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Nigeria’s double standards of sexual conduct



Recently, a sitting senator and former governor of Yobe State, Senator Buka Ibrahim, was allegedly caught on camera, having sex with two women in a motel. It brought into sharp focus, one of our biggest hypocrisies in Nigeria – policing sexual activity. If I were to speak idealistically about privacy – I would say that everybody has the right to do what they like in their own space, if the sexual activity happening in that space is consensual; whether it is with six or seven people at a time, or even different genders, it should be their business and nobody else’s, government or public. It should not be the business of the public to know the sexual activities or proclivities of any individual if such is consensual. But that’s speaking idealistically. One must look at the reality of a country like Nigeria, in realistic terms. It would seem we have a double standard about whose sexual activity we police and whose sexual activity we decide is none of our business.

The public reaction to Senator Buka Ibrahim’s video and pictures has been interesting to observe from the perspective of those of us who address issues related to the freedom and human rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Nigeria. Many of the tweets online and indeed the alleged Senator’s response to his public outing, so to speak, is that he owes nobody an apology. Many, including the senator argued that this video was an invasion of his privacy. Yet, if this was the case of two men or two women engaged in sex with each other, entrapped in a hotel or on camera, the consequences for them would be humiliation, ridicule or even physical violence or worse.

Now, the ready answer most Nigerians will turn to is that homosexuality is not in our culture, and it is against our religion, and therefore such people deserve everything they get; yet, every action of the honourable Senator was against most Nigerians’ professed religious and cultural beliefs – as a married man, with three wives no less, the Senator was committing adultery. More pertinently, some of his actions are potentially illegal under the very Sharia law for which he has been a champion. Even more pressingly, adultery – certainly heterosexual adultery is commonplace and against most of the professed beliefs of religions in Nigeria, yet there is no clamour to pass an anti-adultery law, even though we think it wrong based on our own moral values. Yet, lesbian, gay and bisexual Nigerians are legislated against, and outlawed for the same activity that straight Nigerians engage in. There is a clear double standard amongst the supposed morally right majority.

If two gay men or women were caught in that hotel, then it would not have been about privacy but morality, and for this reason, we need to start questioning our thoughts and thinking about morality, not just for sexual activity, but on all issues where morals have been used as a yardstick for legislation. The entire saga shows that we need to end the policing of sexual activity in this country, where it involves two consenting adults; our choice not to do so makes liars and hypocrites of us all.

It is quite clear everybody likes sex, different types of sex, but sex nonetheless – we should drop the dangerous hypocrisy that endangers lives and health, and embrace the need for respectful, sexual freedom, with consent at the heart of what is permitted.

Now, in the case of Senator Ibrahim, he is entitled to his privacy, however, there is also a clear double standard here: you cannot come from a state where you used to be a former governor – where you were a promoter of sharia law – where you are now a senator – three-time Senator, that same Senate criminalizes lesbian, gay and bisexual Nigerians based on a morality code you cannot uphold. The truth is Senator Ibrahim is human, the same way, lesbian, gay, bisexuals and Trans person are human beings; humans who are neither perfect, but deserve and have a right to privacy and a sexual life that is protected by law. Nigerians seem quite willing to accord that right to heterosexual men, but we need to extend that respect to women, lesbian, gay, bisexual and Transgender Nigerians as well. This episode with Senator Ibrahim, and others like it, should show us that we don’t need laws criminalizing sexuality or sexual activity, be that 14 years for adultery, or 10 years for same sex encounters – what we need is to respect the right to privacy, sexual expression and freedom.

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