Buhari and Obama’s meeting should have nothing to do with same-sex marriage
President Muhammadu Buhari will visit his counterpart in the United States, Barack Obama, for the first time to discuss political and economic issues as well as the fight against terrorism.
Coming barely a month after the US Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage across the country’s 50 states,
coupled with Obama’s open support for gay rights, observers reason that the US President might attempt to encourage Nigeria to follow suit.
The US apex court had last month ruled that the US constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry, handing a historic triumph to the American gay rights movement. With the landmark ruling, gay marriage became legal in all the 50 states of the US as opposed to the 37 states that permitted gay marriage earlier.
Appearing in the White House, Obama hailed the ruling as a milestone in American justice that arrived “like a thunderbolt.”
Obama, who is the first sitting US President to support gay marriage, said, “This ruling is a victory for America. This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.” As night fell, the White House was lit in rainbow colours – a symbol of gay pride – to mark the court’s decision.
Obama, who is of Kenyan descent, had during a memorial service of the late South African leader, Nelson Mandela, in 2013, drummed support for the gay community and people around the world who still struggle for equality.
In his eulogy for South Africa’s first post-apartheid President, Obama said, “Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs and are still persecuted for what they look like and how they worship and who they love.”
The US President is of the opinion that having suffered marginalisation, racism and discrimination, Africa should be at the forefront of the gay rights campaign.
Obama’s philosophy is, however, in sharp contrast with what applies in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.
While Buhari has remained silent about gay rights despite being a devout Muslim, his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, received nationwide praise for signing into law, the anti-gay bill which was unanimously passed by the National Assembly.
According to the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act of 2014, which has since been condemned by the US, the United Kingdom and other western powers, people in Nigeria, who engage in gay relationships, are liable to 14 years in prison while those belonging to gay associations risk 10 years in prison. It also criminalises failure to report homosexual activity to the police.
Even before Jonathan signed the bill into law, Obama had threatened to cut off foreign aid to Nigeria. Obama had in 2013 issued a memo ordering American diplomats abroad to advance the rights of lesbians, gays, transgender and bisexual persons. The US government also announced that the fight against gay and lesbian discrimination would be a central point of its foreign policy and that “erring” nations like Nigeria could be denied aid.
But the then Senate President, David Mark, responded by saying, “No country has the right to interfere in the way we make our own laws because we don’t interfere in the way others make their own laws.”
The then Minister for Information, Labaran Maku, also said that Nigerians reserve the right to make their own laws without apologies to other countries. He said, “Between Europe, America and Africa there is a huge culture gap. Some of the things that are considered fundamental rights abroad can be very offensive to African culture and tradition and to the way we live here.”
Nigeria at the time could call the bluff of the West as oil prices were at an all-time high. This translated to billions of dollars in revenue as the nation soon became Africa’s largest economy after the rebasing of the Gross Domestic Product of the country.
However, with oil prices dwindling and Nigeria in dire need of US help to fight insecurity, the US seems to have the perfect bargaining power: Relax the anti-gay law and we will give you the desired assistance. Already, the world’s most powerful country has pledged $5m to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram but could demand ‘something’ in return.
Nigeria even seems more vulnerable now than ever as shown in President Buhari’s frequent visits outside Nigeria and the wish list he presented to the G-7.
The Director, Media and Publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, had in March alleged that Buhari, the then presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, would legalise same-sex marriage, saying that was why he was receiving support from some western countries as well as the western media like the New York Times and The Economist.
According to Fani-Kayode, who is not new to controversy, Buhari was receiving such support because he had promised to legalise same-sex marriage.
Fani-Kayode said, “The proposition and offer was that if he was prepared to support a legislation in Nigeria to allow same sex marriage and if he was prepared to repeal the anti-gay laws in Nigeria, they (US) will, in return, endorse, support and fund him, initially covertly and eventually publicly, at the right time.
“Instead of rejecting these offers and spurning this proposition, to our utter shock, Buhari apparently refused to rule it out and has put the matter under consideration. Instead of him to say no, he assured them that he would consider these two things.
“We believe that this is a matter that ought to be brought to the attention of the Nigerian people as a matter of urgency. The APC are so desperate in ensuring that Buhari becomes the President of this country that they are actually prepared to consider the scrapping of all anti-gay or anti-homosexual legislation and at the same time, endorsing and supporting a fresh legislation that would allow same sex-marriage in our country.
“We are using this occasion to challenge Buhari to come clean and to tell the Nigerian people whether this is true and whether, in the unlikely event of his being elected President, he is seriously considering scrapping the anti-homosexual laws in our country and pushing through a new legislation which would allow same-sex marriage.”
Speaking with our correspondent during a telephone interview, a senior lecturer of the Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos, Dr. David Aworawo, said it was very possible that Obama would want to convince Buhari to ease the law on homosexuality.
Aworawo, however, urged Buhari not to give in to such pressure because it is at variance with the Nigerian culture and tradition.
He said, “They will try to make Nigeria approve same sex-marriage but Buhari must not give in. Whatever America has to offer Nigeria should not be predicated on throwing away a vital part of our culture because of small bread and butter. We expect that Buhari and all those who will go with him will stand their ground because it is also in the interest of the US that a growing terrorist group like Boko Haram is dealt with. So, I am sure that they will look beyond Nigeria’s stance on same-sex marriage.”
Aworawo said foreign policy was not ironclad and countries like the US usually made concessions for special cases. He said the fight against terrorism was a global one and it would not be in the interest of the US to use same-sex marriage as a bargaining chip.
He said, “We know that these values that the US tries to spread around the world are not consistently maintained in their interactions. National interest also comes to play. For instance, Egypt is one of the most repressive countries in the world today but Egypt still gets extensive assistance from the US because of the interest of the US in the stability of Egypt and by extension, the stability of the Middle East.
“Yet, one of the core values of the US is the protection of human rights and the defence of freedom. So, I will be surprised and disappointed if the Nigerian delegation led by Buhari fails to stand its ground on what is core to our values.
“The US may use homosexuality as a condition for some of the countries that they want to give aid to but if we stand our ground, the US will reflect and choose between our non-acceptance of same-sex marriage and the escalation of Boko Haram which may also affect their own national security. I am sure that if we stand our ground, we will still get everything that we, otherwise, would have got.”
A former Minister of State for the Interior, Chief Demola Seriki, said it would not be wise of the US to demand same-sex marriage at a time Nigeria was fighting terrorism.
He said such a demand could lead to a diplomatic row. He, therefore, urged the US to respect the sovereignty of Nigeria.
Seriki said, “You cannot import democracy, neither can you export it. All politics is local; policies stem from democratic ethos. There are some countries that have monarchs like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and they have no prime minister. America cannot force such countries to adopt democracy.
“I don’t see Nigeria allowing homosexuality to reign supreme. If you consider the most religious people in the world, Nigeria will be among the top three.
“This is a country where there are churches and mosques everywhere. Nigerians are not into homosexuality unlike America, which has been into it since the 1960s. Even in America, homosexuality has not generally been accepted.
“Buhari and Obama’s meeting should have nothing to do with same-sex marriage because that can cause a diplomatic row between the two countries. The meeting is a state visit and it is very important. It is the type of visit that was not extended to Jonathan in his five years in office.”
A Professor of History and Strategic Studies, Charles Dokubo, who is also a Research Fellow of the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, told our correspondent on the telephone that if Buhari rejects US aid on account of same-sex marriage, Nigerians will defend him.
He said same-sex marriage should not be a topic of discussion given the many problems Nigeria is facing.
Dokubo said, “The US can’t arm-twist Nigeria because Nigerian culture is different. Here, homosexuality is not part of us. So, we do not need to approve same-sex marriage. Even if some people are doing it, they are not doing it publicly. Homosexuality is not our problem. We have more fundamental issues.
“I doubt if Buhari will dance to their tune. If the US insists on Nigeria approving same-sex marriage on the condition of aid, Nigerians will reject the aid. As a sovereign nation, we have the right to make laws that suit our country and homosexuality does not threaten our stability. The real threat is Boko Haram and this is what Nigerians are concerned about.”
As the Giant of Africa meets with the world’s most powerful country on July 21, it remains unclear the agreements and compromises that may be reached.
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