When on the afternoon of 30 May 2013 the news broke that Nigeria’s House of Representatives had finally passed the hideous and draconian Anti-Same-Sex Marriage Bill, I was in total shock.
I was at my best friend’s house with other secondary school colleagues of mine. We were there reminiscing on the glorious days we had in school. We remembered 20 years ago when we all left secondary school at the age of 18 years.
My friends reminded me how indifferent we all were then about the world and, how they couldn’t have cared less I was gay. I found the day really interesting as my friends were telling me how they averted much playground bullying I could have faced while in high school. I hadn’t known that before.
So it was ironic that whilst I was at my friend’s house, having lunch with a group of my high school friends who like me, live in London, I got a call from the editor-in-chief of Gay Star News alerting me to the latest development in Nigeria.
Within minutes I had it confirmed the lower house in Nigeria had followed the upper house to pass the bill and it was just waiting for the assent of the president to make it law.
So what really is behind this bill? Why am I, and many other Nigerians, gay and non-gay, against this hateful, shameful and severe piece of legislation?
First, here’s the story until now: In 2006, Ojo Madukwe, the Nigerian Chief Justice under President Olusegun Obasanjo proposed a bill to the National Assembly to prosecute ‘same-sex marriage’ in the country.
The reason given in 2006 was a reaction to the increasing discussion around homosexuality in the Anglican Church and also my coming out two years before.
When I came out in 2004, an event that led to the cancellation of the most popular talk show on television in Nigeria then, the government felt it was time they preserve the morality of the nation and thus proceeded to put forward this bill.
The bill did not move too far in 2006 for many reasons. There were great pressures on the Nigeria government at that time. Also with South Africa celebrating gay marriage and equality, President Obasanjo wanted to be seen as a friend of the west. It can be argued his soft-pedaling or relative silence on the issue led to the death of the bill – at that time.
In 2008, the same bill, with the same name came up. In 2006, the bill passed at the lower house but not the upper house. But this time, in 2008, it is pertinent to note the bill passed in the lower but yet again failed to get the needed attention at the upper house and thus clamor for it was silenced again.
In 2011, the bill was introduced once again. However, not by the government anymore but by the Senate and the House of Representatives. And as usual, the argument was to preserve morality and the institution of marriage.
So when, less than 24 hours after the first gay marriage in France, the Nigeria lower house passed the bill, like you, I sensed something dubious.
What is wrong with this bill and why has it caused so much pain for both the supporters and those against it?
Nigeria is a country with population of over 170 million people, making it the country with the greatest population of black people. If we go by the generally accepted assumption that 10% of the population is LGBT then we are looking at around 17 million Nigerians that will be criminalized by this law. This is more than the population of many European countries.
However if we go by the assertion 2% to 3% of male population is gay and 2% of women are either lesbian or bisexual then we are looking at between 3.4 million and 8.1 million people criminalized.
As you know, that is one huge number of people whose fundamental human rights will be crushed by this ill-informed bill.
It is important to know Nigeria has no capacity to put half of that population in prison nor does the justice system have the capacity to handle such a large legal challenge as this will surely create.
The bill specifically said organizations providing services for LGBT people will be prosecuted. The shortcoming in this bill is that the word ‘service’ is not defined.
That means providing rented accommodation to a perceived homosexual will make the landlord vulnerable to arrest and prison. Not just that, a cab driver, an hotelier, a bartender and a street hawker will be at the risk of prison for providing service to a known homosexual.
If this is not bad enough, let us examine the more gross and inhumane aspect.
In 2006, in collaboration with other gay (and men-who-have-sex-with-men, or MSM) groups in Nigeria and University of Lagos and University of Toronto, we did a study to ascertain the level of HIV epidemic among this population.
The result was put at 13%.
The methodology employed to arrive at this shocking result was free HIV screening and behavioral questionnaires.
As at 2006, the general HIV epidemic in Nigeria was estimated around 5%. You will agree with me that epidemiology of 13% is not only double a disaster but also demands urgent action from a responsible and reasonable government.
By 2011, this data had increased to more than 20% of the gay population living with HIV in the country.
There is little or limited HIV care and support for MSM living with the virus. And in places where these services are available, the increase stigma and discrimination has led to many not accessing the services. That means untimely deaths and a further spread of the virus.
The bill also made it clear if you know someone is gay and do not report them, you stand to be prosecuted under the law that criminalized ‘aiding and abetting’.
It’s like Nazi Germany or the iron fist of the communists in Russia. As history has shown, mothers and fathers were expected to report their children to the police for prosecution or risk being sent to jail.
My mother will be 63 years old this July and my father is in his late 70s. These two, without any fault of their own, might be jailed if they failed to report me to the police within 24 hours after the bill is passed by the president.
It is not just my parents, I fear for my brothers and sisters, my friends and loved ones. It is lucky I am living in the UK under the protection of the British government.
However, I worry for the vulnerability of many others in Nigeria who have nowhere to go to. Or the brave LGBT activists living in the country. To them, the impending danger of a gory experience in a Nigerian prison is enough to send one to a mental institution.
The reality is the Nigerian LGBT community has never asked for marriage. I have been involved in that community since 2000, and I can say with complete confidence there was never a time in the history of Nigerian LGBT movement we have asked for marriage.
All we asked for was protection from the police who were and still are using us as meal tickets and also from hostile neighbours who would prefer us dead to alive.
I see this argument of preserving the sanctity of marriage as hypocritical, lazy and a big distraction from the huge poverty and lack of leadership by political and religious leaders in Nigeria.
In essence, marriage in Nigeria is still a very questionable thing. It is legal to marry an underage person, to beat your wife, and to marry as many women as you like in many parts of the country.
Until 2011, married women in Nigeria still needed the permission of their husband before they could obtain an international passport or even apply for a visa to travel out of the country.
If that is the marriage Nigerians are protecting, I am very sure I will not want to be part of it.
And I worry why anyone would want to sacrifice other people’s lives for an act of such blatant masculine arrogance.
Yes, because as far as the same-sex marriage agenda is concerned, it is another argument by men that think masculinity is at stake if gay men are accorded their rights.
There is also the question of ‘amorous expression’ between people of same gender. The word amorous is very ambiguous and in this case, this could mean two men holding hands, two women snuggling or even people of same sex sharing an apartment together.
The obsession of this government with sex, but mostly importantly gay sex, raises concerns. Honestly, what effect do same-sex relations have on bad roads? Lack of electricity? Poverty? Corruption?
Finally, there is the spill over effect of this bill.
What has happened in Nigeria will directly or indirectly influence the Anti-Homosexual Bill (dubbed the Kill The Gays Bill, because it introduces the death penalty) in Uganda and the increasing attacks on LGBT people in neighboring West African countries.
There are many other salient issues I can’t address in this article as I am still boiling with anger. But we must not keep quiet. We have the moral obligation to stand up and challenge this act of irresponsible politics.