The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) opposes the anti-same sex marriage bill recently passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by a desperate President trying to hang to every straw, including the criminalisation of a people for their sexual preference, in order to remain relevant. We call for the reversal of this homophobic law and the defend the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transsexual (LGBT) people to freely engage in their preferred way of life. We reject the claims by the supporters of his repressive act that LGBT people are trying to impose their views or way of life on others.
Not a few people would be surprised the ERC is speaking about issues not directly related to public education which is considered our primary area of concern. Yes; the ERC fights and campaigns for free and democratically-managed public education. However at the same time, we consider our ultimate task is that of mobilising the youths to fight against all anti-poor pro-capitalist policies everywhere and linking up with the working class to reclaim Nigeria. For this reason, the ERC stands against all attacks on the democratic rights of all people be they young, old, workers, Christians, Muslims, ethnic minorities, social and sexual minorities, disabled, immigrants, women etc.
Also some people may consider it wise and safe to remain silent on this vicious law for the simple reason that it unfortunately currently enjoys the support of a majority of the population. However the ERC finds it crucial to speak out now because of our inability to agree with the theory being promoted by the Federal Government that it can ever be correct for a man or woman to be imprisoned for 14 years or more for engaging in consensual sex with a partner of the same sex. This is being introduced in a country where a heterosexual rapist scandalously gets no more than a 7-year jail term if he is prosecuted at all! Also we could not stomach the idea that it could ever be correct for ordinary gay and lesbian Nigerians to be convicted for whatever they do consensually to each other in private while a tiny ruling elite who steal our votes, impose themselves on the leadership of our country only to loot our collective wealth and impoverish the vast majority of the population but who rarely go to prison for any crime they commit.
Also we are deeply worried about the wider implication of this law especially on the democratic rights not only LGBT people but also of all workers, youths and ordinary people. This anti-gay law completely erases the democratic and fundamental human rights of the people to freely associate and express themselves - rights which were never fully removed even under the dark days of military dictatorship. By virtue of this law, the ERC could be charged and prosecuted for encouraging homosexual practice just because of this press statement! This is a throwback to the dark days of military rule and is a vital part of the signs of the incipient civilian dictatorship which the Jonathan presidency is slowly developing into. Besides, those who dress in a particular manner can also be targeted for assault and attack. For instance, a man who wears earrings or braid his hair can on suspicion be attacked and even prosecuted and imprisoned.
Most especially, the ERC organises amongst students and young people who are the primary target of this outrageous law. There are about 85 million young people in this country. Young people are by virtue of their nature the least likely to accept or hide their sexual preference in order to be accepted by a deeply conservative society. The demography of those already being witch-hunted, harassed and arrested over suspicion of being homosexuals shows that they are dominantly youth.
The ERC believes that young people, neglected and betrayed by the anti-poor capitalist system as they are, are already overburdened by stereo-types and stigmatisation that criminalises them and makes them easy targets for police harassment. This explains why youths are the largest social group facing the most illegal arrests, detention, extrajudicial killings and brutality from the police especially in the poor ghetto communities of cities in Nigeria. All these harassments and killings of youths are committed by police and security forces hiding under different social stigmas which criminalise the youth. For instance a gathering of youth in poor communities of Lagos just for the simple purpose of a party or to watch football is likely to attract police attention for the mere reason that the stigma exists that crimes and youths in the ghetto communities are Siamese twins. It is our contention that the homophobic stigma which this new law has just endorsed will make the life of young people more miserable as it will be wielded by the police and other state institutions to witchhunt people and make more illegal arrests and detentions.
Also this law is a call for homophobic violence and anarchy. Even before it was signed into law, there have been blood-curdling reports of homophobic attacks and harassment in some states across the federation by people who consider it their calling to decide the moral code of the nation. As a public endorsement of the opinion that LGBT people are vermin to be done away with, this law provides a legal basis for such attacks. It is in fact a motivation for lynching of people for the slightest suspicion they are homosexual. The likely result would be nothing short of a pogrom. We are very worried about what likely fallout of this law would have on campuses and in communities. We are concerned that this law and the homophobic hysteria it will definitely create could lead to breakdown of law and order resulting in the loss of lives and the forcing out of school, work and homes of people who fear attacks by other citizens of this country. People who should have the same right and protection as others under the law.
These and others are the reasons we have decided to speak out against a law we strongly believe is an assault on the key pillars of fundamental human rights. Regardless of our individual opinion, whether people accept or reject with revulsion Lesbians, Gays, Bi-sexual and Transsexual (LGBT) people, the ERC believes the right of everyone to live their life as they wish so far they do not constitute a threat to others. This is sacrosanct and must be respected and protected. It is the same way that the right of everyone to practise their religion within a secular state regardless of the opinion of anyone about existence or otherwise of God or of the usefulness of religion itself is protected by the constitution and the state.
Besides, Nigeria is a secular state and it is not ruled by any one code of morality whether religious or cultural. What is often referred to by those who defend the criminalisation of same sex marriage as African culture and morality is incoherent and disparate. From one culture to another within the same continent of Africa, we can find several ways of life, culture and sexual practices. In the history of humanity, polyandry, polygamy etc all came before monogamy which is the current predominant mode of marriage globally. Different variants of same sex relationship is visible in many of the folklores, arts and historical accounts that record the way of life and culture of Africans centuries ago. That some vestiges of these practices are still visible today in some cultures and gives a lie to those who whitewash African history as a monolithic code of ethics unchanged for all eternity.
The whole argument of morality canvassed by the Federal Government spokesperson in the person of Mr. Reuben Abati and the Senate President David Mark to support this undemocratic law is hollow and hypocritical. Going by their habitual corruption and looting of the treasury, the Nigerian ruling elite have no right to preach morality to Nigerians. Many high profile members of the government including Ministers have been accused of serious cases of corruption yet they still retain their positions in government without the slightest pretence of prosecution. Up till today the National Assembly continues to harbour in its ranks a serial child molester and paedophile in the person of Ahmed Sani Yerima. If homosexuality is actually a crime - which it is not – then what about child marriage which is revolting and consists of the molestation of a child who has not reached the age of consent! Surely this is a bigger crime deserving a longer jail sentence. That this has not happened is a sign of the chronic hypocrisy of the ruling elite.
Besides if it is really true that homosexuality is a "western import", then such other "western imports" like the unjust capitalist system alongside with President Jonathan’s neo-liberal policies of privatisation of public utilities which runs contrary to the communal and collective ways of African life deserves to be criminalised and made illegal too! But far from this, the same government that waxes nationalistic over issues of homosexuality is busy implementing every dictates of western financial agencies of the IMF and World Bank to privatise and sell our collective patrimony in the name of privatisation. As we all are aware, the privatisation of the electricity sector which has now failed is to be followed by the sale of refineries - all to private foreign companies many of which are from the West!
We call on the labour movement, student movement and civil society to defend democratic rights, publicly condemn this law and call for its reversal. While the bill was before the National Assembly it was perhaps convenient to shrug it off as a mere ploy by the ruling elite to distract attention from burning socio-economic issues and an opening shot in the 2015 election campaign. This was the prevailing attitude in the labour movement, student movement and civil society. Now that it has become a law and Nigeria now faces the prospect of legalised lynching of our own brothers and sisters not because they looted the treasury, but because they preferred a particular sexual orientation, we cannot continue to remain quiet.
As we pointed out above, just as no one has to be a Muslim or Christian or even practise religion at all to recognize and defend the right to freedom of religion, so also one does not have to like homosexuality to nevertheless recognise that those who engage in it have rights to live, assemble and express themselves as the rest of us. Silence now is nothing but complicity.
Today more than half of Nigeria’s population may oppose homosexuals for different reasons. However as the violent, unjust and undemocratic implication of this murderous law begins to manifest, people will have a rethink. All over the world, opinions and ideas are changing. Whereas some hundred years or so ago in Nigeria, the overwhelming majority of the population in some parts of the country supported the killing of twins as a valid aspect of African culture. But today in many parts of the country, a killer of twins would be immediately arrested and prosecuted by the State for murder. No matter how long it takes, particularly when society develops in knowledge and science, and civilization becomes more widespread, we have no doubt that the ignorance which envelopes and prejudices the mind of a great number of people against their neighbours for having a slightly different sexual preference to theirs upon which the state has crafted this murderous and unjust law will eventually evaporate. At that time people will vigorously question and demand the repeal of a law that criminalises and endorses the visitation of violence on people simply for their sexual preference.