I didn’t know what to expect from the TIERs Human Rights Day event, mainly because I had never even heard of TIERs (The Initiative for Equal Rights) before that day, and weeks ago at the Ake festival, we had had several discussions on sexuality, sexual orientation and the law. So I really didn’t know what to expect. I ended up attending because someone wanted me to do something for her there, and it was another opportunity to buy a book I had been thinking of buying.
I got there early enough, before the program commenced. And I met Elnathan John, who, by the way, I wasn’t sure I liked, because of his online persona and that scathing, bile-filled post he wrote about Chimamanda Adichie. Surprisingly though, he was nice and pleasant, polite and friendly even. I saw Ayo Sogunro with his ‘connecting beards’ and thick glasses. Wana Wana was there with all her vivacious energy. And I began to feel the pulse of excitement; I knew it was going to be an awesome event. I’d heard Elnathan and Wana Wana speak before, and I’d read Ayo’s writings. So I knew that it was going to be a good day.
Professor Chidi Odinkalu gave the keynote address. I am ashamed to say I didn’t know of this man before that day. My God! See brilliance in motion! He spoke and I was spellbound. He was clearly very knowledgeable about many things, especially the law. He’s good looking too, I can’t even lie. If he were twenty years younger, I’d have asked to get his number. Some of the things he said struck and stayed with me. Here, let me paraphrase some.
“When it comes to sexuality and religion, nobody has the jurisdiction over you in matters of your faith… Nobody has the right to appoint themselves vigilantes for God, no one has the right to take the position of God.
“There’s no such thing as the ‘Nigerian culture’ because a hundred and five years ago, Nigeria didn’t exist. What we have instead is a multitude of diverse cultures, and we Nigerians aren’t tolerant of that diversity.
“Sex is an act of worship and we should be happy to have conversations about it, because without it, none of us would be here. We should talk about sex shamelessly.
“Nigerians are okay with public sadomasochists (who whip danfo drivers and set thieves ablaze), but concerned about what people do behind closed doors. This country is a very ‘religious’ society, but not a godly one.
“Under the law, there should be dignity of all human beings and equality of all citizens and equal protection for them. Every limitation of rights must be reasonably justified in a democratic society. Every Nigerian citizen deserves equal protection and dignity under the law whether they’re Shiiates, or they’re LGBT, the country shouldn’t discriminate against people because of who they are or who they choose to get intimate with. We’re all humans, who people decide to sleep with is not our business, unless they’re sleeping with children.”
See, that man is bae. His words were so insightful and his views are so liberal. Someone in the audience had to ask if he schooled or lived abroad, I mean, international exposure on fleek! But no, he schooled in this our Nigeria oh.
Olumide Makanjuola, the CEO of TIERs, spoke next, and talked about the human rights report on Nigeria. He informed us about the recent occurrences in the country as regards the law and ‘sexual offenders’. The new trend for Nigerian policemen is to pick up young guys on the road because of the way they walk, take them to cyber cafes and force them to print out their private messages on social media to ‘prove’ that they’re gay, and then lock them up. Olumide said his organization has spent over N600, 000 in the past month to bail people out of police custody on the suspicion of being gay. The saddest part is that none of these people were actually caught in the act; they were simply arrested based on speculation and suspicion. Another thing that sexual minorities face is extortion from people who are aware of their sexual orientation; you must pay them a certain sum monthly or they will inform the police. And if you report to the police that you are being blackmailed, they’d let your blackmailer go and then arrest you instead for being gay.
The government isn’t really the problem. We are, because we make them think it is okay for our countrymen to beat and arrest the gay ones among us.
For women, there have been cases of ‘correctional rapes’, where many men will take turns to brutally rape a suspected lesbian in a bid to correct her sexuality. Maybe if she had enough penises forcefully rammed into her, she would suddenly, magically enjoy them instead of fellow women.
The TIERs 2015 Report on Human Rights Violations based on Real or Perceived Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Nigerian is damning. And we as Nigerians need to do better. The truth is that, if we allow LGBT people to be oppressed because we feel it’s not our business since we’re heterosexual, a day will come when our own rights will be taken away too. The social media bill is a good example of that. And if we don’t speak out about these things now, well, we’ll all suffer for it in the end. If you keep quiet about laws that oppress one set of people today, someday, it will be your turn and there’d be no one left to speak for you.
The panelists at the event were Ayo Sogunro, Elnathan John, Pamela Adie, Iheoma Obibi, and then the moderator, Wana Wana. This panel was on fire! Each of the panelists was passionate about the issues discussed and their words had a lot of import.
Elnathan John wanted the Nigerian people to stop being afraid of homosexuality because it’s not a communicable disease; no one can infect you with homosexuality. Also, there are good gay people, and there are bad gay people. There are gay people who want to be in relationships, there are gay people who want to fuck around, and there are gay people who are celibate. Basically, gay people are just people. And an abuser is an abuser, a rapist is a rapist; it doesn’t matter if he’s straight or gay.
Ayo Sogunro explained that we live in a society where the idea of human rights is still vague because we are used to the idea of earned rights. We aren’t used to the fact that we have rights that we are born with as human beings. We are only homophobic to the extent that the gay person is beneath us in social class or status. After all, ‘big men and women’ host wild gay parties that are open secrets, but no police would dare arrest them or interlopers dare harass them for being homosexual. Even Nigerian human rights activists who are mostly lawyers have been trained to support existing hierarchies, not upset them.
Pamela Adie said that we talk about LGBT rights in abstract; we never really consider that those involved are people; that they’re humans first and foremost. And a lot of homophobic people actually have latent homosexual traits and fantasies. She revealed how she’d been married to a man once, but had to leave the marriage because that was not who she really is. She pointed out that homosexual couples are just like heterosexual couples; the only difference is that they’re of the same gender.
Iheoma Obibi spoke of how someone once called her up and asked why she keeps encouraging “those people” to be gay, but then she revealed that her biggest buyers (she sells adult toys on myintimatepleasureshop.com) are heterosexual couples who have anal sex. They say it’s against “our culture” but culture evolves, culture is fluid (after all, killing twins was once our culture) and we can’t use the cultural argument when it comes to intimacy in the private sphere.
From the panelists, I got that human rights are human rights, sexual or otherwise. We can’t pick or choose. Human rights are for everyone. You can’t be a human rights activist and be anti-LGBT or anti-feminism, even though feminism has different nuances. And the reason LGBT rights are still nonexistent is because we don’t see them as humans.
Akanji Michael gave the closing address and we moved downstairs for the sweetest part of the event – Lunch! The sight of food made me so happy, I almost wept with joy. We all helped ourselves to whatever we wanted and continued to chitchat while we ate. Even if I didn’t enjoy the event (which was impossible, by the way), I definitely enjoyed my sumptuous lunch. And I really cannot wait for next year’s edition!
Written by Temitope Adeiye