She agreed with me, but was eager to point out that if we only focus on that, then we are essentially saying that Africans have no agency, free will or thoughts of their own, and that they only take cues from outsiders.
I thought about what she said for a few moments. The fact of the matter is that no matter what the outside influences are that shaped or altered the mindset of Africans, Africans are still the ones who are making the very conscious decisions to discriminate, ostracize, imprison, assault and even kill people for simply existing. We have to acknowledge that and come to terms with it.
The vestiges of colonialism and Western evangelicals spreading their dogma of hate aside, what happened to our agency? Why are so many of us not able to denounce and reject obvious miscarriages of justice and human rights abuses over religious dogma? Does god want ravenous mobs rounding people up?
Nigeria has devolved into a scourge of ruthlessness. Ruthlessness promulgated by a cabal of fanatical maniacs wielding Bibles and Korans. I’m in no way implying that Nigeria was a haven for the LGBTQ community, but these new laws would have been unheard of years ago. We grew up with queer people in Nigeria. You’d be lying (or in deep denial) if you said you didn’t.
Nigeria is the most populated black nation on earth. To act like it was somehow devoid of LGBTQ individuals, or that this is a new thing is absurd. We all knew what went on in boarding schools. At FGGC (Federal Government Girls College) secondary schools for instance, girls having girlfriends was not uncommon. Same sex amours were not unusual.
Sure, it was fodder for gossip, but people generally looked the other way. Whatever the case might be, they weren’t looking to imprison people. There was no lynch mob mentality, so I know what Nigerians have the capacity to live with and accept. I have seen it in my lifetime.
These laws also ignore Nigerian history. Nigeria is a nation that has the Yan Daudu in the Muslim north who lived openly without fear for ages. They now live in fear of persecution from religious fanatics. This is where Nigeria is today. Many have no idea of what the country used to be like in terms of what was accepted by the society. They are too wrapped up in their hateful dogma to even care.
Intolerance further south is no different. My friend’s aunt who visited Aba a few years ago couldn’t believe how “devout” everyone there is now. She noted that while most schools are dilapidated, there is a gleaming church at every turn. Everyone is preaching and many are trying to be pastors.
The one thing they all have in common is their love for condemnation. They love to castigate and rebuke. They now parrot “family values” rhetoric. It sounds eerily similar to right wing American evangelical ideals. Which again begs the question, why are many Africans willing to adopt hateful rhetoric?
When we talk about Nigerian bigotry, we tend to talk about it in the abstract. If we are honest with ourselves, many people in our families side with the anti-gay legislation. Perhaps they wouldn’t go as far as rounding LGBTQ individuals up, but supporting discrimination is far enough. Ask them, and they will tell you that being gay is “un-African”. I keep hearing about “un-African” things, but anytime a religious zealot posits something as “African”, it is always something that is punitive, curtails liberty, and promotes violence.
To them, “African” does not encompass love, acceptance, or understanding. They make it seem like rounding innocent people and stripping them of their autonomy by tossing them in jail is intrinsically African. Their Africa is always hostile. People are being jailed, beaten and murdered across the continent for their sexual orientation. What’s “African” about that?
Some of the loudest voices condemning the anti-gay laws in Nigeria are from Nigerians in the diaspora. They aren’t in Nigeria. I’m not in Nigeria. I always put that in perspective when discussing things happening in Nigeria. It’s easy to be brave when you have no fear of a mob dragging you out of your house and beating you to death.
Being a busybody in Nigeria is a national pastime. You’re simply not going to wear ‘gay rights advocate’ on your sleeve without expecting the baggage that comes with it. The reason why some Nigerians aren’t vocal in criticizing this measure isn’t because they don’t find it abhorrent, it’s because they are afraid. Repercussions there are severe, and you’ll be found guilty by association. If you aren’t facing bodily harm for voicing your opinions, then you should be empathetic towards people who are.
Of course, this isn’t to say that Nigerians in Nigeria aren’t speaking out against this shameful legislation. Many brave souls are fighting with all their might. I’ve seen a lot of Nigerians in the diaspora condemning Nigeria and all Nigerians with flippant commentary, as if the people valiantly fighting and speaking out in Nigeria aren’t Nigerians as well.
Our criticisms shouldn’t erase the people who are battling under much harsher circumstances. The people on the ground in Nigeria are in an uphill battle against this law. Don’t compound it further by disregarding their very different situation, as opposed to ours in the US or somewhere in Europe. Amplify their voices. Listen to what they have to say. Offer solidarity. Speak up for them, but not over them.
I have to say, passing this law now feels like a cynical and heartless way to distract people’s attention from the government’s failures, which are many, and an easy way to garner support from the devoutly religious, which is the majority. It’s really scary to see many Nigerians applaud this measure. To borrow a quote, “Just because a solution is popular doesn’t make it morally correct.”
As Nigeria continues its downward spiral into a regressive hellhole, what disturbs me is that many are completely fine with that. We are at war with cultural demagogues and religious fanatics. Passivity won’t suffice. The demagogues and fanatics have taken control of Nigeria, and I fear that with them at the helm, they will sink us all.
We need to stand up and fight back. I implore all fair-minded Nigerians to use their voice. Speak up and stand up. Use your pens and tongues as swords, especially those of us in the diaspora. To be silent is to be complicit. To be silent is to side with injustice. Your voice is all you have at this point.