Nigeria: What’s Law Got To Do With It?

Published on 25th March 2014

On 7 January 2014, Nigeria, a country with a chequered past and an uncertain future passed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act into law. The Act provides penalties of up to 14 years in jail for a gay marriage and up to 10 years' imprisonment for membership or encouragement of gay clubs, societies and organisations.

That the bill expressly trammelled through the Nigerian parliament—notoriously known for stalling bills—is most unsurprising. Nigeria, a highly fragmented country of about 170 millions, is beset with intractable problems--tribalism and ethnic divisions; dismal life expectancy; poverty; paucity of infrastructure and to this litany of woes, Bokom Haram, an Islamist terrorist group. Regardless of these challenges, its people were united behind the Prohibition Act.

What’s law got to do with it?

It can be argued that the dismal state of ‘public health Nigeria’ and the paucity of healthcare facilities and healthcare professionals gave the impetus to the Act. After all, the Nigerian Medical Association and other health related agencies gave their unequivocal support to the bill. Further, most Nigerians link homosexuality with the transmission of HIV. This is widely held although Nigeria has the second highest prevalence of the disease in the world.

The foregoing cannot explain the velocity with which the bill landed on the presidential desk. In Nigeria, nothing is as it seems. The leadership consists of a small cabal—that replaced the British at its independence and their progenies; with a few very desperate wannabes who are prepared to mortgage and compromise what little value they have in the ascent up the greasy pole. The largesse that paves the path that leads to being a claque prior to becoming a bona fide cabal is mind-boggling and is devoid of accountability. As a result, there is no shortage of wannabes—an absurd case of many may aspire but an extreme few are chosen. The foregoing makes transfer of power an alien process; and the cabal would resort to any means to scuttle the process.

Boko Haram has become more restive under the leadership of Mr. Jonathan, a Southern Christian. Their threats have been bolstered by pronouncements made from unusual quarters--some Northern elites who are displeased by the current rotational arrangement of the office of the president--in support of the Islamists. These appear to undermine Mr. Jonathan and threaten the fragile stability of Nigeria. This current state of affairs gave the impetus for a clarion call for unity--the Prohibition Act. Being fully paid up members of the self preservation society, Mr. Jonathan and the legislators understandably pounced on this rare opportunity to forestall further unravelling of the ethnic and religious faultlines of Nigeria. The vociferous voice from the West against the bill was march-on tune to their ears and reduced the transit-time through parliament.

That leadership and good governance have eluded Nigeria since independence is unsurprising to its people and to the rest of the world. What is surprising to the rest of the world is how the cabal has managed to cling to power in spite of its abysmal performance on all metrics of good governance and political leadership. One should look no further, the answer is found in religion--a curate’s egg.

Religion has remained in the ascendancy in Nigeria while all other areas of growth and development are in a tailspin. Over the years, it has acquired an extra layer of complexity and morphed into “The Religious Industrial Complex.” This complex is a constant in the life of the nation. It is blind to ethnic divisions, age and gender, socioeconomic and educational status. Its leading practitioners cleverly package hope for the hopeless, aspiration for the hopeful, and something in between for everyone.

The ruling class in Nigeria is acutely aware that the elixir of hope is what an average Nigerian cannot be weaned off; and that this comes from the authentic stables of the Complex. Over time, a synergy has developed between the cabal and the administrators of the Complex. As a result leading figures in the complex are allowed a conspicuous space within the country’s polity in recognition of the service they render--packaging of hope--that sustains the nation. 

Given the level of corruption and impunity within the cabal, most have acquired and accumulated obscene wealth and concubines. And recently rent boys. For a country that burnishes its heterosexual and religious credentials for all to see, and firmly forms the view that homosexuality is the evil from the West; it is a paradox that some of its elites, use the services of rent boys.

The Corinthian lifestyle of the cabal and its hedonistic tendencies--given that money is no object--have resulted in their capacity and capability to indulge in all forms of pleasures known to the fallen man. Given that habituation occurs with indulgence--consistent with diminution of utility in successive consumption of goods and services--some of the elites are forever seeking novel indulgences and some have acquired “exotic” taste in the process. Some of the exotic tastes range from interest in buying houses in exotic islands to interests in under-aged children and rent boys.

When the issue of age of consent to marriage was debated by its House of Representative, most of the elected legislators vehemently opposed the bill. One of the most vociferous voices among the elected members was a northern politician who had recently married an innocent child, aged 12. He cleverly hid his paedophilic act behind the aegis of religion; and said that as a practising Muslim, his religion did not forbid him from acquiring a new wife, regardless of the age. Suffice it to say, the bill was thrown out without any meaningful hearing.

By the same token, some of the elites who have been using the services of rent boys during the current republic are loath to have their identities officially exposed (remember, this is Nigeria, the elite can deny anything, sometimes even when this is official). This republic being the longest period of democratic process in the country has seen the development and maturity of some of the rent boys. A few of them have acquired some wealth and feel empowered to take on the weaker members of the cabal. The prospect of being ousted officially by these “boys” did not sit well with them. When the opportunity presented, they grasped it with both hands. The Act provided them with the imprimatur and shield against being unmasked for their hypocrisy. The undiscerning masses were conned by their religious handlers in cahoot with these politicians--the Act was to preserve the moral and sanctity of marriage--and to prevent the alien invaders, the West.

It can be argued that the West’s limited recognition of the precarious nature of Nigeria, its peculiarities, the level of ethical and moral declension of its ruling class and the pathological relationships between this class and religious institutions may have unleashed the law of unintended consequences that railroaded the bill through its legislature. Creating a relevant space and taking time to understand the internal dynamics between the two groups without appearing to be dictating to them would have been beneficial in at least influencing a more circumscribed law than it is at present. Such solution may not be palatable to the electorate in the West, but the reality remains, the Western society can ill afford to ram their value system down the throat of Nigeria. This would either result in a choke or projectile vomiting. Either would be unpalatable, undesirable and lead to unintended behaviour.

By Dr. Anayo Unachukwu.

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