News Updates

Goodluck_Jonathan_APCThe passage of the anti-gay bill last month by the House of Representatives- completing the legislative procedure of the bill that seek to interdict all forms of promotion of same-sex relationships within the Nigerian territory, had since precipitated interesting discussions about the rights of sexual minorities in the country. My understanding of the arguments emanating from a lot of Nigerians would have been much clearer if they were more logical. However, an analysis of the discourse enables me to classify the reactions into two extremes (right and left). It is clear that a lot of reactions in support of the bill are based of the principles of religion or rather what I categorized as “cultural morals”- a fundamental feature of the rightist belief. Interestingly the Nigerian politics is extremely representative of this popular belief therefore presenting it as a “game” of the rightists, for the rightists and by the rightists.

I am not attempting any scientific analysis of the Nigerian political system but predicting the chances of the bill being assented to, by President Goodluck Jonathan. Given that he recently showed his interest in the 2015 presidential elections, this bill is likely a test of his loyalty to the Nigerian citizens- many of who are in support of the bill. There are presumptions that the signing of the bill into law might have an impact on Nigeria’s relationship with it’s major partners- United States, France and Great Britain. But I ask myself; does “gay” rights mean so much in foreign relations/international politics- in practical sense and considering the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of States?

The chances that the president will sign the bill are huge. They are characterized by the nature of Nigerian politics, international politics and the impact of majoritism in politics- broadly speaking. I will attempt a brief illustration of these features and make my predictions. After which, I will highlight the various possibilities the leftist and other human rights activists might consider in addressing the issues of human rights violations and the impunity in the enforcement of laws in the country.

Nigerian politics

The last news heard about the anti-gay bill is that it is will be sent to the Senate for “concurrency”. Assuming it has been sent to the Senate already, it is unclear if it has already being presented to the President. If it (the bill) has been presented, the Nigerian constitution is clear of the protocol. According to the most recent version- 1999, section 58 sub (4) provides that “where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within 
thirty days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.” Is the President likely to withhold his assent? I doubt.

From my exploration of the current President Goodluck’s administration, it is very difficult to classify into any of the extremes. However, when I think about his approach towards the removal of fuel subsidy and renaming the University of Lagos, I will conclude he is a rightist. If you ask me “how”, I would say the irrationality of such decisions is a major character of the right. Moreover, the increase in the development of capitalism in the country presents the administration as very rightist. Therefore as the bill is a product of the rightists, made for the rightists (Nigerian majority), it (the bill) may likely be assented by the President- a rightist.

 If I am to be optimistic about the President not assenting the bill, I do recall however that the constitution in section 58 sub (5) provides that “where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed 
by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the 
assent of the President shall not be required.” It will be logical to conclude that if the bill returns to the National Assembly, it will automatically be voted into law.

International politics:

International politics as presented here is in view of relationships between independent States. Following the discussion on what this will mean to Nigeria’s relationship with other States in the international community, the fact remains that the least on the agenda of diplomats is the discussion of “gay rights”. If they do, it will be during coffee breaks. Indeed, there could be some discussions about how their gay citizens will be affected in the country but they have the option of ensuring that none of their gay ambassadors are sent on a mission to Nigeria.

The essential truth is that every country in the international community is self-seeking- mostly concerned about achieving their respective national objectives. Nigeria is a big hit for many of these countries. The business market is a great attraction and it is the focus of many countries that pose as “friends of Nigeria” in the international community. While Nigeria may be quickly regarded to be dependent on external technical expertise, I still remember that my country is still a victim of many sapping foreign transnational corporations. Even the United States- in the promotion of human rights principles and democracy worldwide, has it limits in discussing how this can be enforced in Nigeria and also hindered by the principle of non-interference in international law. Therefore, the chances that Nigeria will rescind its decision on the anti-gay bill due to international pressure are very slim.

In no way of saying that international pressure may be futile in this case, it helps to understand that the Nigerian government is not one very responsive to the “signatories”. For me, this is very “western”. This will work in Belgium, France, and Great Britain etc. The Nigerian government will not bouge even if several millions of signatories are collected across the globe. It is not a government that listens to public opinion. Such strategies are useful when dealing with a listening government.

Digressing a bit, it is notable that the aid conditionality statement of the British Prime Minister- David Cameron was in no way addressing the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Unlike some other African countries, Nigeria is in no way receiving any budgetary assistance from Great Britain, so I was not very surprised at the antagonistic reaction of the Senate president- David Mark.

Political Majoritism:

It is a global political strategy to subscribe to the voice of the majority. This is commonly understood to be democracy. Thus, it will be just a simple premise to have the bill assented by the President. Unfortunately, sexual minorities in Nigeria do not have the favor of the majority as it is in the United States and France. A close look at the politics in the two countries aforementioned will show how positions on gay rights have been an important determinant of political popularity and success-if I dare say. In most part of Africa and particularly in Nigeria, this is different. In fact, the President will be praised to have done the first good thing since his administration if he assents to the bill. While gay rights seem to be solely the fight of the leftists globally, political majoritism appears to be a mutual character of the extremes (right and left). So putting this in practice, the President will sign the bill.

Drawing the curtain, it is clear enough that I am unfortunately pessimistic about the bill not becoming law. Nevertheless, I am optimistic that there is still a way to reclaim the rights of sexual minorities without engaging in so much politics. The answer is the Judiciary. As simple as it may sound, it will be a great task to embark on. Remembering the decision of the Delhi high court in the case of Naz Foundation v Government of NCT of Delhi and Others [2009] on the 2nd July 2009, it imagine the enormous work to be done within the Nigerian civil society- that is divided on the issues of sexual minorities and their human rights. Challenging the unconstitutionality of anti-gay law(s) seems more pragmatic at the moment. This will take years attain justice but why not a start toward this direction.

 Meanwhile, it is important to begin to focus on the issue of impunity in law enforcement in the country. As this bill might become law, I foresee that issues of arbitrary arrest and detention will increase, incidence of blackmail and extortion suffered by sexual minorities will be tripled and intimidation among politicians will intensify.

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