THE LAW IS AN EXPRESSION OF THE COMMON MORALITY OF A GIVEN SOCIETY. I remember first coming across this definition of law, on one of the many quotes typed up in colored paper and pasted to the wall, in my Law class, two semesters ago. It struck me, as most quotes are often intended, no less than Solzhenitsyn’s quote about the indivisibility of good and evil in man, or even, Thoreau’s quote about prison being the only place for a just man in an unjust society, to paraphrase quite a lot. There are many other nifty quotes swirling about my brain, from that time. A good deal of Mr deZoete’s explanations have come to be tied to these quotes that papered the walls of his class, and recalling one is often like recalling the entire unit of Human Rights or The Rule of Law.
But I digress. The above stated quote, I have often found, has become a good and familiar friend, especially in examining Nigerian law and the rather interesting peculiarities it possesses. Disclaimer: I am by no means a legal or political scholar, neither do I purport myself to be one. That stated, I do however, possess a sufficient layman’s understanding of it and will proceed to apply this imperfect understanding to certain issues. Forgive me, if I make any unjustifiable assumptions and feel free to correct me -politely please -in the comments section.
Taking a rather cursory glance at Nigerian law, it appears quite inconsistent at first, especially when it comes down to mandated sentencing. We live in a country that prescribed 21years of imprisonment for exam malpractice (this has been changed in 1999 to three to four years) and 14 years for homosexuality. I had often found this to be quite strange, considering that to the average Nigerian, homosexuality is the far bigger evil until I discovered that the legislation had changed. It has also been noted quite recently that the legislation of more and more states is rapidly shifting towards prescribing the death penalty for kidnapping. Less importantly or perhaps more, it also appears that the Nigerian legal system has done away with juries entirely. I may be wrong, perhaps there are some certain offences that will require the presence of a jury, but I have yet to uncover any.
I do think from the above listed peculiarities that it becomes abundantly clear, immediately, that the common Nigerian morality is quite fluid in its regularity, and rather unique. And yet, we have started to see a new movement on the rise, one perhaps given the more visible face of Adichie. Nigeria is again, an unwilling subject to a civil rights movement. And be not deceived, while it holds no sway over the current average Nigeria, the emerging generation of its elite is slowly being convinced. Hail the rise of Feminism and LGBTQI+ rights.
Before I go on, I find it wise to state my own personal convictions. One, I do not believe that anything other than the Bible should come first in dictating how a woman is treated and conducts herself. Does that make me a chauvinist? I do not think so. Quite a lot of the objections to feminism, stems not from religion but from cultural values. Make of that what you will. Two, I believe that homosexuality and transsexualism in all their forms are wrong, unnatural, and go against the dictates of God’s word. Now that we are clear on that, I will move on and state that I am not against LGBTQI+ rights. Confused? Read on.
Whatever my convictions and beliefs, I also believe it to be quite wrong that they dictate the life of everyone else. How would I like the convictions of a Boko Haram member to dictate my own life? Do I support homosexuality as an act? No. However, do I believe that the homosexual, is before everything else, a person? Yes. Should a person then be denied the chance to live a good, productive and happy life, simply because everyone thinks, he or she is eternally damned? No. God does not restrict the sun from shining on both the Christian and the sinner. He loves them both. Yes, He hates the sin, but it is the sin He hates, not the person. I do not believe that God hates the homosexual. I believe He hates homosexuality, and therein lies the crucial distinction.
However, am I about to carry a placard and start to denounce Nigerian laws as unjust and discriminatory against the LGBTQI+ community? Quite frankly, no. As my father has quite often told me with the words of a Yoruba proverb, one does not fight the communal will. At least head on. I do not think Nigeria will embrace the LGBTQI+ community in my lifetime. However, I do believe that there are more visible segments of the polity that one could argue, are being discriminated against, and about which something can more urgently be done. Segments that are starting to clamor rather loudly.
Last night, on the news, it was announced that the Acting President had stated that the agitation for Biafra and the Arewa ultimatum, were ultimately unconstitutional. I remember rolling my eyes at this. I do like the Acting President. I do believe he is well-spoken, not the typical Nigerian politician, and possessed of a brilliant mind. I do also, however, think that it will be pointless to go to war over a part of the constitution that it seems a substantial number of Nigerians are against. Do I personally support the unity of Nigeria as a country, and believe that we should stare down all dissidents or take away their rights, kill them or even imprison them? That is irrelevant. Why? My own beliefs and opinions should not decide the path we as a country take. And so they are irrelevant.
THE LAW IS AN EXPRESSION OF THE COMMON MORALITY OF A GIVEN SOCIETY. Dear Nigerians, please do not let us go to war. Nigerian activists the world over, believe me when I say this: “the human rights of the common Nigerian are best safeguarded in a united and secular Nigeria”. You think discrimination is terrible right now? Allow the country to separate amongst violence and watch as Boko Haram gains a foothold, and certain component regions become radically Islamist, as independent states. Trust me, all your interviews on global media will be for naught if that happens.
There are many ways to change a law. This was one of the first things Mr. deZoete taught me. If a substantial number of Nigerians no longer believe in the indivisibility of the country, I believe it is time we sat and had a conversation with our lawmakers and activists about this. Rather than exchange aggressive ultimatums and devolve into a state of constant agitation for an illegal entity, let us discuss the value of self determination as enshrined by the United Nations. Until then, the Acting President, is quite right to call all your actions unconstitutional and within his rights and powers to defend the constitution to the best ability of the state. If I am wrong, and a more substantial part of the nation does believe in the indivisibility of the nation, then I believe it is time they showed it.
Whichever side we are on, let us not forget the value of a conversation as a people. If there was ever a time to talk, it is now.
P.S: I am not an LGBTQI+ rights activist. I am neither in overwhelming support of or in opposition to the movement. If you cannot see this, then you have missed the point of this post. I advise you start reading from the eight paragraph. This is an opinion piece, make of it what you will.