The overwhelming support that the new anti-gay law is garnering in Nigeria confirms my suspicion that the distrust of reason might be Nigeria’s greatest challenge. In thinking societies, there would be room for debates and counter debates. Religious rhetoric would be matched with common sense. Traditionalists would be asked to show what aspects of culture abhor homosexuality. Where ignorance is not misology, curiosity would manifest itself in simple, honest questions. If homosexuality were unAfrican, as Nigerians claim, how and when did it cross the Atlantic? Were there homosexuals in pre-colonial Nigeria? Where there gods represented by priestesses, and goddesses represented by priests? What do we know about our culture that might lead to a historical study of homosexuality? If there are hundreds of distinct ethnic groups in Nigeria, some of which we know little about, how did we come to the conclusion that homosexuality is unAfrican? There is little evidence that Nigerians are asking these commonsensical questions; rather, the Internet is colored with different shades of ignorance on the subject. Most prominent are the pseudo-liberals who, as ignorant as the rest, wonder why government would criminalize homosexuality when corrupt politicians are walking free. In their view, there are more consequential issues to be handled. Here is what they are implying: when we are done fighting corruption and similar evils, we can then turn our energies on smaller social problems like homosexuality. Theirs is a complete misunderstanding: that homosexuality is somewhere on the problem spectrum. Here’s to the pseudo-liberal: Homosexuality is not a social problem, neither is it a thing that is external and subject to urgent or delayed government interference. It is the equivalent of heterosexuality – an inborn reality that has nothing to do with place or culture, that does not beg to be mutilated and boxed by everyone who is either ignorant or threatened by its existence. It is not a transient, delinquent state that comes and fades into another phase.
There are two types of pseudo-liberals here. First, there are those who, having travelled a bit and followed trends around the world, have carefully tamed their repulsion at the presumed workings of homosexuality. However, they still do not know what it is, and some do not care. So they adopt a keep-it-to-yourself attitude, and would often remark: what consenting adults do in their closet is not my problem. Here’s the problem, though: if that consenting adult were their son, or a relative, deep-seated fears and assumptions would surface. Second, there is the public intellectual whose hands are tied by the demands of culture and society. Either by scholarly work or by travel, the public intellectual has a fair idea of what it is, but is silent. She does not want to stick her head out, as this would pitch her against state, society, and religion, or betray the fact that her ideas on the subject are either in fragments or lacking context. Consequently, the public intellectual, who dared regimes and endured the pains of exile, is silent. Surprisingly, writers and academics in the diaspora, whose freedoms are not threatened by the claws of the recent law, are also silent, occasionally tossing careless posts that do little to catalyze meaningful protest. This collective silence betrays a couple of things. First, it highlights an erroneous but strongly held assumption that there is something sinister about homosexuality, that it might be evil after all! Second, it tells us that the issue at hand does not strike a chord, hence trivialized by all. Third, Nigerians are yet to see how this law contradicts other laws, including their fundamental rights. Indeed, the struggle is not only against an oppressive law by a clueless government, but also against a nationwide attitude that is rooted in mass ignorance. I carefully omitted the role of religion in this debate, for religion, as vigorously practiced in Nigeria, is another term for misology. // Timothy Ogene