News Updates

Four_freedoms_human_rightsSince the news on the signing of the same-sex marriage (prohibition) bill in law by the President, the Nigerian society has been overwhelmed with emotions both form people who are for and against the new law.

Last week was filled with series of debate in the media. Social media contributors expressed their opinions vehemently. Human rights activists- albeit dissenting in their various positions were not left out. International media platforms such as CNN, BBC and France24 among others, aired conversations as well.

Dissenting opinions held that; on one hand, majority of the Nigerian citizens are in support of the ban on same-sex marriage and this is the premise upon which the Act became signed into law; on the other hand, the law is unconstitutional in lieu of the provision of fundamental human rights in Nigeria.

Thus, this article dares to attempt a synthesis that might be useful for consideration in proffering a solution and ultimately establishing peace among the Nigerian people.

Before reading further, I would like to warn against emotionalising thoughts but encourage a very objective understanding of the dissenting opinions. In addition, arguments in favour of the law are herein otherwise referred to as “Anti-gay” and arguments against referred to as “Pro-gay”.

 

Anti-Gay arguments:

Thus far, the arguments in support of the new law boarders around the excuse that Nigeria is a democratic society and since the majority of the citizenry finds repugnant the idea of same-sex marriage in Nigeria, the law was legitimate. Furthermore, listening to a parliamentarian who participated in a debate on BBC, the idea of same-sex marriage is perceived as a culture imposition from the West and considered unAfrican. He also mentioned that the issues of culture in this regard can be likened to the culture of polygamy in most parts of Africa which neither accepted nor recognised in most part of the West. So the conclusion is that same-sex marriage is not recognized in Nigeria as polygamy is not in UK and USA. It is important to understand culture in this argument to include but not limited to religion but also popular tradition of the people of Nigeria. One apprehension that is clear in these arguments is the fear of neo-colonalism or better put, cultural imperialism.

 

Pro-Gay arguments:

Arguments against the new law seem to be more from a rights perspective resulting from the claim that it is an infringement on the exercise of rights by Nigerian citizens; rights guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution. Human rights activists- locally and internationally also articulated their apprehension in being targeted as potential or actual defenders of homosexuals and may stand the chance of being jailed according to the penalty prescribed by the law. Another pertinent apprehension is the impact of this law on public health programming such as those that address issues of HIV/AIDS; as men who have sex with men, gay men and transgender women are identified amongst the key populations in the address of new infections and the end of AIDS related deaths. Furthermore, pro-gay arguments established that, in a society like Nigeria where there is slim access to justice and high level of impunity, this law may be used as an instrument to perpetrate blackmail and extortion by every corrupt (state or non-state) person in the country. On this premise, this law is regarded as very dangerous to the Nigerian citizenry.

I shall attempt a synthesis in three categories; 1. Democracy, 2. Polygamy vs. Same-sex marriage, 3. Constitutionality

 

Democracy:

As Nigeria is constitutionally considered as a secular country, I wish to initially address the argument on democracy as a basis for legitimizing this new law. My immediate reaction to the statement that imply democracy as most favourable to the majority has always been that democracy is equity; implying also the consideration of the minority in decision-making. An excerpt from the famous autobiography of Nelson Mandela, “long walk to freedom” supports this notion. It reads thus “Democracy meant all men were to be heard, and a decision was taken together as a people. Majority rule was a foreign notion. A minority was not to be crushed by a majority.”

Cultural influence in legislation may be considered legitimate. A democratic society is one where people are able to determine how they should be governed, hence reducing the power of the government in such decision. In all objectivity, Nigerian people who think progressively about issues of homosexuality are very little. Although certain histories dating from the pre-colonial era reveals the existence of homosexuality and same-sex marriages in Nigeria, these practices are not popular and till date are not legally recognised in any of the laws admissible in the Nigerian legal system. For a fact, homosexuality and same-same marriage was never legal or recognised in most traditional settings in Nigeria.

Polygamy vs. Same-sex Marriage:

Polygamy is widely practiced in Nigeria and this cut across religion. I am from a polygamous home and a Christian family; demystifying the notion of polygamy being practiced only amongst Muslims. By customary law, polygamy is recognised in Nigeria and has since been considered a tradition that is part of the Nigerian culture. It is relatively popular unlike same-sex relationships. For a fact, the intent of this law would have remained vague if one stops only at the title; Same-sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act. The vagueness would have resulted from the fact that legitimising same sex relationship in act of homosexuality or otherwise is non-existent in Nigeria. For instance, never in Nigeria could anyone be issued a marriage certificate in a union with a person of same-sex. However, the law didn’t end in prohibiting same-sex marriages, it criminalises it and prescribes jail term for the association of people who may identify with a homosexual “anything”.

 Truly, polygamy in the West is illegal and criminalised but with logical reasons of taxes, inheritance and differences that may ensue in custodian of children borne in a previous marriage. In England and Wales for instance, polygamy is a crime of felony and any person engaged in it may be charged for bigamy. Nonetheless, it may be recognised for welfare benefits. Of course, one can draw a link between the principle of criminalising polygamy in England to criminalising same-sex marriage in Nigeria based on the fundamental logic of culture but this is fallacy. The criminalisation of polygamy in the West is one mostly based on social reason than the preservation of so-called tradition or culture. Indeed it is criminalised with jail term not exceeding 7years but men or women who, in practice engage in “polygamy” in form of keeping concubines are not witch-hunted nor criminalised.

 

Constitutionality:

Accepting that the corrupt use of a particular law in perpetrating a crime may not render such a law unconstitutional, it is important to understand that the unconstitutionality of this law relates to how to contravene the freedoms provided in section 42 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution. It (the law) may jeopardise the freedom to association, which may include service provision such as those implicating public health. Human rights organisations may be presumed to be homosexual groups, therefore risking their registration being revoked. Human rights defenders may be targeted with notions that they are aiding same-sex marriages or worst still homosexuals themselves. In a society where impunity is the blanket of all human rights violations, the general population risk an infringement in exercising their guaranteed fundamental human rights, where this law is enforced.

Democracy and human rights are ideologies in politics that are inalienable and interrelated. It may indeed be legitimate to think that as a democratic society, same-sex marriage prohibition should be enforced in Nigeria, nonetheless, I am of the opinion that no one’s sexual orientation should be legislated upon. Homosexuals and other persons who may engage in same-sex sexual practices should enjoy the protection from stigma and discrimination in any society albeit the popular opinion on the matter. The new law in Nigeria is unnecessary and lacks any valid logic, be it democracy, cultural preservation or constitutional base. It is highly condemnable and waste of public resources in a State where there are pressing developmental issues.

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