Monday, October 16, 2006

Tolerance not dead in Nigeria?

From the Weekly Trust out of northern Nigeria (Kaduna, October 15):

In a bid to provide an intellectual platform for ventilation of ideas on specific cultural topics, the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) recently held a roundtable conference in Jos to review the significance of tolerance in promoting cultural orientation.

Participants in the two-day conference on 'Culture, Tolerance and Nation Building' have identified lack of dialogue and proper education as some of the leading factors responsible for the culture of intolerance in Nigeria.

In a communiqué issued at the end of the conference, the conferees also noted the need for rule of law to help appreciate the tolerance of alternative views.

The NICO conference is clearly meant to address the rising tide of ethnic violence that threatens Nigeria as the April 2007 presidential elections approach. As they say, the "rule of law" is needed to help Nigerians "appreciate the tolerance of alternative views."

But according to Archbishop Akinola of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican), homosexuality is sufficiently "unAfrican" that those Nigerian homosexuals who simply speak out on their own behalf deserve 5 years in jail (pdf).

Is there a contradiction here? Is "tolerance" unAfrican, too? Or must the Church of Nigeria (along with all Nigerians) accept that, while they may oppose homosexuality, silencing the voices of gay and lesbian Nigerians with a prison term would be a gravely intolerant, uncivil, and deeply counterproductive gesture?

(For skeptics out there, the proper point of comparison here is not between homosexuality and pedophilia, both of which are "Western" values according to the Communications Director of the Church of Nigeria, but between the abrogation of civil rights and the internecine violence and intimidation that has plagued Nigeria since independence. Banning "gay" speech is just another slip along the seemingly inevitable slipperly slope of Nigerian institutional corruption, anti-democracy, and violence. Without a blanket understanding of what tolerance is and what it means for healthy civil society, the country may be doomed.)

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