Last Wednesday, This Day Live had an online chat with Rashidi Williams, the Executive Director of Queer Alliance Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation that promotes the well-being of, and advocates for the rights of sexual minorities in Nigeria.
You have been advocating for the rights of persons with unique sexual orientation in a country that is particularly hostile towards such. How would you describe your role? What efforts have you put into stopping the bill?
My role has been in advocating for the rights of sexual minorities and calling the attention of government to the fact that what goes on in private between two consenting adults regardless of the sexes/gender is not a priority nor business of the government. As a member of the Coalition for the Defence of Sexual Rights in Nigeria, we were present at the National Assembly to defend our rights against the bill which takes away fundamental human rights and exposes people to violence and other forms of hate crimes. Organisations working for the needs and rights of sexual minorities were also present to defend their rights against the bill. We were, however bullied by the government which did not allow us to air our concerns about the bill but rather decided to make the whole public hearing a place for Biblical and Quranic interpretation of text relating to homosexuality. We are greatly disturbed by this trend and are asking if Nigeria is a religious or secular nation. Our lawmakers need to respect the opinion of everyone whether they were for or against the bill and the Constitution remains the Bible and Quran of Nigeria, then they must look at the bill from that viewpoint and interpretation.
Do you sense any form of discrimination with this bill?
I do not think the government is serious about making Nigeria a truly democratic and free nation, in which everyone is respected no matter who they are and how they choose to identify themselves as long as this is not criminal. I don’t only see and sense discrimination in the bill, I sense people taking laws into their hands to lynch, extort and blackmail and commit other forms of violence and hate on people just on the grounds of their perceived sexual orientation when it may appear not to be the case. The bill also takes way the fundamental human right of freedom of association and peaceful assembly as embedded in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It grants both state and non state actors the power to infringe and access the privacy of people based on their real or perceived sexual orientation. This is a gross deviation from the Constitution and International Human Rights Principles and Standards to which Nigeria is signatory. It breaches the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights that protects from any discrimination whatsoever and of which Nigeria as a country has signed, ratified and domesticated. Moreover, who is talking about Same Sex Marriage in Nigeria when Nigeria’s human rights’ record is nothing to write home about?
What would you have done if you were in government?
If I were in government, I would open up avenues to discuss human sexuality in a more constructive way, taking into cognisance that Nigeria is not for a specific group of people. I would interpret issues and bill such as this one from the viewpoint of what our Constitution says and what obligations we have as a member of the international community and our signatories to international covenants and treaties that protect people from any forms of discrimination and violence. I would take into perspective that our first obligations as government is to protect the lives and properties of every Nigerian and uphold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that governs us. Lastly, I would make sure that every Nigerian is equal before the law and treated with respect and dignity as the human rights chapter of the Constitution says that every Nigeria and human being has the right to human dignity.
Some Nigerians have been using the platform of being gay to seek asylum abroad. Do you think this bill will empower more ‘fake gays’ to migrate to other countries? And how can one really tell the real gay from the fake since some just follow fads and are not necessarily born with the sexual orientation?
This is another social problem that the bill will create. More talented brains whether homosexuals or not would migrate from Nigeria on the grounds of real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. We are still battling with the problem of brain drain, this bill will escalate it the more. The social problems that this bill will create will be more enormous than we ever imagine. Imagine killing someone just because he or she is suspected of being a homosexual when in the actual sense he or she is not. We need to have a re-think before we ever legislate to criminalise identities. As for the case of how you tell if one is homosexual, it is like asking how can one tell if one is heterosexual?
Some Christians have argued that homosexuality belongs to the class of sin as fornication while some claim that homosexuality is more abominable in the sight of God than any other sin. What do you believe?
We have been held for so long in slavery that I term religiously mental. I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. We need to go back to the Bible and look at verses that speak on homosexuality and critically re-examine them. We do not interpret the scriptures literally, word for word. We need to know the historically and culturally background as to why certain things were written in the Bible. Christians have for too long argued that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexuality. I am wondering why the Prophet Ezekiel never did mention anything about homosexuality when he wrote in Ezekiel 16:49-51 listing the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. We need to know what cultural practices existed in this land before God decided to destroy it. Christians and spiritual people should ask “what would Jesus do in situation like this?“ taking into cognisance his decision when the adulterous woman was brought before him. I know and believe that the true living Jesus will never say “Kill the Gays”.
In the same way that our interpretation of Deuteronomy 22:5 has changed, our view on various lists of sins or abominable practices that the old testament condemns, our interpretation of the verse that talks about homosexuality should also begin to be questioned by re-examining the verses speaking on it critically.
International Community and LGBT Rights
Homosexuality is currently illegal in 76 countries and punishable by death in five including Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and parts of Nigeria, Somalia and The Gambia which has a beheading penalty.
According to Wikipedia, in the 1980s, early United Nations reports on the AIDS-HIV pandemic made some reference to homosexuality. The 1986 Human Freedom Index did include a specific question, in judging the human rights’ record of each nation, with regards to the existence of criminal laws against homosexuality.
85 of the United Nations’ then 192 member countries sponsored a new version of the Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity issued at the March 2011 session of the UN Human Rights Council, including every member of the European Union and most Western nations.
A follow-up to Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, it includes a condemnation of violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity that undermine the integrity and dignity of sexual minorities. It also includes a condemnation of killings and executions, torture, arbitrary arrest, and deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights on those grounds.