On hearing the news of the passing of the Nigerian Same Sex Marriage Bill, 2011 (the SSM Bill)– which seeks to criminalize anyone who either enters into a same sex marriage or witnesses, supports or aids such a marriage– my reaction was…well, I was too numb to immediately react. I could only think about the miserable state my country is in. But did I really expect anything different?
In an article for CNN, Chude Jideonwo points to the real purpose of the Bill which is to expand the existing legislation on homosexuality to include organizations and individuals who ‘register, operate or participate in gay…organizations.’ As he points out, this could well include criticisms of the Bill such as his article and this blog post.
I would like to draw attention to the parallels between: (1) ‘The Story of Thomas,’ tweeted by @rmajayi, about a young man abandoned on the roadside and left for dead in Ado Ekiti in southwest Nigeria; (2) the non-investigation of a gang rape of a young woman on the premises of the Abia State University– neither by the Abia State government nor the police; and (3) this week’s passing by the Nigerian Senate of the SSM Bill.
What each of these cases explicitly implies is that citizenship is not open to everyone. The state and its institutions of power, both secular and religious, determine who is and what crimes are to be granted recognition, who is worthy of saving, who is considered a loyal citizen and who can therefore expect justice.
Those who criticize the SSM Bill on the basis that Nigeria has more pressing legislative issues to deal with such as endemic corruption (an age-old obsession that everyone complains about but one in which everyone partakes with no-one seeing themselves as part of the problem) fail to make the connections between homophobia and sexual violence or a violence which allows a man to be abandoned next to a gutter in front of hundreds of shoppers and passers-by and to die through lack of attention and care. Even when a ‘good Samaritan’ did attempt to do something she was disparaged and accused of only wanting publicity for her acts!
The sexual harassment of women, or being silent in its presence, has become so normalized within Nigerian society it has gotten to the point where it is happening on a day-to-day basis, publicly and privately, online and offline, in actions and words and body language. Women are constantly being degraded and verbally abused or demeaned on social media sites. Homophobia is horrifically expressed and applauded. These are all continuums of sexual abuse which takes place without question.
It is this normalization of sexual abuse and institutionalized misogyny that allows the police and others in authority to feel comfortable in making statements such as ‘she wanted to be raped’ and to be wholly negligent in their investigations. It is what allows the government of Abia State and the university to sit quietly on the sidelines and do nothing.
With respect to these now normalized and legalized acts of violence, what happens when a woman or man is raped, beaten or murdered because they were perceived to be LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgenger and intersex)? Will the fact the victims are LGBTI be used by the attackers as a defense? What if the Abia rapists claim they gang-raped the victim because they suspected she was a lesbian? What if the abandonment of Thomas and others like him is justified on the basis of their sexual orientation? Although these are individualized acts of violence they are representative of a pervasive violence or threat of violence against queer people, women, children, the poor and the vulnerable.
The rationale behind the SSM Bill and its proposed counterpart in Uganda, is a huge deceit being spread by secular and religious leaders that decriminalizing LGBTI persons would be pandering to Western imperialists’ moral decadence. On the contrary these legislations are part of a continuity of Western imperialism and ‘European heterosexual inheritance’* which were forced on colonial subjects and are a mark of our continued colonial dependency.
*see: M. Jacqui Alexander, ‘Erotic Autonomy as a Politics of Decolonization: An Anatomy of Feminist and State Practice in the Bahamas Tourist Industry.’ In: Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures. Routledge: New York, 1997.