Capitalist society is plagued by a lot of contradictions. It promises rights, freedom, emancipation, economic mobility, etc. But it is built exactly on the jagged pieces of these broken promises. In Nigeria, so much lip service is paid to these ideals, but the reality is abject poverty, rampant homelessness, insecurity, and political dispossession.
It is almost like things cannot possibly get worse. And yet, they continue to do so. More people continue to fall into poverty. Insecurity, particularly in the North, continues to spiral out of control in the face of a government that is both incompetent and unwilling to bring it under control. And this government continues to grow more and more tyrannical by the day.
But tyranny does not manifest in one day. It is a steady crawl, and it needs enabling structures. And there is hardly any structure better primed for consolidating tyranny in Africa, as queerphobia. Queerphobia can be defined as the fear of, hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice or discrimination against people who are not cisgender and heterosexual.
In summary, queerphobia describes the range of attitudes, beliefs and actions that are discriminatory and harmful to gender and sexual minorities, including homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, people who are intersex, asexuals, etc.
Neocolonial governments across Africa and several parts of the world have exploited queerphobia to consolidate their regimes. From Uganda to Cameroon to Nigeria to Zimbabwe.
This article will focus on queerphobia, particularly in Nigeria. In this country, even human rights organizations and radical activists have failed to effectively stand up against the erosion of the rights and freedoms of oppressed Nigerians in an inclusive way because their analysis of rights and freedoms, and of oppression itself, is ineffective.
It is bogged down by opportunism, by bigotry, and by personal investment in oppressive institutions like queerphobia. So many so-called human rights activists do not want to abolish oppression. They simply want to guarantee their own individual rights so that they can more easily access economic mobility. Because of this opportunism, their activism always focuses on their own in-group, and they are completely unbothered when the Nigerian state strips other groups of Nigerians of their rights.
But the thing with queerphobia is that its very nature is fascistic. It seeks to vilify and scapegoat a section of the community, to other them and subject them to violence as a way of gaining mass appeal for the capitalist elites. It is by its very nature a violation of humanity because under this structure, the crime is existence itself. Existing in a way that has been deemed as abominable. It is as such dehumanizing.
When enforced by the government, it abrogates in principle so many social, civil and economic rights and freedoms. Governments come up with such queerphobic laws to try to divert attention away from the failures of their regimes and the capitalist system. The laws are then used to deepen queerphobic sentiments which religion has been used to cultivate since the colonial period. And, eventually, this abrogation is extended to the rest of society as the contradictions of capitalist society come more and more into clear relief.
The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (2014) is the main example of such anti-democratic laws in Nigeria, in recent times. It stripped queer Nigerians of our rights to personal liberty, our rights to freedom of Assembly, our rights to the freedom of thought and conscience, our rights to freedom of expression and our rights to privacy.
This was celebrated and received wide support, including in many progressive circles. Since then, the Nigerian government has been emboldened to roll back these same rights for the rest of society, especially as it pertains to the right to freedom of assembly and the right to privacy.
In another instance, during the EndSARS protests, queer protesters were abused by other protesters for highlighting the different ways police targeted us specifically, the ways our queerness is used as justification to subject us to sexual and physical abuse, extortion, and other forms of violence. After all, we were told, homosexuality is still a crime. I personally received countless threats from people threatening to beat me up and hand me over to the same police we were protesting if I did not remove all references to my sexual orientation from my placards.
That backlash underpinned a central truth, which is that to most people, including those who wanted to end SARS, police violence specifically against queer people was not objectionable, or at the very least was not considered an important issue.
But upon further analysis, it is the same principles that uphold police profiling, and for that matter, all forms of police violence.
It is the same disregard for the right to privacy that emboldens them to search our devices. It is the same colonial white supremacist ideology that informs the policing of gender expression that informs the policing of hair, of body art, of piercings. And most importantly, an end cannot be put to police brutality unless the police are stripped of their power to profile, extort and attack people entirely.
Fascism never drops from the sky. It starts always with appeals to some form of shared identity in majority groups, such as race, ethnicity, or sexuality. It then takes a step further by demonizing minority groups and directing the contrived anger of the majority against them.
Because of Nigeria’s colonial history and ethnic diversity, queerphobia is one of the easiest ideologies to exploit in this manner across every region. It cuts across ethnic nationality, religion, geopolitical zones, gender, and class lines. But the dehumanization of marginalized people is only a gateway to the devaluation of life itself. Marginalized and oppressed minorities are always the last guard rails against tyranny. Once those guard rails are successfully broken down, the dehumanization which accompanies fascism becomes naturalized.
Oppression is an unbroken circle. There is no way to end it for a section of people while it continues to happen to others. The only way to truly bring an end to oppression is to take away the oppressor’s power to oppress. If they continue to possess the power to oppress, then they will not relegate its use to just a section of the working people.
We must understand this as revolutionaries. We must understand that special dedication must be committed to combating the oppression of the most marginalized in our ranks. The government and other representatives of the ruling class unleash their tyranny against queer people because they believe this will find popular acclaim, even within the working class.
We must not accept this injustice and efforts aimed at breaking the ranks of our class. And as activists, we must shy away from the political opportunism of cheering or keeping quiet in the face of queerphobic laws and practice because that is the popular thing to do.
The dismantling of queer oppression, the liberation of all exploited and oppressed Nigerians, is the task of the socialist movement. The socialist revolution must sweep away every oppressive institution in Nigeria, wherever it may stand and whatever form it might take. And we as revolutionaries, and as activists, workers and youths, must stand firmly against queerphobia in this struggle for systemic change and socialist transformation of society.
by Kayode Somtochukwu Ani