On January 7, dozens of Nigerians were arrested after the country passed a draconian anti-gay law that punishes homosexuality with a life sentence in prison. Similar legislation appears to be headed for Uganda. Global gay rights watchdogs have noted that such bills are often the work of U.S. Evangelicals, who they say must take repsonsibility for their actions. Now, a prominent Nigerian voice has spoken out against the law. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie takes on the common arguments posed by supporters of the bill, including that being gay is “un-African.”
The new law that criminalizes homosexuality is popular among Nigerians. But it shows a failure of our democracy, because the mark of a true democracy is not in the rule of its majority but in the protection of its minority — otherwise mob justice would be considered democratic. The law is also unconstitutional, ambiguous, and a strange priority in a country with so many real problems. Above all else, however, it is unjust. Even if this was not a country of abysmal electricity supply where university graduates are barely literate and people die of easily-treatable causes and Boko Haram commits casual mass murders, this law would still be unjust. We cannot be a just society unless we are able to accommodate benign difference, accept benign difference, live and let live. We may not understand homosexuality, we may find it personally abhorrent but our response cannot be to criminalize it.
A crime is a crime for a reason. A crime has victims. A crime harms society. On what basis is homosexuality a crime? Adults do no harm to society in how they love and whom they love. This is a law that will not prevent crime, but will, instead, lead to crimes of violence: there are already, in different parts of Nigeria, attacks on people ‘suspected’ of being gay. Ours is a society where men are openly affectionate with one another. Men hold hands. Men hug each other. Shall we now arrest friends who share a hotel room, or who walk side by side? How do we determine the clunky expressions in the law — ‘mutually beneficial,’ ‘directly or indirectly?’