All areas of controversy in Nigeria are tied to our expressions of nationhood, republicanism and democratic norms and it would be impossible to tackle issues themselves without branching into those areas as well. These problems begin because we do not really, either informally or formally have a concept of Nigerian republicanism. When our Prime Minister, a founding father, refers to amalgamation as the “mistake of 1914”, you know you’re off on the wrong foot.
To any observer of this Nigerian republic, it is immediately obvious that we have no founding principles. There is nothing that our union stands on and nothing we hold ourselves to, and with our democratic process repeatedly interrupted by military regimes, we have had no real chance to craft one.
A nation’s first principles are important because it is from those first principles that everything else is derived and all things measured against them. Some of the most important first principles are those of liberty, equality and justice. Through these principles we [attempt to] ensure that all laws are tasked with the protection, dignity and prosperity of every citizen. That the Republic exists to ensure that all citizens are free to pursue happiness.
Guided by these things, we would not have laws like the Land Use Charge or laws that make it acceptable for older man to rape young girls and call it marriage. We would not have laws that make it legal for a man to beat his wife or that make it virtually impossible for a Nigerian woman to transfer citizenship to her foreign husband even though for a Nigerian man, it would be a breeze. We would not have laws that allow prisoners to be kept in prisons waiting for their cases to be heard, some have been there for years. Our legal system is littered with unjust laws and while it is unlikely that ALL laws will be just, the vast majority should be.
No Nigerian is a stranger to injustice. Scour the recesses of Nigerian twitter and you will find stories of impudence. Whether it is the extortion or ill-treatment by the police officer/SARS or the university lecturer that insists that top marks (an A) in his/her class is impossible, the infamous “A is for God” rings in the ears of the students. We read the newspapers and hear stories of how Nigerian secret police raided the homes of judges without warrants. A few months ago, there was an attempt to forcefully prevent the members of the opposition party to enter the Senate chambers, again by this Secret police. We contrast the strongman treatment of the largely non-violent IPOB group of the South and the mild treatment of the largely violent armed herdsmen of the North and Middle Belt. Yes, we are well acquainted with injustice.
And yet, with this law that criminalizes homosexuality, Nigerians seem to have embraced this injustice that we claim to despise so much and we do not recognize the danger of this seemingly sweet embrace. Homosexuality is same sex attraction. And Nigeria has effectively criminalized this attraction. To many of this inclination, being gay is as tied to their person as their tribe. They cannot be any less gay as they could be any less Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Tiv, Ibibio, Kanuri, etc. in essence, it is, for all intents and purposes, who they are.
We have violated the existence of a minority of Nigerians and effectively relegated them to a section of existence that is subhuman. In signing this law, Nigerian lawmakers found an easy target, one that both major religions can consider an enemy. In supporting this law, Nigerians have exposed ourselves, what Tocqueville calls the “the tyranny of the majority”, we support the criminalization of a minority that we clearly do not understand but are willing to demonize showing a problem that has consistently threatened to rear its head in Nigerian history.
Some of us point out that we have bigger problems. A failing economy, a SARS epidemic, a disappointment of an administration, endemic poverty, tribalism, Boko Haram and so on. While this is all valid, we cannot so easily dismiss an issue that threatens the fundamental nature of our Republic.
The national consensus towards concepts like the “Rights of the citizen” is one of apathy. And that is a faulty foundation on which we attempt to build this heterogenous Democratic experiment. The principles of protection, dignity and prosperity should apply to all Nigerian citizens: gay, straight, Muslim, Christian, traditional worshiper, man, woman, child, rich, middle class, poor. The Republic should work for ALL.
When we protect the rights of those that are homosexual, we protect our own rights. We affirm that all people within the Republic are worthy of protection. When we cry out against the injustice of raiding the homes of judges at night, we affirm that all people are worthy of protection. When we admonish those that seek to rape 12/13 year old girls in the name of marriage, we affirm these truths. When we erupt in rage because police officers are harassing Dino Melaye, it is not because we like Monsieur Dino or we think he is the embodiment of perfection, it is because we are aware of the dangers of the violations of the principles and we cannot be partial in our application of Republican principles.
That law is draconian but far more than that, it is a violation of the rights of some citizens and by extension a violation of the rights of all and in our Republic, rights are not negotiable.