|By Chido Onumah|
I understand distinguished Senator David Mark, the President of the Senate of the Federal Republic, is a very pious man. I don’t know Mr. Mark personally, but those who know him say the retired general is one person who pursues his cause with the zeal of a soldier. It was this zeal that he brought to bear as minister of communications in the regime of the “Evil Genius”, General Ibrahim Babangida, by making sure that the “ordinary people” did not have access to telephone and upbraiding university students for protesting fuel price increase when many of them didn’t have cars.
When Mark wanted to run for president a few years ago, he granted an interview in which he declared: “If I have my way, I will say whoever does not have a military background should not be made president,” noting that “civilians don’t have the requisite training”. According to Mark, even journalists should undergo military training because, “It gives you the confidence that you need and makes you to be everything”. He went on: “I can tell you that a staff sergeant in the army is better than a university graduate in this country. That is the truth. If you give me a graduate and a staff sergeant, I will pick the sergeant because I can train the sergeant”. The point Mark was trying to make was that nobody should deny him the opportunity to rule Nigeria simply because he was once a soldier.
Mark has since made his mark (no pun intended) on our democratic landscape. He has been a senator since the return to democracy in 1999. He is in his second term as senate president, the first and only senator to achieve this feat in the 4th Republic. He was one of the senators who supported the bill that sought to give President Obasanjo a third term in office. He was one of the few officers alleged to have played a prominent role in the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election. And the way he is going, Mark may yet fulfill his ambition of being the president and commander-in-chief.
Mark’s latest pet project is his crusade against gays and lesbians, that extraterrestrial, subhuman group that has descended on our great country and seeks to pervert our collective morality. Some people have argued that if Mark and his colleagues could expend a quarter of the time and energy they are expending hounding gays and lesbians, on pressing national problems, the country might be a safer and more prosperous place for her citizens. But that is beside the point. We all know the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly is nothing more than a retirement home for public officers who have lost their immunity.
As a devout and morally upright Christian who aspires to be a Knight of the Catholic Church someday, I can understand Mark’s antipathy toward gays and lesbians. But to allow that to becloud his legislative judgment in a supposedly secular nation like ours, is to say the least, troubling. Unfortunately, that is exactly what he is doing by championing the anti-gay movement in the senate. During his latest outing at a civic reception in honour of John Cardinal Olorunfemi Onaiyekan in Abuja, Mark said “The need to nurture and preserve sanity, morality and humanity in our nation informed the decision of the Nigerian Senate to legislate against same-sex marriage and homosexuality”.
It is important to read Mark’s statement clearly. The issue is not just opposition to same-sex marriage, but to homosexuality as well. This clarification is important because, among other things, the criminalization of same-sex marriage which attracts 14 years imprisonment will equally be applicable to anybody that engages in homosexual acts if Mark’s fantasy becomes law.
“We will not compromise on this. I want to invite you all to join the crusade of decency in our society. There are many good values we can copy from other societies but certainly not this one (same-sex marriage),” Mark implored his audience. “We have to prove to the rest of the world, who are advocates of this unnatural way that we Nigerians promote and respect sanity, morality and humanity.”
It was perhaps in keeping with Mark’s injunction to prove to the rest of the world that Nigerians “promote and respect sanity, morality and humanity” that a few months ago, as reported by Steve Aborisade of Nigeriahivinfo.com (http://www.chidoonumah.com/2013/01/homophobia-in-nigeria-3-men-in-danger...), anti-gay crusaders apprehended three men in Ekwe, Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State, South-east, Nigeria. Their offence? Engaging in homosexual acts! The men were paraded naked, bound like farm animals. We can only imagine the fate of these men; citizens have been lynched or burnt to death for lesser crimes.
That is the face of the new Nigeria of moral warriors that Mark envisages. But really, what haven’t we compromised as a nation? We have compromised on corruption. We have compromised on probity and accountability. We have compromised on freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. Indeed, we have compromised on all the ethical standards that make a modern nation function. But those things don’t concern us. We only need to weed our society of these sexual deviants who are polluting us with their foreign way of life.
There are a few issues arising from the gay bashing that has become not only fashionable, but a comfortable distraction and a uniting topic between the ruling class and a section of the people they oppress. One is that homosexuality is foreign to our culture and that it was brought to us and is being promoted by Europeans and Americans. The other is that it is against religious doctrines. But homosexuality is not a white man’s “disease”. Homosexuals are found in every society in the world, including ours.
One of the most insightful articles I have read on this debate is that by Wole Soyinka. In the piece, The Sexual Minority and Legislative Zealotry (http://www.chidoonumah.com/2012/12/the-sexual-minority-and-legislative.h...), the Nobel Laureate takes our legislative zealots and religious bigots to task on their fear mongering and distaste for science. It is a piece worth reading for anyone interested in understanding the anti-gay hysteria in Nigeria.
On the issue of “foreign interference”, Soyinka had this to say: “The noisome emissions that surged from a handful of foreign governments last year should not be permitted to obscure the fundamental issue of the right to private choices of the free, adult citizen in any land – Asian, African, European, etc. Those external responses were of such a nature – hysterical, hypocritical and disproportionate – that, speaking for myself at least, I could only wonder if they had not been generated by a desperate need for distraction away from the economic crisis that confronted, at that very time, those parts of the world”.
Now that we have laid the incubus of “foreign interference” to rest, perhaps we can address the other issues that rile our anti-gay crusaders. Some of those who attack gays and lesbians say homosexuality is “abnormal” and “unnatural”. Others have gone a step further to query why the West that opposes polygamy supports homosexuality. This, of course, is a faulty analogy. We can have the debate about same-sex marriage, just like polygamy, but to criminalize homosexuality is the height of “legislative zealotry”.
The debate on polygamy and same-sex marriage would also fall within the realm of the debate on whether a 50-year old senator can marry a thirteen-year old. Of all the issues above, same-sex marriage, in my view, is the least upsetting. I have yet to see how same-sex marriage affects the rights of citizens or is a threat to society as do polygamy and paedophilia.
We all know where science stands on the issue of homosexuality. It does appear, therefore, that beyond the religious argument, there has not been any “persuasive” argument put forward by homophobes. But we can’t give in to the religious argument for obvious reasons. Nigeria is a secular state. The other reason is that it is a very slippery slope. If we hound homosexuals on the basis of religion, then we create room for other religious bigots who have made our country a living hell in their purported attempt to propitiate heaven.
Caution is the word, Mr. Mark. All the balderdash that homosexuality is not in our culture, is simply that: balderdash. The bottom line is that we are dealing with a relationship between two consenting adults. What crime has been committed? The crime of falling in love?
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community does not pose a national security threat. Rather, those we need to wage a war against are bigots, whether they be religious, ethnic or sexual.
If we allow Mark and his colleagues to legislate on what adults do in their bedrooms, they may one day begin to think of legislating on what a woman, for example, does to her body.