In November 2011, the writer Chinua Achebe declined the Nigerian government’s attempt to name him a Commander of the Federal Republic. He had rejected the same award in 2004. Achebe’s main objection then was widespread state corruption. He noted “the reasons for rejecting the offer [of the award] when it was first made [in 2004] have not been addressed let alone solved. It is inappropriate to offer it again to me.” Achebe could not have planned the next move of some key members of Nigeria’s political class. Fresh from that rejection, the members of Nigeria’s Senate decided to pass a new Prohibition of Same-Sex Marriage Bill which advocates jail time–up to 14 years–for same-sex couples who decide to marry or live together.
The BBC reports that,
…those ‘witnessing’ or ‘abetting’ such relationships would also face custodial sentences, and groups that advocate for gay and lesbian rights could also be penalized … Before it becomes law, the bill must be passed by the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, and then signed by the president.
The bill could not come at a worse time for gays in Nigeria, already subjected to harassment, hate crimes and death. Activists point out that they have never agitated for gay marriage on Nigeria’s law books.
Why is going after a small minority a priority for Nigeria’s political class? Here are some choice quotes from one of the senators, Ahmed Lawan:
This is to be pro-active so no-one catches us unaware … We are protecting humanity and family values, in fact, we are protecting civilization in its entirety … Should we allow for indiscriminate same-sex marriage, very soon the population of this world would diminish.
As the BBC reported this week, Lawal’s views are “moderate compared with some of his peers” in the Senate.
And a quick read of comments to recent posts defending gay rights – whether Richard Branson or well known Nigerian blogger Linda Ikeji – point to how deep-seated and widespread homophobia is in Nigeria.
Not all Nigerians are like this, though. Some are brave at home From the diaspora, especially in North America, from where is a safe, gay rights activists have taken to the streets, to protest the widespread homophobia and to condemn the government and the new law. In this video, shot by one of my students at The New School, Travis Ferland – I especially enjoyed the comments of a man that wandered into the frame around the 1:27 mark.