The target of my ire in my speech at The Initiative for Equal Rights, Sexuality and the Law symposium in Lagos was deliberate — beyond the law and beyond the police, the roots of Nigeria’s homophobia are cultural, and the culture is frozen into concrete by religion.
As Theresa May confessed earlier this year, Britain smuggled legalised homophobia (among other ills, a good number of them tied to sexual restrictions) into its colonies, and many of those conquered territory — including Nigeria —have refused to let go of the vestiges of inequality, even though its former sovereign has found the light.
“This ‘culture’ — or better put, traditions — that we have,” I said during my speech in December, “forced upon us in the infancy of our consciousness by thoughtless trading Europeans, is not ours any more than the iPhone is a Nigerian invention.”
Unfortunately, this truth remains hidden from our consciousness.
After all, last month, a state in Nigeria — Benue, again apropos of nothing, decided that its most urgent duty to its citizens was to make “into law a Bill that criminalises same-sex marriages and same-sex public associations”.
There is no clamour for gay marriage in Benue, in Nigeria’s north central, or indeed anywhere in Nigeria. There have been no advocacy efforts, no seen marriages, no protests, no campaigns. Gay people in Nigeria don’t want to get married. They just want to be left alone.
Yet their humanity continues to afflict, it would appear, those who purport to live perfect, sinless lives. Benue cast its eye across Nigeria and decided that the country’s already inhumane laws against consensual, adult sex, and the shameful legacy of former president Goodluck Jonathan — who signed into law a Bill that criminalised same sex unions and legitimised LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) hate across the nation — were not enough. It needed to put on its whole armour to fight an invisible enemy.
In an alternative universe, this certainly makes sense. Benue has been a basket of failed governance lately. Barely two weeks ago, the state was the theatre of a bloody battle between domestic herdsmen and security officials, with at least three people dead in what we euphemistically call “clashes”. The population of four million has witnessed the deaths of more than a thousand this year, and several thousands more displaced and needing resettlement. The killers continue to be at large while federal and state government authorities play football with accountability and security, and food continues to be in short supply while people fight over grazing land.
Because its leaders are unable to do their jobs to protect life and property and sustain lives and livelihoods, they have turned to distractions — appealing to the worst instincts of a culturally conservative people rather than inspiring them towards a future worth having.
Unfortunately, this state-sponsored hate is set to continue. For while President Muhammadu Buhari, feckless as a whole, has shown a rare restraint in matters of sexuality rights, violence against LGBT people continues to rise.
The past year saw an increase in violence against sexual minorities, according to The Initiative for Equal Rights. Mental health problems among that grouping continue to mount. In the past year 70 people were arrested by the police in Lagos, where I live, for the flimsy non-crime of hosting a gay party. And almost 70 percent of the population still believes gay people don’t have a right to exist.
A host of the righteous questioned my patriotism the last time I said I was ashamed of my country’s homophobia. Nonsense. Loyalty to country cannot be unquestioning and must stop short at the edge of immorality.
Another Pride month has just passed and, on matters of equality (not just about homophobia but also feminism, child marriages and religious intolerance), sorry fellow Nigerians, we have nothing yet to be proud of.
Chude Jideonwo is co-founder of Joy, Inc, which teaches young Africans happiness and resilience skills. He is a Yale World Fellow and author of the book How to Win Elections in Africa: Parallels with Donald Trump