Yesterday 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 plenary cited religious and cultural reasons for opposing the bill and when it was subsequently put to a voice vote it failed and did not pass on to second reading.
Nigerians were aghast and there was a huge backlash against the action of the “distinguished senators”. I saw tweet upon tweet heaping invectives upon the senators and calling them all manner of names. People started asking for the exact names 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 dejavu moment for me and it was also as if there was an element of karma involved. I will explain why.
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 prescribing 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 social media that day and people were screaming 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 this gay agenda from the West as if it were to force us to accept homosexuality and that our law makers had proven to Barack Obama and the West that Nigeria was indeed an independent state. I was shocked and not long after President Jonathan who had a disastrous presidency and was desperate for re-election signed the same bill into law to the shock and bewilderment of the rest of the world but to the applause of Nigerians.
Let me also clarify that not everybody kept quiet when this was happening; the brilliant novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie penned an article asking President Goodluck Jonathan to repeal the law. Ayo Sogunro also wrote that article that caused some waves calling that piece of legislation what it was; legislative rascality (for want of a better phrase). Several others condemned it but majority of Nigerians cheered on the senate that 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 day 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 do remember 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 (1945 UN Charter on human rights for instance).
I often say whether you don’t particularly like homosexuality realize that gays are people; people who are gay 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 then asked him if there were externalities to rape and murder, you tell me.
I said it clearly that this was only the beginning and that if we allow the senate get away with this it won’t be long before they begin to infringe on our other rights and liberties under different guises. It was important that we raised our voices at the time to stem the tide of such rascality; but alas I was called names, I 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 again) were saying that we should allow our kids get married not minding that the child rights act (which had been previously passed) had stipulated the age of marriage to be 18 and anything below that was of course statutory rape. Nigerians protested online and I called their attention back to my earlier position when the antigay bill was passed; this was my fear that if we don’t stop these people it will continue and go on and on until all our rights and liberties were taken away. As if I knew, later in this new senate a bill was also being considered which was going to essentially gag us on social media; I laughed really hard when I saw the protests because as much as I hated to be, I was right.
Look at where we are now; we have a senate that shot down a bill to remove gender disparity in 2016. Is it right in this day and age that we have a senate that cited religion and culture (hello again) to say that men and women weren’t essentially equal and we should not remove any institutional barriers that could prevent women from getting ahead? I 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 before hand and screamed about, but we were silenced.
My dear brothers and sisters we have created a senate that thought it was okay to marry off our young girls to pedophiles, a senate that wants to gag us on social media and a senate that believes that men and women aren’t equal in this day and age. 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.
Franklyne Ikediasor lives in Port Harcourt, and has lived here for over ten years. He enjoys running, cycling and getting together with friends to share bouts of wine fuelled laughter. Find him on Twitter @FabulousGuy_
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