if it was advocating homosexuality, and the Catholic Women of Nigeria sent representatives from 36 different states to the capital to protest against “this ill initiative, which is aimed at destroying marriage values and its dignity”.

So the senators asked to vote on this bill must have been mystified.  And slightly horrified.  After all, many of them clearly didn’t bother to read it.  And it arouses both horror and despair in me to know that these people (who would have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds – or more – in their election campaigns last year so that they could “represent” the people, and would all make damn sure that everyone called them “Honourable” all the time) are so spectacularly incompetent, and indeed disinterested.

Of course it’s not all the senators.  Or all of the media, or the religious organisations.  But the statement pointing out that no gay rights group in Nigeria had ever asked for same sex marriage to be legalised and that, indeed, highlighted the continuing ability of “same sex marriage to induce a panic even in the absence of anyone proposing it” was brilliant.  This bill would make a largely symbolic difference to an already bad situation, the statement said, but it would have real practical effects on people’s lives. And yet the debate around it is taking place on a plane of fiction and fantasy.

ill-informed, inefficient, corrupt

All of this does raise the intriguing possibility that the confused legislators might vote against the bill in a froth of moral outrage and inadvertently do some actual good. Or at least stop things getting worse.  Accidental progression like that would feel very Nigerian.  But unfortunately I think the actual outcome will be even more stereotypically Nigerian than that – ie. ill-informed, inefficient, corrupt and leading to a decision that adds a further levy to the already huge toll of human life and misery taken daily in this country.


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