The Nazification of Nigeria – Or reflections on the meaning of bad and repressive laws

 On 7th January, the president of Nigeria’s fourth republic signed into law, a bill banning marriages between two people of the same sex; a law, in effect, banning a practice that did not in any legal sense already exist. More chilling, the law also banned the existence of any association of people presumed, or in fact, homosexual, or any organization that specifically supports Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual people at any level of society. I think with this law, we can now talk about the growing ‘nazification’ of Nigerian life. Unlike NAZI Germany, there is no explicitly articulated ideological agenda but there are striking parallels between Nigeria and Germany in the 1930s, as it moved into the dark night of the Nazi dictatorship. In both situations, there exists a political and social elite, and petit bourgeoisie that feels aggrieved by both imagined and actual humiliations by the Nation-States of the west. In Germany, it was the extremely humiliating experience of demilitarization and imposition of a war debt.

In Nigeria, the humiliations of colonialism, and the more recent impositions of structural adjustment programmes are not far from the surface in the national psyche. There is also the pressure cooker of class interests and rising equality in Nigeria today, and a visceral disagreement between progressive forces, and conservative ones eager to maintain the status quo. As in Germany, where Jews provided an easily scapegoated minority that could unify workers, the religiously conservative and the plain fearful, in Nigeria today, somebody, somewhere has identified lesbians and gays as the easy scapegoat for all the nation’s ills, being the bearers of AID, AIDs and of course, alien ‘western’ values. Of course, this parallel can be stretched too far, and I don’t want to do that. But there is a disturbing developing trend in Nigeria, and it doesn’t augur well for the country; the ideological climate of Nigeria today, what some might call the ‘Hegemonic Order’ is dominated by increasingly evangelical and fundamentalist groups and ‘groupthink’; a phenomenon that is shaping the Nigerian state in it’s image of a religious fundamentalist and theocratic state; a state that unable to provide the most basic of public goods resorts to a radical assertion of identity rooted in conservative interpretations of religious tenets, in this case, a Judeo-Christian one.

The claims of homosexuality being unbiblical (or against the Qur’an) are not very far removed from the accusation that fuelled anti-Semitism in Europe, the belief that the Jews murdered Christ; an accusation justified by scripture. While the Nigerian state and society will struggle to find a ‘final solution’ to what it considers its gay problem, not least, because science and reason point to sexuality being rooted both in genetics, and nurture, it will continue to scapegoat particular groups to maintain itself. And many people, desperate to feel they have some influence and attention from their governments, will find themselves confirmed in their prejudices.

Overwhelmingly, it is the poor, whether gay or not, who will bear the brunt of this hysteria and social madness in the Nigerian social order.

Nigeria’s same-sex marriage bill, particularly in its legislation against association is one manifestation of this developing order – and of greatest magnitude; however, the increasing constraining of public space as regards female morality as well indicates another disturbing trend, enforced by an appeal to religious doctrine and notions of fidelity to African tradition. It’s been long established that the irreligious, the atheists, and less fervent of believers in Nigeria usually have to maintain a diplomatic silence in the face of the barrage of religiosity espoused from the president downwards, yet it has never been acknowledged that this very religious bullying is part of a growing enclosure of the ‘national mental space’ – Nigeria’s groupthink is distinctly, rabidly religious, and crucially intolerant, even amongst its various conservatisms. However, they find a ready source of coalition in the existence of lesbians, gays and those who believe in the liberty of the individual.

Now, these religious and cultural positions are often articulated as the expression of the popular will, but they are more accurately the actions and ideology of the dominant group in Nigeria society; in particular, beleaguered politicians seeking public recognition by enacting ostensibly populist legislation, and evangelical leaders, be it Muslim or Christian encouraging particular views amongst their congregation in order to strengthen their economic hold on their congregation; the religious leadership of Nigerian society, particularly in it’s evangelical and fundamentalist guise is by and large, is part and parcel of the current political establishment. It blesses profligacy, theft, and inhumanity.

On top of that, given that Nigeria’s education system is so dire that the best educational institutions are in the hands of evangelical groups, and these institutions, as much as the dysfunctional state institutions of learning probably do not teach, or allow the space for any scientific teaching of ideas about sexuality, genetics and heritability. In the absence of knowledge, individuals rely upon myth, and sadly, misinformation. In this, there are obvious parallels with Germany in the 1940s; before the Jews could be killed, they were first and foremost dehumanized, just as happened closer to home in Rwanda in 1994.

A poll, conducted by NOI, a polling organisation based in Nigeria apparentlyshows that Nigerians overwhelmingly support the passage of the same-sex marriage law – but it may be asking the wrong question. If the poll asked whether individuals were happy for the state to have the right to arrest people for any consensual sex in their homes, it is likely the answer would be no; if you asked any average citizen if Nigerians should be free to advocate for what kind of society or country they want, the answer would probably be yes. If it isn’t, and a specific group is expected to be exempt of these rights, we would know that we are dealing with a sick society, similar in its canker to the United States before the great civil rights movement, or South Africa before the end of Apartheid, or indeed the United Kingdom before women won the vote and the argument of their equality.

The chilling fact is that all groups that perpetrate oppression and its ultimate results, physical and social murder – believe themselves to be righteous. We can look to Germany, Rwanda, France, and the United States for knowledge of where that led in the past. Homosexuals are of course perceived as less of a cultural group; in the minds of many Nigerians, they are probably closer to the disabled than a minority ethnic group. Yet even in that respect, following the logic of such people, the idea of imprisoning or punishing people for a disability should seem abhorrent to all people in Nigeria. Even if you were to presume gay people could be ‘cured’ – the idea of imposing a ‘cure’ on someone who refused for an illness that harmed no one should also seem abhorrent. It was an idea attractive to the worst scientists of the 20th century, and the Nazi state; a country like Nigeria, with its pretensions to leadership should step back before it reaches that edge of the precipice, and that can only be achieved by a vocal, coordinated liberal opposition to and a legal rescinding of this law, and others like it on the statute book, for those who forget the past are – always – doomed to repeat it.

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