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'Why Nigeria's anti-gay bill sickens me'

By Chude Jideonwo, Special to CNN
December 2, 2011 -- Updated 1707 GMT (0107 HKT)
Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries and can result in punishments of monetary fines or jail time.
Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries and can result in punishments of monetary fines or jail time.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nigeria joins other African nations outlawing homosexuality as bill passed in senate
  • Homosexual marriage in Nigeria is now a crime punishable by a 14-year jail term
  • Jideonwo says many Nigerians are convinced that homosexuality is "of the devil"

Editor's note: Chude Jideonwo has worked as a journalist on TV, radio and print for 11 years. He was an Editor and Member of the Editorial Board at NEXT Newspapers. He's also Managing Director of Red Media group.
He writes about a recently-passed bill in the Nigerian senate outlawing same sex marriage.

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) -- It is important to first understand that no gay Nigerian, as far as anyone knows, is seeking marriage -- in Nigeria.

You can comb the breadth of our decidedly homophobic media ("Homosexuals are in trouble!" crowed The Sun Newspapers, no doubt mirroring the excitement of its upright editorial board), and there is neither anecdotal nor empirical evidence of a clamor, even a quiet one, for gays to be married in churches, mosques or courts.

Chude Jideonwo
Chude Jideonwo

Still, our legislators were hard at work over a considerable number of weeks while the rest of sane Nigeria, in a state of suspended disbelief, ignored them; convinced that, in a country with pressing issues such as fuel subsidy removal and debilitating insecurity, this frivolous legislation would not see light of day.

Until yesterday when, of course, it did.

Our elected representatives in the Senate, armed with their version of our National Moral Code, took time off urgent national issues to tackle the even more urgent evil of gay marriages. Before we could catch our breaths, our over-paid and under-worked Senators had legalized homophobia.

According to the law, not only is gay marriage a crime punishable by a 14-year jail term, but "any person who registers operates or participates in gay... organizations" faces a decade in jail -- a clause that specifically targets the many active sexuality rights advocacy groups in the country.

By the time the House of Representatives adds its predictable voice to this and the President signs it into law, writing this kind of piece might even risk jail time.

Many Nigerians are convinced that homosexuality is 'of the devil', against our 'culture' and an encroachment of 'sad Western values'.
Chude Jideonwo

It is important to note though that I and other aware young people who might sometimes be misidentified as the elite, may spend precious hours in vocal incredulity on Twitter and Facebook; shouting down a law that we can hardly do anything about - but we are sadly in the minority, at least for now.

You see, in Nigeria, homophobia is alive and well.

Nigerian senate passes anti-gay bill, defying British aid threat

Barely 10 days ago, the influential Nigerian blogger Linda Ikeji, shared what was supposed to be a touching story about a young man, Rashidi Williams, who had faced physical abuse for his sexuality. The comments that followed made my heart sink -- more threats of violence and death. And it wasn't a fringe minority; this is a thriving majority.

Many Nigerians are convinced that homosexuality is "of the devil", against our "culture" and an encroachment of "sad Western values.".A young man recently tweeted that "homosexuality is the cause of the present rot in America."

What rot? America's thriving Silicon Valley? A democracy it should be proud of? Or the millions of dollars in aid that its government and people have invested in treating everything from malaria to HIV in our dear country? That's forgetting that the real giant of Africa, South Africa, is the continent's bastion of sexuality rights.

"Our values are our values," the pompous senate president David Mark replies to critics of the bill.

Nonsense he can get away with, only because a large segment of our educated population is unaware that animals have been found to be gay.

Dead cliches like "God did not make Adam and Steve" continue to get excited choruses from sedated congregations and people still declare with ignorance that "homosexuality is not a part of our culture", conveniently skimming over historical evidence of the practice in the East and North of the country; and blissfully unaware that the origins of homophobia in our societies can only be traced to the influx of foreign religions.

Uganda's parliament takes no action on anti-gay bill

Indeed, you have to weep for a people that decry "foreign imperialism" on one hand, and then ignorantly hide under the cover of colonial influences to perpetuate intolerance.

It's the same country whose ex-president recently paid a 'courtesy visit' to appease confessed terrorists; the same country where four men who savagely raped a girl and recorded it on video were defended by a police chief as "dealing with snobbish girls." Indeed, what else can one expect from a Senate that houses a member who defiled and took for a wife, a girl barely in her teens only last year?

But gays -- who only pray for the right to be left alone since they do the rest of us no harm - are the mortal threat to our "moral fabric". They severely threaten the moral fabric of a nation which finds its place in the bottom of corruption rankings years in a row thanks to politicians like Mark who have sodomized the populace for decades now.

Today, I am ashamed to be Nigerian.

But it's not because a gang of morally questionable legislators has forced through a piece of legislation that is both irrelevant and irresponsible.

It's rather because, in a country burdened by a lethal mix of misplaced priorities, confused sense of culture and an ignorant electorate, this intolerance is in fact a popular decision.

We have allowed the politicians to fool us once again.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chude Jideonwo.

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