Thursday, 27 December 2012

Review: Wole Soyinka on The Sexual Minority and Legislative Zealotry


The Nobel Laureate
Now, Professor Wole Soyinka is not really the easiest literary genius to read even though I did have some of his texts in my secondary school curriculum.
He has for a long time been a prolific intellectual who has spoken and written about oppression, misgovernment, corruption and the lack of accountability in leadership in Nigeria.
At 78, the man has not diminished in his critique of events and ideas whilst still retaining a considered voice of reason and deep analysis of issues especially in Nigeria.
26 years after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, I still find his writings difficult to access but full of meaning and objective discourse.
Consenting adults, the crux
This time the professor sketched his piece on the matter of homosexuality in Nigeria with an article titled – The Sexual Minority and Legislative Zealotry.
Wole Soyinka lays the groundwork for his thinking by stating that the legislation on sexual conduct between consenting adults is interference.
Then he posits that whilst foreign commentary on the activities of the Nigerian legislature in this regard is hysterical, hypocritical and disproportionate that foreign criticism should not deflect from the fact that as rational beings and particularly rational Nigerians this issue should primarily be about “the right to private choices of the free, adult citizen in any land.”
He suggests that the legislative fervour that has accompanied this matter is a distractive ploy to obscure actions of the government when out of their depth because of the economic crises or to inject unpopular policies that might catch the public unawares.
Conflated issues
Taking no prisoners, he addressed the legislators to attend to the numerous and urgent businesses for which they were elected and take their noses out of sexual practices of consenting adults whilst warning that the said bill is redolent of legislative fascism which has no place in a democracy.
The bill in his view conflates two separate issues, the first being homosexual practice and the other being same-sex marriage, something he considers deliberate.
Throughout the article, it appears the professor is stridently against the encroachment of the law on the private practices and choices of consenting adults whilst acknowledging that the law does protect minors from abuse and adults from harassment.
Biology trumps faith
Attempting a broad definition of sexuality, he pitches tent in the nature rather than nurture camp of sexual preference by suggesting some people are born with an imprecise gender definition even if the said people do have sexual organs that suggest they are either male or female.
This is probably one of the more archaic arguments for sexuality definition but it is in a language that the more sententious of Nigerians might understand.
Tackling the morality views that are used to promote support for such legislation, having averred the issue of biological truth he is categorical in saying articles of faith are no substitute for scientific truths.
Democracy or theocracy
The democracy we have in Nigeria is being tested, in that we must “choose either to create a society that is based on secular principles, or else surrender ourselves to the authority of – no matter whose – theocratic claims.
A theocracy should go the whole hog with all beliefs and doctrines adopted and enforced regardless of whether the other person is of similar or different faiths, the idea that where scriptures agree is compulsory and where they do not is optional is a recipe for chaos.
The national train must run either on secular rails or derail at multiple theocratic switches. No theology can be privileged over another in the running of society.  This means, theology and its derivates cannot be privileged over material reality and its derivatives.
A law against nothing
On the issue of same-sex marriage, the professor says there is no evidence of anyone attempting to legally enter in such contracts requiring the state to honour such liaisons at a court registry nor has any religious organisation or the clergy been compelled to perform such a ceremony.
People have of their own free will the right to privately ostracise or embrace such relationships but the state overreaches itself in attempting to criminalise such liaisons.
Moralists are advised to have a sense of proportion and embrace objectivity, that being the preponderance of biological fact over moral sentiment, avoiding the tendency to incite to mass hysteria and manipulation.
The debate
This is in my view that first time a highly respected and globally renowned Nigerian figure has addressed the matter of homosexuality and same-sex marriage with an open mind, if not objectively.
The issue is one of rights, it is about sexual conduct between consenting adults, that our democracy should be superior to the tendency to be swayed by disparate belief systems that do not essential agree on all elements of doctrine to be adopted as a constitutional reference point, that the state should not interfere and that our legislators should get on with the job they were elected to perform.
Nigerians are asked to be more objective, less moralistic, adopt empirical evidence of science over sentiment and even if they have private animus, it remain their prerogative but to support the legislation of moral laws will have more far-reaching consequences beyond the supposed targets to be used as instruments of persecution, blackmail or even worse, present a licence for jungle justice and mob lynching.
The debate is beginning and the reality cannot be obfuscated with legislative distractions; there are homosexuals in Nigeria and no legislation will exterminate one of the many enduring representations of humanity.
Please read the article in its entirety, there is much sense in The Sexual Minority and Legislative Zealotry.
Thank you.

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