Apparently, homosexual relationship is currently a human rights issue and politicians do campaign on it. In Nigeria, the phenomenon is just testing the grounds and it can be difficult to tame despite the recent bill passed by the Nigerian House of Senate. But have we questioned its realities and understood them enough by the lay and experts? This article offers ways to question it and I am sure we have more challenges in our hands now that the issue of same-sex marriage in Nigeria is brought out to the open than before.
By and large, with the recent bill banning homosexual marriage relationship in Nigeria by the Nigeria's apex law making body, the House of Senate, volumes of articles and debates have grown out and will continue to emerge in weeks and months to come. I have read a couple of those articles and followed a few commentaries on some threads related to the bill and Nigerian cultural values. Some authors have endorsed the bill and pontificated it as true and correct for Nigeria even without reading or knowing the details of that bill on same-sex marriage prohibition. Others are waiting or are reluctant to take a position. Yet some others are vigorously studying the phenomenon of homosexuality in the African context.
What I have noticed more particularly is the common force many participants in the debate have taken to confront the western societies, particularly United States of America and its foreign policy on gay rights as human rights that it said will be associated with foreign aids to those countries that receive USA development aids such as Nigeria. I have certainly enjoyed the debates offered with different perspectives. But some fundamental questions and the state of knowledge around the issue of homosexuality in Nigeria have not been asked and addressed.
Homosexual, gay, lesbian, straight can mean and interchange variously and speak to one and different things in a general usage. It is important to state that the term 'homosexual' is not nowadays sex specific. It was first used by Victorian scientists who regarded same-sex attraction and sexual behaviour as symptoms of mental disorders or moral deficiency. Homosexual men and women decided to use the term 'gay' in order to distance themselves from being labelled as somehow abnormal or ill. In fact, some people find the term 'homosexual' insulting and abusive and object to its use. On the other hand, the terms 'gay' and 'lesbian' are seen as being less laden with negative implications than 'homosexual'. The term 'gay' is used to describe both homosexual men and lesbian women but has become particularly associated with homosexual men. Its derivation is unclear but it is said that it may have come from the nineteenth century French slang for a homosexual man 'gaie'. C'est gaie - it is gay, in French, refers to something pleasant, cool, funny, likeable and literally and socially amusing. Persona, situation, event, action can be gaie; and that means comforting. As such homosexualism grew out to be a fun and likeable experience in plazas, bars and community opportunities where people of the same sex intermingle; and per that moment may have sex prompts and fun together.
Throughout the last century it has been used as a sort of code word between homosexual men in particular. Nonetheless, in the late fifties and sixties 'homosexual' found itself into everyday bring-into-play in connection with the struggle for gay rights. In this context the word 'gay' came to represent, as much as it does now, a word with no negative connotations but associated with a positive and proud sense of identity for the participants in gay life and sex. Nowadays, the term 'lesbian' is used in relation to homosexual women, which is derived from Lesbos, the name of the Greek island on which the lesbian poet Sappho lived in antiquity. Literature reveals that in the past homosexual women have been called 'Sapphist' in honour of the late poet 'Sappho'. 'Straight' is used to describe heterosexual people and is an equivalent term to 'gay'. Although to describe or explain homosexuality would appear to be simple, but on closer investigation to define homosexuality is more complex.
Some three criteria commonly used in magazine write ups these days to define homosexualism include: (i) one having sexual feelings towards other people of the same sex; (ii) sexual behaviour expressed and consumed with people of the same sex; (iii) and describing oneself as homosexual for one's identity. In summary, sexual feelings, identity and behaviour are the central issues involved. When these three criteria are magnified to land one into a marital relationship, the Nigeria's Bill comes into effect and elaborates the phobic pattern as anti-African value system.
Thinking of these three components of homosexuality, it is clear that they could apply equally to defining homosexual or heterosexual behaviour. As such, something can be shown that to define sexuality, one has to depend very much on the individual in question, their sexual feelings, behaviour and how they describe themselves. There is no wonder sometimes sex is adorned to be a private thing. Sometimes people who feel equally attracted to men and women and have sex with both, choose to place themselves in between and call themselves bisexual. The main points to bear in mind when defining heterosexuality or homosexuality are that factors like sexual attraction, sexual behaviour and identity are involved. It suggests that often times, people tend to behave sexually in line with their sexual feelings, that is, people tend to be sexually active with people they are attracted to. Again it portrays the fact that sexual identity and behaviour may be quite fluid over a period of time and they may not always coincide with each other as people's feelings change. For example, a person may have at some point in their life a partner of the opposite sex and then later on someone of the same sex. Issuing labels to people is not necessarily a good or accurate way of describing them. There may be phases in a person's life when their sexual feelings and behaviour are very clearly homosexual or heterosexual. At other times, labelling them as heterosexual or homosexual does not fit exactly with their sexual behaviour or feelings.
The villages and town where I come from in Nigeria have no name for "homosexuality" and I have said this in many places and occasions. Yet we have marriage norms, nuances or metaphors to refer to acts of females marrying females or people of the same sex having sex together. The latter act occurs mainly among the youth in schools such as boarding schools. Like school insanity or brain fag (isi mgbaka umu akwukwo) the tendency for young people to engage in sexual prompts and performances are done in the secret and hidden from parents or adult members of the community to avoid being sanctioned or considered as being bad, morally rotten, loose and troubled.
Among school girls, the girls tell the story of their experiences in boarding schools or day-resident patterns – where students live around the school as day students in rented student group rooms and homes. In other scenarios, mature ladies and guys in towns cohabit for different reasons some of which include sharing costs, joining one's friends or as a temporary measure for seeking employment or to be there until one is able to raise or save some funds to afford his or her accommodation. Instances where people live together and engage in same sex relationships abound.
The mentioned bill is concerned with prohibiting plural or across same-sex gender focused lifestyle into becoming a modern marriage custom with human rights attached to it in the country given the pattern in the western society vis-à-vis globalization. The central position is that same-sex marriage is not the law in Africa particularly Nigeria. It also follows that there is fear around the notion and practices of same-sex marriage. Both health and cultural values, including religious or ethical stands consist in part the phobic interpretations being adduced.
Psychotherapeutic analysis quoting Freud and others has been implored according to the perspectives of the authors. The bible and religious insights have been offered very actively in the arguments so far. In one of such commentaries I referred to earlier that I have read, one commentator cautioned that the bible should be used to rescue homosexuality like it rescued twin births and Osu caste system in Nigeria. In other words, what is culturally just must be done to the gays as it was done to the twins and osu caste people rather than pretending and covering up with biblical arguments without practically doing something about it. It is not to be made to assume the aura of a talk-show in church pulpits alone. It further raised the question, are homosexuals humans or pussy-cats and reptiles? Which side of the living beings can we classify the homosexuals? Upon classification therefore, rights must follow it. Not being able to offer opportunity, inclusion and security will indeed be contrary to the tenets of educated and fair society to all its members.
Nevertheless, I have offered this brief article to understand the voices and realities of homosexuality in Nigeria and by need Africa. I search to know about cases of homosexuality that parents and families are aware of and have done something permitted by their immediate and extended kinship and failed to solve it? Are there also cases where medical professionals have intervened and failed to rescue the individuals involved? That is, both cultural cum religious approach and medical intervention combined did not offer relieves – turned from homosexual inclination to heterosexual appeal? Could there be cases where married couples (male & female) discovered at some point in the married lives that they bear incompatible sexual orientations and that their situation caused separation and divorce and or pulling away from each other or being sex starved?
Other questions include, are there instances where individuals have had opportunities and enabling environments to explain what is going on with their sex lives in this field of homosexuality? Is homosexuality a fun thing or a critical state of an individual's sex life pattern? What are the explanatory causes and patterns of homosexuality in Nigeria? Are there cultural and medical strategies out there in place addressing the issue of determined cases of homosexuality we need to know about? Is there any form of academic pursuit or research around the phenomenon of homosexuality in Nigeria much like any other physical and mental health phenomenon that studies could be devoted to? Is homosexuality a means to employment by the jobless persons? Nigerian migrants have experiences of being lured into homosexual life due to the urgent need to secure residency or employment or even marriage. Do Nigerians link-up with foreign homosexuals and eventually enter into the unpopular same-sex relationships apart from global television influences and social media apparatuses these days?
Indeed, do homosexuals exist in Nigeria and by extension Africa? What categories and features of homosexuals do we have in Nigeria? What have African scholars and medical authorities been reporting on the experiences and implications of homosexuality? What are psychologists and sex therapists doing in this field? To what extent is the reality and non-reality of homosexuality prevalent in Nigeria? Finally, has African and medical scholarship done enough to declare homosexuality as a part of African sex culture or not?
Not until these questions are laid out and critically answered with ethnographic, qualitative and quantitative findings, we are just making all the noises and arguments this bill has come to touch on the surface and blow a windy sweep across the land. One of the best things I think we can do is to use the opportunity of the bill and open research fields and locate the core problems around homosexuality in the country and compare it with the western patterns and then take a critical and responsible stand on the phenomenon of homosexuality in Nigeria. If the phenomenon exists, like many people say it does, it must be fully brought out and explained without cultural and medical bias.
If the bill goes into effect; that is, incredibly becomes a sex and marriage law after all the facts based on studies rather than emotions on values, fine; so be it. But if it is something that can be adjusted to accommodate the gay rights as human rights like it was once the case with women's rights as human rights - one thing is clear to happen - rights cannot be denied to those who deserve to have them no matter how long it takes or delayed. If Nigerian law makers have critically considered banning same sex relationship, we have to live by that law that legalizes same-sex union within the cultural and national values it will accord Nigerians and inhabitants in Nigeria's geographical sovereign space. Over time, if it becomes necessary to change the law, Nigerian law makers will surely re-examine the circumstances and do so for the advancement of the people and country as a whole.
Our key role in this matter is as critical as it is religious to understand homosexuality in its true nature and forms and be able to fix it as an issue of culture change and continuity of our society. Biological changes in humans do initiate culture changes in the context of adaptation, survival and continuity of societies, their beliefs and values - and therefore - identity and heritage as such inevitabilities of the expanding social cosmology of our being and becoming.
The point I am making is that, social scientist scholars and medical professionals are now challenged to study homosexuality in Nigeria and provide us with the realities and none realities that go with the phenomenon on the ground like never before and advise us. Findings should be shared in websites like Chatafrik and NVS and not buried in textbooks and journals we might not be able to access. To ask that is not too much to position Nigerian and African values and valorize them accordingly. It is not a war of borrowing from the west without showing the why and the why not in the language of modern cultural science diversity, medical, biological, geographical and religious pluralism.
Overall, Nigeria is still at the learning time to understand homosexual phenomenon as a sex-gender-rights movement that will not be easy to tame, despite the bill. The theory of the third-sex is testing the Nigerian waters before it will swim. Politicians will sooner or later campaign to repeal the law if it passes the other house and therefore signed into law eventually by the President. Let us see how the unfolding will be. It has just started; as corners will be cut by the law enablers, therefore can at best in the Nigerian circumstances be said to be a gender-sex-rights-work-in-progress.