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Bishop Calistus Lamdong returned to his parsonage after the flight from Lagos, thoroughly satisfied with his performance on TV the previous day. He had spoken vehemently in support of the new law the president just signed. It was one of the few things that a bishop like him and an Imam like one of his fellow panelists on Sunrise Daily had agreed on. They had harangued the activist guy who had come to speak in opposition to the law and defeated him on all fronts. He had received congratulatory messages from his superiors and fervent church members already. Even the vox populi that the Channels TV team had conducted showed that the president had overwhelming support on this matter. Those Europeans and Americans could go to hell.
He was still thinking these nice thoughts when someone knocked heavily on the door. He was surprised that anyone would knock on his door like that. He jumped up and opened the door quickly. In front of him were three menacing looking men. “You are under arrest, Bishop Calistus under the new homosexual law. You are a hypocrite. So you are one of them and you went on TV yesterday to act like you support the president.”
“What the hell are you talking about? I am a bishop, a man of God! How can you think I am one of those abominations walking on the face of the earth?” the bishop shouted in his booming preacher’s voice.
The men were unimpressed. One simply handed him a glossy photograph extracted from a brown A3 envelope. He could not believe his eyes. The photograph showed him clearly in the act of making love to a young handsome man, his eyes closed in the throes of passion. If he hadn’t been the one in it, he would have sworn that it was real. But he knew it could not be real.
“No,” he shook his head, “No. There has to be a mistake somewhere,” he said, shaking.
“Drop the act mister. Your partner has already confessed and is ready to testify against you in the court.”
With that, they led him away.
No lawyer came to defend him in court, they were all afraid of the law.
His family and church dissociated themselves from him.
The police wanted to make an example of him.
He got the full 14 years.
Suddenly, after this, the number of gay people in Nigeria increased. The police found them everywhere, arresting them, detaining them, putting them in special cells dedicated to holding them separately from the rest of the normal people.
When the elections got closer, it seemed the gay bug bit the opposition politicians. Thousands of them were rounded up by stern-faced security operatives under the law and locked up. It was amazing how many politicians turned up gay.
It seemed as the law was enforced more, the gay epidemic in Nigeria grew. A special task force was created to enforce the law and thousands were rounded up by this very efficient task force. The prisons became over-extended by this and a special labor system was designed to hold this growing number of prisoners, to the benefit of the state.
Bishop Calistus witnessed this from inside his prison as one of the oldest prisoners held by the labor system. He never found out the origins of that damning image. Sometimes he wondered if he should not have spoken differently that day on Channels.
If you think the scenario painted above is a huge stretch of imagination, you are wrong, very wrong. It is based on historical examples where sweeping laws, open to interpretation by the enforcers of such laws have been passed by governments. It is based on how the Nazis progressed from passing the Nuremberg Laws to the Holocaust and how the Soviets moved from Article 58 to the Gulag System.
I do not agree with being gay. I have been approached by men for romantic dalliances thrice in my life and I refused each offer in disgust and with a stern warning. However, I did not think any of the men criminals. I can disagree strongly with the choices that people make about their sexuality, but I will definitely not call them criminals for it, except their choices physically violates a non-consenting adult or a minor. And therein is the crux of the matter.
Laws do not respect anyone, hence the reason care must be taken before making something into a law. The fact that it is popular opinion doesn’t make a law correct. Today, in many places in Nigeria, it is popular opinion to burn thieves alive. It is popular opinion to stone people accused of witchcraft to death. These opinions being popular do not make legislating them correct. I recall Obasanjo signing into law the retrospective piece of legislation that was used to execute the Dimka coup plotters. By all means a popular move at the time, but wrong when one looks at it from the legal angle. You simply do not make laws that take effect retrospectively. But, riding on popular opinion, the coup plotters were killed. Abacha used those very laws to jail Obasanjo and Shehu Yaradua eventually. Simple popularity on the street does not provide enough justification for making an opinion a law.
When one reads the new law, one sees many areas that are open to abuse. Gay marriage isn’t the matter; there have been no attempts by any same-sex couples in Nigeria to get married. I also know that there is a Sodomy law in Nigeria. Therefore, was this new law required? How does one interpret public display of affection by people of the same sex? Where does hugging a friend cross the line from simply hugging my friend to sexually hugging my friend? Who determines this line? What is admissible evidence in court to prove that I crossed this line?
The question that comes to my mind is this – is this a red herring strategy, in the mould of Shagari’s Ghana Must Go law, to distract us from the real issues and give Nigerians something that’s already popular opinion as a law? This is a point to ponder.
I hear arrests have begun in Bauchi and other places in the north. What evidence these arrests are based on, I do not know. In a place like Nigeria where laws like the Sedition Law which has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court is still being used by governors to hold people, I shudder at the kind of abuse this law is open to.
Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.
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