Sexuality should not restrict the freedom to meet and speak
Recently, two incidents brought home the reality of daring to express a sense of sexuality that is different from what the mainstream Nigeria knows or socially believes to be the only sexuality. In the first incident, the winner of the Brunel African Prize, Romeo Oriogun , was subject to online insults and physical attacks following his winning of the prize. The online attack was disappointing as they were not based on the quality of his writing but based on him writing on a sexuality that challenges heteronormative in a society like Nigeria.
While we were still debating the ideology behind such attack, another writer and author of an essay on the literary blog, Brittle Paper, ‘We’re Here and We’re Queer, We’re Here,’ was kidnapped allegedly on the grounds of his writing on queer person in Nigeria. The fact that we are limiting expression either through sexuality or writing around such is extremely worrying as this is looking like a new form of policing and a subtle way of shutting people up from talking about their realities or the realities of things they see around them. It was further disturbing to read the comments following the news of the kidnapping. Considering the menace that kidnapping has become within Nigeria, it was a shame to see the absence of empathy for his predicament. In both instances, through mediation, both persons are now free and unharmed. But we must ask what kind of society menaces its writers for what they write about?
Before these two incidents, 53 young men were arrested for holding an alleged ‘gay wedding’ – thanks to the media and police for pushing false narrative of things that never happened. From investigation done at TIERs, the party was a birthday celebration and not a gay wedding as alleged by police and media – online and print media need to do better at investigating stories before publishing.
On the face of it all, three major incidents which were different but they share one common theme – that a group of people feel they have license to attack others because of their sexuality or expression of such through writing, and use these attacks as an opportunity for blackmail and extortion. Admittedly, one of these incidents involved state actors, and the others were by individuals – but all cases seem to be driven by those acting on the belief that homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria, misunderstanding the legal situation and the fact that it is possible to criminalize acts but not identity.
Still, ignorance cannot be an excuse for violence and harassment. The right to assemble, and the right to express yourself are both guaranteed in Nigeria’s constitution – regardless of the subject. It should be a right that we feel free to enjoy regardless of our reasons for doing so. It’s not just important to sexual minorities and those writing about issues of sexuality but to all of us, that we are able to hear and meet each other freely without any form of fear. Of course, many of us are privileged and able to protect ourselves, but for the new and emerging voices, we need more guarantees and security from government and law enforcement agencies that violence and harassment are unacceptable, regardless of the circumstances.
Government need to ensure that while we continue to debate on issues of sexuality and related rights, they must condemn any form of attack to individuals who are perceived to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender and those who speak on their behalf. The freedom to speak or express shouldn’t be limited through attacks, state policing or any other forms of harassment. Amongst ourselves as citizens, we need to recognize the need for respectful dialogue, and be ready to stand up to bullying whether that is out in the world or on online.