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Udoka Okafor Headshot

A Response to the Law That Further Criminalizes the LGBT Community in Nigeria

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At the core of every human life, there are irreducible qualities that pay no homage to cultural beliefs, values, and systems. How easy it is sometimes for us to forget these inalienable qualities that are paramount to our relationship with one another, the larger society, and ourselves. These inalienable qualities and rights that we possess have been reflectively debated throughout history, and they have stood the test of time and informed our measure of social progress, or, sometimes, the lack thereof. Subconsciously, though, we accept that we all possess these qualities, and we believe in the inherent dignity of persons, and this is reflected in our search for a common humanity. Perhaps my last statement optimistically overstates the goodness in humans, but I cannot both deny the existence of this goodness and then seek to appeal to it in pursuit of justice.

Last year, people were in an uproar, especially the international community, because the Nigerian lawmakers had passed a bill that will criminalize same-sex marriage and the institutions, organizations, and persons that support the LGBT community. Gay sex and relationships between persons of the same sex were already illegal in Nigeria. Thus, this bill was created to further intensify hostilities that the LGBT community in Nigeria is forced to deal with on a daily basis, these hostilities that define their daily survival. The LGBT population in Nigeria is not even advocating for same-sex marriage at this point; they are simply asking that their sexualities and identities be decriminalized. But passing the bill was both a symbolic act on the part of the legislation and a means to further polarize the Nigerian populace on the issue of LGBT rights.

Those who make up the Nigerian government seek to ingratiate themselves to the Nigerian people, and the only way to do that is to give them a common enemy, one that they can condemn together. The bill was simply a distraction from their political, social, and economic failing as a governing body. It was created as a way to appeal to the dissatisfaction of the people by manipulating and cultivating the cultural and religious hostilities in Nigeria that have led 90 percent of the population to identify themselves as being against granting equal rights to the LGBT population in Nigeria. That identification is misinformed, and that hostility is misplaced, but nevertheless, it is still persistent within Nigerian society and the country's legal system.

It has recently been brought to the attention of the public that President Goodluck Jonathan has signed this draconian bill, essentially giving his assent that it become law. We have managed to, as a country, codify inequality, discrimination, hostility, and indignity into our legal system. We have completely disregarded certain basic conceptions of morality that are so paramount to the substance of the law, the maintenance of respect for the inalienable rights of all, and the preservation and perseverance of the ideals of equality, security and dignity for all at a societal level. Where do we go from here as a country?

Discrimination has long defined history, but more important, I think, is the inevitable and ultimate realization that discrimination as a structural system of operation, both on an individual and societal level, is one that can never truly sustain itself. The moment we treat other people as less than equal we fall prey to an ideal that will ultimately damage the core inalienable right that every person possesses, one that should inform society as a whole. But deeper than that, I believe, is the fact that we all become vulnerable to the possibility that someday, somewhere, a part of our identity will become grounds for other people's discrimination against us.

Can we not all accept that everyone ought to be treated equally? And to the extent that this statement is true, can we not see the value in a society that seeks to realize that ideal, rather than one that seeks to go against it? LGBT persons are more than their sexual orientation or gender identity, and being a strong ally of the LGBT community and a proponent of equality as a whole, I categorically do not support these laws that criminalize the LGBT community, and neither should any Nigerian. There is nothing wrong or immoral about being LGBT. Isn't love the quality that we all ought to embrace as a society, a quality that should define how we relate to our fellow persons?

This law is barbaric and draconian, and for the sake of our inalienable rights as persons, our common humanity as a society, and an anticipation of a future that's less grim and safer for every human being, this law should be overturned. Once we assert that a group or a community is less equal than the dominant group, we open up a Pandora's box that leads to a world where no one is truly equal. We cannot claim that we are all humans and demand to be treated with fairness and equality and then go on to treat other people as less-than. We simply cannot!