GAY BILL CONTROVERSY
Alimi and Dogara
Bisi Alimi, a gay activist, and Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on House Services, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, in these interviews with TOYOSI OGUNSEYE and JOHN AMEH give different positions on same-sex marriage
It's an abuse of our rights -Alimi
You publicly declared that you were gay in 2004, what motivated you to do that?
My motivation came from the fact that I and other people like me need to be respected and our rights upheld as citizens of Nigeria. The Nigerian constitution prides itself on promoting fundamental human rights and in a case where rights of a minority group are being abused, it is the responsibility of these people to stand up and speak up. Also my motivation comes from the community I belong to- the many men and women in Nigeria who are beaten and abused on a daily basis because of something they have no control over. I thought someone needed to speak out. I had the platform and I used it.
How did your open declaration affect your family and friends?
The way my family took it was expected. I was not expecting them to roll out the drums and call a party. My sexuality was quite alien to the understanding and intellectual capacity of most Nigerians and my parents were no exemption. So there was no point during the interview on Funmi Iyanda's Show that I was expecting a hero's welcome. I also realised that it took me more than 10 years to affirm myself as a gay man and I expect my family to go through the same phase. What is important at this point is that six years after my coming out, I am wise enough and so is every member of my family. The ones that want to talk to me are talking to me and the ones that have refused to talk to me are not. In all, I respect everyone's right to choose who they want to talk to.
As for my friends and in this context, I will refer to my friends as my gay friends, it was more of a disappointment. Many of them turned their back on me and many stopped talking to me. But I also understand. I am out there and what that means is everyone seen with me is a suspect.
How do you feel about the Bill for an Act to prohibit marriage or civil union entered into between same sex and solemnisation of same which has passed the second reading in the House of Representatives?
It is important to make clear here that this bill is nothing but an act to target us. It is a misplacement of priority by the National Assembly. Nigeria is one of the poorest countries in the world. However, we account for part of the world's wealth. Our politicians and religious leaders are getting fatter while the population is getting thinnier. Also there was no point in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender struggle in Nigeria that the community demanded for marriage. I think that marriage is a problem and I am not ready to get myself into it. The anti-same sex marriage bill has shown how out of touch and out of reality our leaders are. The National Health Bill is still pending in the House. The anti-corruption bill is still there. However, the one that concerns the House is what people do in their private lives.
The lawmakers say they are supportive of the bill because it is has no place in Nigeria's culture and religion. What's your view on this?
I am sure the lawmakers are intelligent enough to answer this simple question - 'What is Nigerian culture and Religion in 21st Century?' We see on television when lawmakers are being sworn in. They use the Bible and Qur'an. But you and I know that the Bible and Qur'an are not our culture, it is not our tradition and it is not our religion. Today, Nigerians are deluded because the religious industry has been able to establish itself as the alternative to good governance.
Some also argue that apart from religion, the same-sex marriage is morally wrong. What's your take on that?
When morality is defined by religion then 'morality' becomes baseless. Ask an average Nigerian what is morality, the answer will surely tailor towards the Bible or the Qur'an. The concept of morality is questionable because it is always a weapon in the hands of the person that defines it. Morality is not the law and the law is not morality. Morality has no judgement of error, the law does. The law is flexible and dynamic, morality is not.
Is the gay community in Nigeria planning to fight this bill in any way?
It depends on what you mean by fight. We are not an aggressive people. We hope we can make the lawmakers see reason and change their ways. We do not intend to be another Boko Haram as we know Nigeria has enough drama in her hands at the moment. However, we will not seat back and allow the lawmakers take away our rights. And I am happy to say that this struggle, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, is seeing a strong partnership between the LGBT community in Nigeria and other people that do not identify as such. I am seeing more and more straight people in Nigeria, mostly young people saying enough is enough.
There are reports that influential Nigerians that publicly speak against same-sex relationships practise it in private. How true is this?
It is not in my place to condemn anyone. However, if you are a senator or a member of the House and you have a skeleton in your wardrobe, be very careful before you vote for this bill as it will surely come back to haunt you. The law of karma is never subtle.
No right is absolute -Dogara
You are one of the proponents of the Bill for an Act to prohibit marriage or civil union entered into between same sex and solemnisation. Some people think that this is discriminatory?
What does discrimination mean? A lot of people lay claims to certain rights, but no right is absolute. Virtually all the rights we have in the constitution are heavily circumscribed - the right to life is circumscribed by the offence of murder; if you kill under certain circumstances, the law permits that you should die as well. The freedom of expression is circumscribed by the law of libel. Before the early 70s in the United States, it (same-sex marriage) was characterised as a disease, but the reason it was removed was because of the fact that the gay community in the US became more vociferous. Most of the claims of gay people are that some of them are gay because of biological accidents. What kind of biology? If we do not find it in the animal kingdom and we don't find it in the plant kingdom, why should we elevate an issue that is morally-based to the level of the human society? The same God of nature gave a commandment that we should be fruitful. If God has instituted that in biology that someone could be born gay with natural affection towards persons of same sex, it will be contradictory for the same God to give a command that we should be fruitful and replenish the earth. To come back to your question, if you are talking of discrimination, the question is whether it is right to say you are protecting something that morally, cannot be defended. Public health and our religious practices in Nigeria do not support it. So you have to balance the two - rights versus morality and what is legal in Nigeria and what is Godly.
Lawmakers say they are supportive of the bill because same - sex marriage has no place in Nigeria's culture and religion. But, culture is dynamic and is always changing.
Development over time has brought about a lot of advancement in the Western world whereby they seek to trust more in science than even in God. We are not there yet. To import their (West) moral values here under the guise of sophistication or advancement of community, thereby colonising us morally, is what we should fight against. Even with advancement in this part of the world, it is going to take some decades before we get there. But, with laws like this, we will prolong the process of getting there.
It has been argued that apart from religion, the same-sex marriage is morally wrong. Don't you feel that the issue of morals should be an individual choice?
If you look at Section 45 of our constitution (1999), it clearly talks about public morality and public health. Most sexually transmitted diseases emanated from the gay community, go and check the records. Statistics show that virtually all persons living in gay communities carry one form of sexually transmitted diseases or the other. So, from the point of view of public safety, morality and religion, you know that certainly gay practices are prohibited.
The bill states that, 'if you know someone who is gay and you do not report to the State, you will be jailed as well,' do you think this is fair on the families of the affected persons because being gay may not be the same as being a thief or murderer?
The provision is in tandem with our criminal jurisprudence. If you look at criminal laws in Nigeria, you can justify that. There is something called screening of offenders. The bill doesn't talk about the practice of homosexuality as such. It talks about same-sex marriage and civil union, which are unions or marriages consummated by persons of the same sex. If that happens, it relates only to an individual, who can be imputed with knowledge, that there is a same-sex couple around his area or that there is a civil union entered into by persons of the same sex and that individual keeps quiet. In our criminal laws for instance, if I see a thief or have every reason to believe that someone has stolen and I harbour that person without reporting him to the authorities, the long arm of the law can catch up with me. That offence is called screening of offenders. So, this one can be tantamount to screening of same-sex couples or people who have entered into civil unions. You can see that it aligns with our criminal jurisprudence. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the provision.
How will this proposed law affect Nigeria's diplomatic relations with Western countries?
There have been concerns raised by Britain and I think to some extent, the European Union and even some people in America as well. They are saying the same thing; that if we don't allow these practices to become part of our norms, there are certain assistance that we currently get from them that may not be available to us. The question is whether merely extending assistance to us is enough reason for us to relinquish our moral values? The point is that there is no barometer to measure which culture is more superior. The fact that they allow such practices in their own climes does not make theirs superior to ours where we say no to such practices. If they want to keep their assistance because we are banning same-sex marriage and union, so be it. In Nigeria, we virtually have everything that we need. That we are not where we should be in terms of development is because of leadership. Maybe, by withholding their aids, it will push us to a situation whereby real leaders will emerge.
There are reports that influential Nigerians and some politicians that publicly speak against same-sex union practise it in private. Is this not pretentious?
I quite agree with your observation. You see, ours is a hypocritical society. The long arm of the law will reach out to those people who are practising it undercover, pick them up and make sure that appropriate penalties are meted out to them.