Last week, the Nigerian social media was awash with reports that the senate had shot down a bill which was formulated to remove gender disparity between men and women, alleviate the plight of widows and essentially help women get ahead. The bill was sponsored by a female senator from Ekiti State and the senators who spoke against it at the plenary session cited religious and cultural reasons for opposing the bill. When it was subsequently put to a voice vote, it failed and did not pass on to a second reading.
Nigerians were aghast and there was a huge backlash against the action of the Senate. I saw tweet upon tweet heaping invectives upon the senators. People wanted to know the identities of the senators who actually voted against the bill. Activists like Mrs. Ezekwesili and Japheth Omojuwa all weighed in on the irresponsible action of the senate. I looked on, shocked mostly but not saying much (outside a few tweets), because the reality of the matter was that it was a déjà vu moment for me. And it was also as if there was an element of karma involved.
In 2013, the senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria got up and decided that same-sex loving people were to be treated as criminals. They went ahead to promulgate one of the most repressive and hateful antigay laws in the world today which prescribed a 14-year jail term for anybody who gets married to a person of the same gender, plus other penalties for people involved in homosexual activity, as well as for those who “aid and abet” homosexuality. Nigerians applauded; I went through the social media that day to witness people jubilantly declaring that the bill was in order, seeing that our culture and our major religions do not support homosexuality, therefore it has no business in our country. People spoke of how this was a gay agenda from the West, intended to force us to accept homosexuality, and they were smugly satisfied that our lawmakers had proven to President Obama and the West that Nigeria is indeed an independent state. While I was still reeling from this atrocity, President Jonathan, who had a disastrous presidency and was desperate for re-election, signed the same draconian bill into law, to the shock and bewilderment of the rest of the world but to the applause of Nigerians in general.
Not all Nigerians applauded though. Renowned writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie penned an article asking President Jonathan to repeal the law. Ayo Sogunro also wrote that article that caused some waves for calling the piece of legislation what it was: legislative rascality (for want of a better phrase). Several others condemned it, but a majority of Nigerians cheered the senate, who passed the bill, and the president, who signed it into law. People quoted the bible, quoted the Koran and clarified that homosexual behavior was unnatural and alien to our culture.
I remember engaging a few people that period, both online and offline; I told them that Nigeria is a secular state and that our constitution draws a separation between religion and state. Therefore laws should not be made on the basis of religious affiliations. People talked about morality and I responded by telling them how relative morality is and how it ought to be defined individually. I said that this law was clearly stating that culture and religion should take pre-eminence over our laws and international statues that we are signatories to (the 1945 UN Charter on Human Rights, for instance). I often say that one not particularly liking homosexuality should not prohibit him/her from realizing that gays are people, and as such, we should respect the rights that come with their humanity as clearly stipulated in our constitution. Someone asked me if we should also respect the rights of murderers and rapists, and I shook my head. You see, there are no externalities to homosexuality. Two consenting adults are having sex. It doesn’t affect any other person who is not involved in the activity at the time. I asked this someone if there are externalities to rape and murder. You tell me.
In the wake of this draconian law’s existence, I said that this was only the beginning, and that if we allow the senate to get away with this, it won’t be long before they begin to infringe on our other rights and liberties under different guises. I wanted it known that it is important that we raise our voices at the time to stem the tide of this rascality. But alas, I was called names and was essentially told to shut up. Culture was thrown in my face (which is very funny, because there is no such thing as Nigerian culture, but that is a matter for another day). I remember Ms. Adichie saying in her article that the true measure of democracy is not just in the rule of the majority, but it also lay in the protection of its minority.
We woke up another morning to hear that the senate had approved or was going to approve another piece of legislation that was going to essentially legalize pedophilia. Some senators citing religious inclinations (hello here) were saying that we should allow our children get married, never mind that the Child Rights Act, which had been previously passed, had stipulated the age of marriage to be 18, and that anything below was of course statutory rape. Nigerians protested online. I could see it manifesting, my fear that if we don’t stop these people, this erosion of our rights and liberties would only continue.
Following this, the senate began considering a bill which was going to essentially gag the Nigerian citizenry on social media. I laughed really hard when I saw the protests, because as much as I hated to be, I was right.
Now, look at where we are now. We have a senate that shot down a bill to remove gender disparity in 2016. That’s right! In this day and age, we have a senate that cited religion and culture (hello again) as reasons to claim that men and women aren’t essentially equal and that we should not remove any institutional barriers that would prevent women from getting ahead. I’d like us to see where we are now. We have practically fallen into a pit that we dug for ourselves, and now we are screaming blue murder. This was what some of us saw beforehand and tried to draw the attention of the general public to. But we were silenced. My dear countrymen and –women, we have created a senate that thought it was okay to marry off our young girls to pedophiles, a senate that wants to keep us hushed on social media, and a senate that believes that men and women aren’t equal in this current civilization. I hope we are proud of what we have done.
Let me leave you guys with this very popular saying which has come to mean a lot to me in recent times:
First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me… And there was no one left to speak for me.
Written by Franklyne Ikediasor
Franklyne Ikediasor is a brand executive by day and a writer by night. He thinks coffee makes every book interesting and he enjoys running, cycling and getting together with friends to share bouts of wine-fulled laughter. He tweets @FabulousGuy_