Why Is Cross-dressing A Problem for Legislators?

SWL Supports QUEST Against (Amendment of) SSMPA

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If a bill put before the House of Representatives on 5 April becomes law, cross-dressing would attract a jail term of six months or the payment of a N500,000.00 fine. The bill, which was presented by Mr Umar Muda Lawal, the member representing the Toro Federal Constituency would be amending the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA), which already criminalizes queer relations.

It would have been laughable, were it not so tragic, that the concern of lawmakers like Mr Lawal would be cross dressing, at a time when the country is in a state of intense economic, social and political crises.

But the rather lame reasons are actually not so far-fetched. First, they aim to divert mass anger away from the clear failure of the ruling class to address increasing poverty, widespread insecurity and generalized hopelessly in the country.

Second, they intend to achieve this by stoking the embers of queerphobia. Sexual orientation is often manipulated by the bosses to try divide the ranks of working-class people, just like they manipulate religion and ethnicity.

We must collectively standup against this homophobic attack on basic civil rights. The legislators should focus on passing laws that would ensure social protection and uplift the welfare of the masses.

Socialist Workers & Youth League thus joins the Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation (QUEST), which will be organizing a demonstration in Abuja in May, to say NO to the bill.

We equally stood against the draconian Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) in the first place. And we will continue to resist queerphobia, in all its manifestations.

We call on you to lend your voice to this stand for democratic rights and against queerphobia. Find below text of a joint statement of opposition to the bill. You can add your voice by co-signing the statement via the link at the end of the statement.

STATEMENT IN OPPOSITION TO THE BILL SEEKING TO AMEND THE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE PROHIBITION ACT 2013 (SSMPA)

At a time of major national crisis; when terror and insecurity continue to ravage our communities; when poverty and unemployment continue to burden the population; and when our Universities are crumbling under mismanagement and governmental neglect; a new attack on the civil liberties of the Nigerian people has been introduced for consideration in the House of Representatives.

The representative of Toro Federal constituency, Umar Muda Lawal has introduced a bill titled, “A bill for an act to amend same-sex marriage (Prohibition) act 2013 to prohibit cross-dressing and other related matters”. This bill would represent a new frontier of expansion for state repression and human rights abuses. 

The bill seeks to amend the SSMPA to prohibit “cross-dressing” in public or private. It defines “cross-dressing” as “the practice of wearing clothes usually worn by a person of the opposite sex.”

People who are found in contravention of this law shall be liable to imprisonment for SIX MONTHS or to a fine of FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND NAIRA.

This proposed amendment is dangerous for several reasons, including:

It is an unconstitutional attack on the right to freedom of expression and the right to personal liberty of Nigerian citizens. It invites the state right into the wardrobes of Nigerians and gives it the power to JAIL Nigerians for dressing in a way the state considers unacceptable. The very notion of incarcerating people for how they choose to dress is totalitarian in nature and mimics the elements of fascism that attempts to control and direct every aspect of individual life through coercion and repression.

The precedent set by the SSMPA that was signed into law in 2014 emboldened human rights abuses by the state, and violence against LGBTI+ people by both state and non-state actors. State violence on the basis of homophobia which had previously been covert became audacious and brazen. Police have been empowered to raid birthday parties on the suspicion that the attendees are part of the LGBTI+ community.

Police now exercise the power to confiscate mobile devices of queer suspected persons and read through their private correspondences. They break down doors to confirm suspicions and violate individual privacy for extortionary purposes; arbitrarily arresting young people based on their own ideas of “improper” dressing and mannerisms. This proposed amendment will only institutionalize and exacerbate these abuses.

What this bill will achieve is an expansion of the police state in which the NPF will have new avenues and excuses to harass and extort young people

In 2020, Nigeria was shaken to its core by the national protests against police profiling, extortion and abuse. This brutality was often deployed based on prejudicial profiling of people’s dressing, hair, occupation (particularly transportation workers) and possession of tech gadgets. This bill will provide a legal basis for the police force to stop Nigerians based on appearance alone.

Appearance-based criminalization creates a situation in which nobody is above suspicion. As history has taught us, encroachment on one section of society’s political rights makes all other sections of society vulnerable to the same human rights violations. The codification of criminalization based on “clothes usually worn by a person of the opposite sex” into the law is a clear precedent for further institutionalizing the arbitrary abuse of power, which, in practice will be based on the whims and moods of state security forces.

This amendment would signify the most aggressive attack on civil liberties since the SSMPA proscribed sectors of society from the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to private and family life, the right to personal liberty, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to the freedom of expression, as well as the right to freedom from discrimination.

This amendment would cause an uptick in violence against vulnerable populations. This includes people who are considered unconventional in their dressing. It also includes Nigerians whose gender expressions differ from convention as well as those who are gender minorities, trans and intersex people. This assault on individual freedom will create a toxic environment in which fear, distrust and violence are commonplace, and non-state actors will be emboldened to take the law into their own hands and target vulnerable people. A climate of repression where the safety and wellbeing of minority groups are not guaranteed goes against the ideals of a country that claims to aspire to democracy, social justice and freedom.

The social and economic context of this bill is far from insignificant. The National Assembly has done little to guarantee the stipulations of the Nigerian constitution as stated in Chapter II. We as a nation are simultaneously going through a housing crisis, a security crisis, a food crisis, an educational crisis, as well as an outlandish infrastructure deficit. The targeting of minority groups is an outright distraction from these government failures to ensure the provisions of Chapter II of our constitution which stipulates the following:

That the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of the government.

That the state shall abolish ALL corrupt practices and abuses of power.

That the state shall control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity.

That the state shall ensure that the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good.

That the state shall ensure the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group.

And also, that the state shall ensure that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.

It is evident to all Nigerians how much of this Chapter the Nigerian state has been able to achieve since its return to democracy in 1999. And it is in light of government failure to meet these provisions that sustained attacks are directed at minorities in this country in the name of religion, ethnic supremacy and culture. Meanwhile, the Nigerian masses are pushed further into poverty every year, and discriminatory bills are mobilized to facilitate national division and hatred, and decrease the constitutional rights and civil liberties due to the Nigerian people.

In light of these, we call on the federal representative of Toro constituency, Umar Muda Lawal, to withdraw this bill, and for the National Assembly to immediately reassess its priorities to reflect a focus on eliminating poverty, funding our tertiary education system, and making sure workers have control in their workplaces as this is the only way to ensure that working conditions in this country are humane.

We call on the National Assembly to repeal all laws that stand in violation of the constitution and violate the humanity of any section of the Nigerian people, and to focus instead on the electrification and industrialization of this country to provide sustainable jobs and social welfare for the people. The increasing neo-liberalization of the Nigerian economy is what has enabled such laws which facilitate and/or exacerbate social antagonisms that can be exploited for electoral purposes.

In summary, we call for this bill to be withdrawn and for the National Assembly to prioritize the economic and social emancipation of the people they claim to represent.

This statement is signed by the following individuals and organizations:

To sign as an organization, or in your individual capacity, click here.

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