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Nigeria moves forward, the rights of queer folks retrogresses

Nigeria celebrates its sixty (60) years of “Independence” from colonial rule. However, unlike the past years when Brands and many well-meaning Nigerians would put up lengthy posts and write epistles about “Our Dear Great Country”, this year, everyone seems strangely silent. Perhaps because they all feel there is nothing to celebrate?

By Kingsley Adrian Banks

For queer folks across Africa’s largest country, the latter may be the case. The reason is simple: for every “National stride” made, the laws and the people seem to regress, on issues bordering on the Queer Body. Gay men and women, gender non-conforming men and women, still look over their shoulders now more than ever. Perhaps it is because of the Draconian “Anti-Gay” law that was signed by President Goodluck Ebere Jonathan into law during his tenure as president. Perhaps it is because this said law has led to so much pain for queer folks across Nigeria. Perhaps it is because many gay men have lost their lives in the course of violent homophobic attacks launched against them because of their nature. Perhaps. . .or not. But the point remains that the Queer Body in Nigeria is severely under attack.

Was this the position in the past? I honestly think not. Old video footage of an Imo State based cross-dresser and performer, Area Scatter, surfaced on Facebook on the page of one China (full name redacted). It was footage from the 1970s Imo State, in a clime still recovering from a bloody civil war that claimed countless thousands of life and property worth millions of naira. Area Scatter, a performing singer, was garbed entirely in female attire and makeup and went to a Traditional Ruler’s palace to perform for the assemblage at the palace. As he sang and worked on his portable native piano, the welcome his audience exuded was obvious, the acceptance palpable. Sadly, questions asked revealed that the said Area Scatter was rumored to have died in a ghastly car crash around 1987 and there seemed to be very limited archival footage of the performer still in existence online today.

A few decades later, and a feminine male cannot walk across the street without his heart clutched in his hand. A gay man cannot embrace his lover in public for fear of violent attacks. A gay man cannot think of going out on a date with a new contact without first conducting due diligence worthy of the C.I.A. because of the sheer and monumental terror of being “kitoed” by men waiting to prey on him. A gay man cannot walk past officers of SARS without mentally ruminating on whether the latest chat he’d had was deleted; or whether those pictures of men he had downloaded from the Internet were safely hidden in a folder in his Gallery, accessible only by a special password known to him alone. In many cases, effeminate men come on Facebook to write about terrible experiences they’d had at the hands of SARS, with large sums of money leaving their accounts, simply because they “look and act gay”. And of course, the law is empowered against gay people. There are blogs dedicated to fishing out men who prey on queer folks, beating them and robbing them of valuables and in some cases, their lives. 

It is this empowerment of the law against the Queer Body that ensured that Bobrisky’s birthday was severely disrupted. The same thing goes for the over forty (40) young men arrested and proudly displayed on National TV by law enforcement agents; it was this occurrence that drew the national spotlight to James Brown, saying “they didn’t caught me”. It was a favorite pastime for Nigerians then, to make a mockery of the fact that one of the “gays” had been caught and all he could say was “they didn’t caught me”.

So we have to ask this pertinent question: when did we become so intolerant, so unaccepting of diversity? When did we start realizing that we might be moving forward in certain facets of life in our collective nationhood but deeply regressing in others? When did we realize that for every step forward we make, we seem to take one hundred steps backward?

As Nigerians, the Common Man is bedeviled by a system designed and rigged to make them fail; a system that ensures that even foreign entities setting up shop to tap into the country’s humongous population flee after throwing thousands of dollars in investments into businesses already doomed to fail from the start. The Common Man who is gay, or regarded as “Queer”, or the feminine man who does not fit into the Nigerian Society’s construct, has an even bigger hurdle to scale through. The system is rigged to kill him if possible, and this, after sixty years of Independence. And in many cases these cases have cropped up in the Media, the narratives usually lopsided and presenting the Queer Body as predatory, nasty, and deserving of cruelty.

So, we keep asking: is there truly Independence in the Nigerian context when a group of people is segregated, robbed of their fundamental human rights to associate, and in many cases, their lives? Is there true Independence when even Religion has carefully aligned with the law against the Queer Body?

These are pertinent questions we should all ask, pertinent questions that need thoughtful answers, answers that are not laced with the poison of hate and bigotry.

Long live the Motherland.

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