Thursday, March 01, 2007

Passage Imminent 11

Human Rights Watch has put out another, highly informative press release that summarizes the situation in Nigeria eloquently. The release was published by Reuters AlertNet in its entirety, and in a summarized form by the BBC.

The latest news on the legislation, from the press release [my emphasis]:
The legislation was first introduced in January 2006 by Nigeria’s minister of justice, Bayo Ojo. It lay dormant for months in the National Assembly, as nationwide elections – scheduled for April 2007 – drew near. On February 12, 2007, however, a public hearing was called in the House of Representatives Women’s Affairs Committee with only two days’ notice. A coalition of Nigerian human rights organizations opposed to the bill was initially told it could not address the hearing, as it was by invitation only. Although the groups were later allowed to speak, the bill has apparently moved forward rapidly in both Nigeria’s House and Senate without further public debate. It is reportedly poised for a third reading in the Senate on March 1, after which it could become law.
In other words, still not law, but it's getting closer every day.

Here's a bit of history to add to Scott Long's account (in the HRW press release). Archbishop Akinola (Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion) pushed hard for this legislation. Twice he publicly and explicitly endorsed the legislation. The legislation was approved by the President's Executive Council a few weeks after the embarrassing (for Akinola) appearance of Changing Attitude Nigeria (a gay and lesbian Anglican organization) and its extensive coverage by the press, even by the New York Times. Since the legislation would ban Changing Attitude from operating in Nigeria, one wonders not only about the timing, but also about the rationalizations that Akinola has put forward to his American supporters that he does not endorse jailing gay people.

For God's sake, where are the conservative Anglicans? Why don't they see this for the public relations disaster that it is?

The "Christian Leaders" letter to Nigerian politicians was signed only by liberal Anglicans, but of all the members of the Anglican Communion, they are the least likely to sway the Nigerian legislature. Akinola's conservative supporters -- by failing to add their voices to the voices of their liberal co-religionists -- are betraying themselves, their followers, and all of us, but most of all the gay and lesbian Nigerians who will endure the worst of it. If conservative Anglicans (and Archbishop Rowan Williams) fail to condemn this sub-human bit of populist nonsense and if they fail to condemn Akinola's endorsement, they will bear the shame of it to their graves.

This could have been stopped a long time ago. Instead, conservative Anglicans saw it as just another cog in their battle with the liberal Episcopal Church.

Remember, it's not too late to do something about this. See here for whom to contact to speak your mind (especially if you're a conservative Anglican -- you, most of all).

6 comments:

bls said...

For God's sake, where are the conservative Anglicans? Why don't they see this for the public relations disaster that it is?

It's a good question.

It's either one of two things, I think. Either they simply don't care very much about what happens to gay people - I think some may secretly think the law is a good thing, in fact - or else they don't have the discrimination to be able to tell when the anti-gay positions they hold go "over the line" as this has.

They don't see gay people as living, breathing human beings, in either case. Don't forget how polarized the country is these days; there are still plenty of places where gay people don't live honest, open lives and the whole subject is really very foreign to people.

And all's fair in the culture wars, you know. And gay, in conservative culture, is a slur - and gay people don't have any rights to begin with.

Dave C. said...

What seems to be overlooked is that what is driving this legislation is the belief that there is a concerted effort by nonAfricans to impose their values on Africans. When English or American or European groups push for gay rights in Nigeria, it is looked upon as an attempt at re-colonization. That is what this legislation is about--criminalizing the activities of outside pressure groups to act within Nigeria. And all the pressure from groups outside Nigeria only serve to strengthen this mindset. Look at the comment you include where Mantu's (the Muslim politician) reluctance about this legislation is characterized in these very terms: he does not want the issue even discussed because it is regarded as such a foreign concept. However much we might want to impose our values and beliefs on other cultures, sometimes our attempts to do so have the opposite effect. Right now, of course, in Nigeria and most of Africa there is no ability to speak out strongly in favor of gay rights. But simply attempting to transport Western style activist groups seems to be what is prompting this legislation in the first place. I think gay activists need to learn to work in more subtle ways in attempts to change the mindset of the people little by little--lay the groundwork so to speak first.

Matt said...

Dave C.:

"What seems to be overlooked is that what is driving this legislation is the belief that there is a concerted effort by nonAfricans to impose their values on Africans."

No, not overlooked at all. It has been clear from the beginning that Archbishop Akinola started pushing hard for this legislation from the President in December 2005 / January 2006, soon after Changing Attitude Nigeria (a Nigerian organization with UK support) sprung on the scene.

So while you are correct that this legislation probably wouldn't have been seen as necessary had CA not arrived in Nigeria, the reaction to CA's arrival and subsequent drafting of the legislation make no sense outside the context of Akinola's church.

That said, I agree with you that the same unshirted, devil-may-care attitude that has worked rather well in the US for gay and lesbian groups is not likely to work well in Africa. Africa today is not like the US in the late 60s.

Nevertheless, the Nigerian Church has worked hard since early 2006 to legally ban a group that it disagrees with. This is a tragedy of the highest order for everyone involved.

bls said...

(Also, don't forget that many conservatives - particularly among Evangelicals, who absolute have to make this argument to keep their reading of the Bible intact - still argue that there's no such thing as "gay." That gay people are all defect heterosexuals; homosexual people are only individuals with "disordered inclinations." So perhaps they believe that this law doesn't really have any sort of effect against persons - only against their "disorder."

For a really interesting glimpse into the question of "what are they thinking," see this post at Thinking Anglicans. Commenter "Robert McLean" writes that "Having just got back from a mission trip to Kenya, I can reassert that the church in Africa is on fire for Christ, not merely smouldering for various political causes."

Yet if you click the link on his name, you see that his blog seems at least in part dedicated to the life and memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer! So in theory, I guess, Christian resistance to governmental oppression is essential; in practice, it apparently doesn't work that way.

Perhaps also, this action by the Church of Nigeria is an uncomfortable reminder that the "liberals" may be right on this issue.)

Dave C. said...

"No, not overlooked at all. It has been clear from the beginning that Archbishop Akinola started pushing hard for this legislation from the President in December 2005 / January 2006, soon after Changing Attitude Nigeria (a Nigerian organization with UK support) sprung on the scene."

I think most Africans would view Changing Attitude Nigeria as a UK organization sprung on the scene for its own purposes. It may just be a subtle difference, but in a post-colonial environment sometimes such distinctions are incredibly important.

Matt said...

Dave C., if that were the case, and Changing Attitude were simply a UK organization, then its director Davis Mac-Iyalla would have left Nigeria long ago (he had the opportunity). He's been under constant attack ever since his group went public in late 2005, and it has only gotten worse.

If they weren't Nigerian before (and they were), then they definitely are now.