By Leo Igwe
Once again, Nigeria has been rebuked for its homophobic stance at the United Nations. In a statement that its representative delivered at the ongoing session of the Human Rights Council, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (now Humanists International) urged Nigeria to rethink its official hostile disposition towards gays and atheists. Nigeria has been asked to uphold the rights of sexual and religious minorities. It is sad that Nigeria has become a global ‘advocate’ of the persecution of minorities. Incidentally, within Nigeria, there is so much talk about the rights and interests of ethnic minorities, but at the UN, Nigeria is officially silent or opposed to respecting the rights and freedoms of sexual and religious minorities.
In an attempt to defend the criminalization same sex relationships in the country, the Nigerian delegation has advanced very porous and misguided arguments. It noted that the majority of Nigerians objected to gay relationships, and found LGBT rights abhorrent. The delegation stated that same sex relationships conflicted with the people’s religious, cultural and moral orientation.
In reaction to the position of Nigeria on gay rights at the United Nations, Humanists International noted the flawed nature of this proposition stating that religious and cultural views do not constitute validators of universal human rights. Thus, Nigeria has been called out for justifying the mistreatment and abuse of LGBT persons on the basis of religious and cultural notions.
Meanwhile it is unclear as to what constitutes this so-called religious and cultural orientation of Nigerians. The religious and cultural landscape has changed over the years. In fact, Nigeria does not have a homogenous religious or cultural outlook. What applies is a tapestry of diverse views and positions on issues such as marriage, and sex. So how did the Nigerian delegation at the UN come about this monolithic Nigerian religious and cultural position on homosexuality that it is trying to promote?
To advance a one directional homophobic position of Nigeria on LGBT issues is a misrepresentation of religious and cultural facts. Such a position is out of sync with the country’s socio-cultural, religious and philosophical realities. Nigeria should recall its delegation at the UN for some debriefing because the country needs a review, and in fact a recalibration of its stance on homosexuality at the United Nations.
Incidentally, this much need change in position cannot happen unless Nigeria begins to explore ways of decriminalizing same sex marriage. The conversation on how to repeal the law against same sex marriage needs to start.
In addition, Humanists international drew the attention of Nigeria to the persecution of its non religious minority, that is atheists, humanists and freethinkers, in the country. The statement reads: “State discrimination against humanists, atheists and freethinking people is manifested in a number of ways, including: prohibitive social taboos against atheism and discriminatory prominence that is given to religious bodies, traditions or leaders, and those espousing non theistic views being framed as blasphemers- a charge that comes with a prison sentence”.
As in the case of sexual minorities, Nigeria panders to majority religious sentiments and interests. Nigerians who are in the minority due their religious belief or unbelief suffer systematic oppression and discrimination. This is especially the case with Nigerians who self identify as non religious or those who espouse notions that are critical of the dominant religions, Christianity and Islam.
Unfortunately, in the muslim majority states where sharia law is in force, apostasy is a crime and views that are critical of Islam are framed as blasphemies. Thus, atheists, apostates and those who critical of Islamic beliefs are denied their rights to freedom of thought, belief and expression.
Nigeria is not a religious, Christian or an Islamic, country. Constitutionally, it prohibits state religion. So the Nigerian delegation should not justify the persecution of minorities on religious grounds. Nigeria should rise up to its constitutional duties and responsibilities by upholding the rights of sexual, religious/non religious minorities locally and globally, at the national parliament and at the UN.