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Sunday, 5 April 2009

Homosexuality And Human Rights in Nigeria

Homosexuality And Human RightsBy Leo Igwe

I READ with great interest the piece "Limits to Freedom and Human Rights" by Luke Onyekakeyah (March 17, 2009) and The Guardian Editorial "Homosexuality and the Lawmakers" (March 23, 2009). I have followed closely and attentively the debates, arguments and lobbying for and against the same sex marriage prohibition bill. I have read and documented many reports, opinions and editorials on the matter. I attended the three public hearings on this bill.

And I must say that I am deeply shocked by the spurious arguments, reckless statements, fanatical outbursts, inane propositions, false, biased and misleading reports that have marked the debate over same gender marriage in Nigeria. We must not forget that it is critical issues like this that put to test, show and demonstrate the quality of a people's character, thinking, intelligence and reasoning. And I am sorry to say that we have performed poorly by allowing hatred, prejudice and religious fanaticism to becloud our sense of ethical thinking, moral reasoning and social justice. We have failed to handle the issue of homosexuality with the maturity, civility and level-headedness it deserves.

Before stating my objections to the points raised in the above mentioned articles, permit me to make some clarifications.

First of all, there are no gay couples in Nigeria asking for marriage or for the solemnization of their union. Second, the bill before the National Assembly is not for the legalization of gay marriage but for its prohibition. Third, there is a provision in the Nigerian criminal and penal codes that prohibits homosexuality or sodomy. And this provision has not been repealed. Fourth, there is no bill at the National Assembly to decriminalise sodomy- a necessary step before same sex marriage can be legalised.

So, one mistake those supporting the bill are making is that they think that a defeat of the bill would mean a decriminalisation of homosexuality and a legalisation of gay marriage.
This is not the case. Like I have told some supporters of the bill, opposition is not necessarily a proposition. Those asking that this bill be dropped are not necessarily proposing that Nigeria should legalise same sex marriage.

Having said that, I want to state that I agree with The Guardian Editorial that our lawmakers should rather make a better use of their legislative time and resources by focusing on basic problems facing Nigeria, like hunger, poverty ignorance, unemployment, lack of access to water and electricity, and diseases. That our legislators should stop preoccupying themselves with 'a redundant bill that stigmatises the sexual minority.'

But Luke Onyekakeyah thinks otherwise. He identified homosexuality as a great evil and a form of moral depravity beyond the limits of human freedom and human rights. But he failed to tell us how a homosexual relationship constitutes an act of moral perversion and excessiveness. Homosexual acts are human acts. Aren't they? He did not let us know how he arrived at what he called the limits of freedom and human rights, and what puts same sex relationships beyond those limits. More importantly Onyekakeyah did not explain what makes a same gender marriage prohibition bill necessary in a country where homosexuality is already a crime. He did not say what this bill seeks to achieve that has not essentially been taken care of by the provisions in the criminal and penal codes that prohibit sodomy.

Instead of addressing these points Onyekakeyah went further to attack and malign Transparency International, Human Rights Watch, Global Rights and other foreign-based organisations which he said knew nothing about 'Nigerian tradition and values'. I think we have gotten to a stage where we should stop discrediting an organization or a position just because it is foreign. The language we are using to discuss this issue is foreign. Isn't it?

For Onyekakeyah, whatever he calls 'Nigerian traditions and values' should take precedent over human rights. And on this I say, count me out. Yes, count me out of this line of thought because I know one of the things human rights principles have achieved for human beings is to liberate us from the tyranny of religions, customs and traditions. The same fallacious argument was made by The Guardian Editorial. It stated "we must come to look at the issue of same sex relationships from the prism of our culture and religion" And my question is this, which one is our culture? Which one is our religion? Nigeria, nay Africa is a pot pourri of cultures, religions and traditions.

The Editorial went further to say that "The various religions of the world do not condone homosexuality, Christianity and Islam, Nigeria's largest religions in particular condemn homosexuality". Religions are codifications of moral outlooks that prevailed at the infancy of the human race. That an act is condoned or condemned by religions does not make it moral or immoral. Nigeria's dominant religions sanction and sanctify so many immoral acts like slavery, genocide, subordination of women, killing and persecution of witches and unbelievers, capital and corporal punishments, etc.

There are many cultural practices that are inhuman, harmful and abhorrent like the killing of twins, the burning of witches, human sacrifice etc. So, that a practice is endorsed by "our culture or religion" does not make it morally justifiable. Again, when we stay "our culture" or "our religion", what do we really mean? Is Christianity our religion? No. Christianity was brought by foreign missionaries from Europe. Is Islam our religion? No. Islam was introduced by Arab jihadists from North Africa and the Middle East.

Unfortunately, we have embraced these alien religions as our own. We have allowed these primitive faiths and norms to color and corrupt our ethical thinking and moral reasoning. We have allowed religion to dictate and determine our public policy and legislation.
Another point we must note is that cultures are dynamic. Every culture changes. Cultures grow and evolve. Any culture that remains static stagnates and dies. Every culture influences and is influenced by other cultures. And today, one of the major factors that are shaping cultures across the world is human rights.

In fact, human rights have become the mainstay of global culture and civilization.
Obviously Onyekakeyah and The Guardian Editorial Board would want human rights sacrificed on the altar of culture and religion. And on this again I say "Count me out". Count me out of the absurd idea that the only choice open to gay persons in Nigeria is to "marry members of the opposite sex or remain single". It is not the duty of editors or legislators to tell adults whom to marry. In fact the state cannot legislate when it comes to matters concerning consensual sexual relationships among adults.

Before I conclude I would like to correct some misinformation in one of the articles. Onyekakeyah said that "hundreds of homosexuals on Wednesday, March 11 2009 stormed Nigeria's National Assembly in Abuja". I was among those who attended the public hearing in Abuja. There weren't up to a hundred homosexuals at the event. I am not sure there were up to 50 of them. So where did Luke get his information from. If there was any delegation that stormed the National Assembly it was the clerics from the Anglican Communion and members of the Daughters of Sarah Ministry. The Daughters of Sarah Ministry came to the Hearing with buses packed with school children and youths wearing T-shirts and carrying banners with anti-same gender marriage inscriptions. Didn't the journalists see them? Also during the hearing two legislators made very important remarks. They said the House would need more information about homosexuality. That they would like to know if homosexuality was a disease or a biological condition. And that this would help them in shaping the bill. But no newspaper reported all these.
In conclusion, I want to say that if we are not ready to handle the issue of homosexuality in an enlightened, civilized and balanced manner then we should leave the matter to rest. Otherwise no matter the argument some of us may put forward in the name of culture, religion or tradition, to support this draconian bill and whip up hatred, intolerance, persecution and discrimination against persons on the basis of gender or sexual orientation, at the end of the day, human rights must prevail. Human rights will prevail.
*Igwe is the Founder/Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Humanist Movement.

1 comment:

jhon said...

This is really an interesting comment. If there is anything I would like to add it is that even assuming that homosexuality is against religion or culture, the State is supposed to be for all and if there are people who would not like to subscribe to those religions or cultures, they should be left alone. In this regard, the State should put resources at their disposal as equal as the one alloted to other group.