Nigeria’s “Jail the Gays” Bill: Homosexuals face legalised repression and lynching
Nigeria’s “Jail the Gays” Bill: Homosexuals face legalised repression and lynching
This undemocratic bill has nothing to do with “morality”, “religion” or “protecting African values” as conservative capitalist lawmakers would have us believe. Rather it is an agenda by a corrupt ruling class to divert attention from the crisis of poverty, unemployment and mass misery as a result of corruption and government anti-poor capitalist policies.
Even while the bill still awaits Presidential assent, there is evidence of danger for gays, lesbians and anyone who offers them support. Since late last year when the National Assembly passed the Same Gender Marriage Prohibition Bill 2011, lynching of people on the basis of the slightest suspicion of having different sexual orientation have started making headlines.
Weeks ago in Imo State, some men alleged to be gays were savagely beaten by a mob. Similar incidents have been reported in some other parts of the country. As it is often the case in mob action, many of those savagely beaten may not even be gays. This homophobic violence is being fueled by the hysterical propaganda of conservative capitalist politicians and rightwing religious leaders who try to portray homosexuals as evil that should not be tolerated. Meanwhile the real evil in society is the endemic corruption in government, the anti-poor policies of privatisation and the exploitative capitalist system.
It does not come as a surprise that the lawmakers from all the capitalist political parties including the opposition are suddenly active in passing a bill to ban same-sex marriage even though there is no evidence yet that any homosexual couple has asked to be legally recognised as married couple. The whole agenda is to turn this into a national controversy in order to divide the working class and youth and deflect attention from the anger and discontent brewing over issues of unemployment, corruption and poverty. In Uganda where a similar law is being debated at the parliament, this strategy is working well for President Yoweri Museveni and his small band of corrupt politicians and looters.
According to the bill passed by the Nigeria’s National Assembly, the maximum punishment for homosexual marriage is 14 years imprisonment! Those who witness homosexual marriages, LGBT organisations and those who advocate or support gays and lesbians will get 10 years. Also those who do not report homosexuals would be liable to 10 years imprisonment. This is in a country where looters and corrupt politicians who steal billions walk free after submitting a fraction of their loot through plea bargaining! For instance recently, the Chairman of Police Pension Fund, John Yakubu Yusufu was convicted of stealing N23.3billion from pension office and asked by the court to pay just a ridiculous fine of N250,000!
Comparatively, rape which is unarguably a heinous crime attracts only a maximum punishment of 7 years imprisonment! That is in the case an accused is diligently prosecuted which is rarely so. Rape, sexual assault, battery and all kinds of violence and discrimination against women and children is very prevalent in Nigeria. Yet not for once have Nigeria’s law makers being concerned about these as they are now about homosexuals.
Socialists, the labour movement and activists cannot maintain an air of indifference to this issue. Firstly, LGBT people are ordinary people many of whom are youths and members of the working class. Secondly, the bill does not just threaten the rights of LGBT people, also it threatens the democratic rights of everyone to freedom of life, belief and assembly. This bill targets all persons whether they are confirmed homosexuals or not.
According to the bill, a display of any amorous behaviour by two persons of same-sex can be viewed as homosexualism! Against the legendary ability of the Nigerian police to expand the interpretation any law just to suit themselves and their extortionate motive, this would indeed cause panic in society. This would mean two men or women who hold hands in public or hug could be in danger of being labelled as homosexuals and arrested. Also people of same sex who share rooms either in school hostels and communities could be easily targeted.
The provision of the bill that criminalises LGBT organisations and support groups is particularly draconian. It is a throwback to colonial days when the rights to assembly was completely at abeyance. More so the bill could ignite discrimination and sexual profiling which could lead to homophobic attacks on both LGBT people as well as straights. In the workplaces, this can provide an easy excuse by employers to sack workers at will while also promoting homophobic bullying and lynching in schools and communities on the basis of flimsy suspicion.
Unfortunately there has been no response from the organised labour movement against this attack on democratic rights. Urgent discussion is needed within the labour movement and also among socialists and activists geared towards greater understanding of how attacks on LGBT people concerns the working class and why it is necessary for trade unions to oppose the bill and begin to defend the rights of sexual minorities alongside the struggle for workers’ rights and against capitalist anti-poor policies.
As expected not just the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) are behind this “moral” campaign against same-sex marriage. Even the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) fully support the bill. According to Femi Gbajabiamila (House Representative minority leader and ACN member), gay marriage “is both illegal and immoral”.
What morality do corrupt lawmakers who routinely steal billions of Naira from the nation’s coffers have? Interestingly one of the lawmakers backing this bill is Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima (former Governor of Zamfara State) who three years ago married a 13 year old Egyptian girl – something illegal according to both Nigeria’s and Egypt’s laws. Reportedly, the Senator paid a bride price of $100, 000 to the girl’s family. A paedophile by all standards who knows nothing about morality not to talk of defending it!
Ahmed Sani Yerima’s reaction in 2010 to criticism of his marriage is very instructive here. Speaking to the BBC, the serving Senator declared: “As a Muslim, as I always say, I consider God’s law and that of his Prophet above any other law… I will not respect any law that contradicts that”. If Ahmed Sani Yerima has the right to marry an underage contrary to Nigeria’s secular laws just because it conforms to his religious belief, why should LGBT people not have the same rights to marry in conformity with their sexual orientation?
Ahmed Sani Yerima was the first Governor to introduce Sharia law in 1999. In the Northern states that have so far adopted Islamic Sharia legal system, punishment for homosexualism is stoning to death! There is of course no punishment for paedophilia. The Sharia law legalises marriage to a 13 year old girl who has not reached the age of consent (something which can be compared to child abuse and slavery) but punishes by death consenting adults who willingly enter into same-sex relationship.
But the antagonists of same-sex marriage are not acting in a vacuum. They are relying on the ignorance of vast majority of people in Nigeria about the issue by appealing to “morality” and “African values and culture”. According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, about 97% of Nigerian residents believe that “homosexualism is a way of life that society should not accept”. This is largely because of the widespread ignorance on the issue.
Senate President David Mark has taken a zealous position on this matter calling the bluff of US and other foreign imperialist powers, who compelled by the victories of LGBT communities in their own countries, have had to publicly condemn the draconian bill. But this is mere gimmick to unite the population against an imaginary danger of the West trying to corrupt Nigeria’s traditional moral values. Meanwhile the same ruling class has handed over the main plank of Nigeria’s economy to foreign multinational companies while at the same time happily implements every anti-poor policies prescribed by imperialist finance agencies like the IMF and World Bank.
Homosexualism cannot just be merely explained away as results of “western influence” on Nigerian youth. There is also the argument that heterosexual marriage is the only sexual relationship that conforms to the “order of nature”. But these are simplistic arguments. With or without “western influence”, the rights of people to determine their way of life up to their sexual relationships and choice of sexual partners are inalienable, fundamental and democratic rights. The same way heterosexuals have a right to find happiness in a partner from an opposite sex, so also do homosexuals have the rights to find happiness in a partner of the same sex without discrimination.
The argument about “order of nature” is nonsense. Nature provides so many varied sexual relationships in both simple and complex organisms for anyone to be able to convincingly justify this argument. Many LGBT people cannot have a heterosexual relationship not because homosexualism is a lifestyle but also because of their biology, they can only find happiness in a partner of the same sex. Curtailing LGBT people’s rights to finding fulfilment, which the bill seeks to do, is one of the cruellest attack on peoples right yet.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) opposes the “jail the gays” bill. We stand against all kinds of discrimination including gender or sexual discrimination and homophobic violence. We demand that the rights of LGBT and sexual minority be recognised including their rights to marriage, to education, to good healthcare, jobs and to form organisations to campaign for their interests. The bill has further exposed the hypocrisy of capitalist politicians and society on democratic rights and ideals. It is only under a democratic socialist society can the rights of LGBT people be fully guaranteed alongside the rights of all working class people to a decent life.
However the point has to be reiterated that this whole campaign of the ruling class against homosexualism has a concrete political aim which is to divert attention from economic issues of unemployment, poverty and mass misery. This is why the DSM calls for the united struggle of the working class and youth, irrespective of gender, ethnic, religious and sexual differences, to fight against all anti-poor and neo-liberal capitalist policies of privatisation, commercialisation of public education and healthcare, the crisis of mass poverty and infrastructural decay amidst huge wealth, the rising rate of unemployment, retrenchment and job losses etc. These are the real problems confronting the poor and ordinary working class Nigerians, not homosexualism.