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22 Jan Written by  Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

Still on the Anti-Gay Law

President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill into law and inadvertently, perhaps, provoked arguably the biggest debate since the subsidy removal imbroglio.

Except it isn’t a debate. It is a shouting match between a very loud minority and a self-satisfied majority. The former has the media and the West, the latter claims religion, morality and culture— however those are defined— and never shall the twain meet.

The instruments employed so far— bullying, shaming, propaganda and, considering arrests made so far, the police— are not of debates, but of warfare. And the internet is the killing field. That may be innocuous save for the bruised egos and vanquished vanities. But from what can be predicted the violence would become concrete soon; from the internet to a road, a park, a market near you.

And it would be because President Jonathan has handed a people mostly intolerant of sexual deviation weapons by a simple turn of his wrist.

That is the pro-gay claim. And they are not wrong. Whatever the merits of the law, arming the most fearless, self-appointed "litigators of God"—as columnist Gimba Kakanda described Nigerians— is a consequence no one can deny.

The law has equipped some Nigerians with a loaded matchbox, tyres and several litres of petrol, with enough ammunition to transform litigation into execution. For if instances of lynching were common before the state criminalised the act, one shudders at what wicked wonders the people may now wreak on culpable or supposedly culpable folk.

Amid the ruckus few have read the law in its entirety. It is an internet-y problem that people react to the reaction some presumably informed person has, and some other person reacts to that received reaction and so on. In the process a reading of the initial document becomes passé— “Who does that?”

Upon reading the law, it is clear to me that both anti- and pro-gays should have a problem with a law so loosely worded that nobody subject to Nigerian laws is safe. It prescribes a 14-year sentence for one who “enters into a same sex marriage contract or civil union.” A civil union is defined as any arrangement for people of same sex to live together as sexual partners, and includes any of these descriptions:

i. Adult independent relationships

ii. Caring partnerships

iii. Civil partnerships

iv. Civil solidarity pacts

v. Domestic partnerships

vi. Reciprocal beneficiary partnerships

vii. Registered partnerships

viii. Significant relationships

ix. Stable unions

So encompassing and so vague, the list yields another contradiction: it is evidence of both the ingenuity and the inanity of politicians.

Even the most vocal supporter has to pause and consider how easy, based on this law, it is to accuse the rabid heterosexual of the newly criminal act. Who can define each of the nine items on the list without ambiguity? Aren’t these heavily skewed in favour of the accuser?

The argument can be made that judges would throw out many of these cases. True. Still in cases, such as this, with a substantial moral baggage, a conviction is unnecessary for effect; a mere trial, a newspaper headline declaring so and so ‘Tried for Gay Activity’ is sufficient to destroy so and so’s social and political standing.

This is the reason the opposition are yet to offer criticism. It would be easy to tag the bunch a party of homosexuals. Silence is the opposition’s only option, and they have embraced it unsurprisingly.

Reno Omokri, President Jonathan’s Special Assistant on New Media, in defending the law, wrote about how ‘democracy works,’ missing the irony in a law that contravenes and criminalises the right of an individual to Freedom of Association. But he is not the only one lecturing everyone into an alignment with his side of the discussion.

We have intellectuals, many overseas, mounting virtual soapboxes, hectoring everyone into enlightenment, ignoring the fact the near unanimity of Nigerians in this area of national life. They do not want gays. The end. No demurrals.

‘Bigot,’ ‘backward,’ ‘homophobe’— a word which, like homosexual, should be descriptive but is now pejorative— are labels set in wait for the man who doesn’t support the pro-gay brigade. Split into an axis of good and evil, one can only be passionately pro- or considered against. Everyone grouped into the latter risks having his or her religion, intelligence and exposure ridiculed.

This has made empathy difficult. You cannot undermine a man’s belief and expect fellowship or followership. It should be easy to hold a view, while another manages an opposing view without physical or emotional violence: many educated and resident Nigerians do not support the lifestyle but they wouldn’t go after gay people either. It is a country where people of one ethnicity distrust people from another ethnicity, but commute, work and live together.

It is early to say what can be done about the law. But between us, as citizens, as humans, who is to say some sort of compromise cannot be reached?

The bad news is the government has done its worst. But the good news is the Nigerian people can behave better. And thankfully, there is no law against that.