Stupidity lingers

I’ve always thought that Nigeria, that other oasis of calm in a desert of extreme poverty and instability, has leaders that are way better than those of many an African basket case. How wrong I was.

Reports indicate that the National Assembly of Nigeria is pushing ahead with a measure that criminalizes homosexuality and legalizes homophobia. The bill, now introduced and likely to be approved in the House of Representatives after receiving an imprimatur from the Senate, condemns those who participate in gay marriage to 14-year imprisonment. Those who support and advance the gay rights movement, on the other hand, would face a ten-year prison term.

Various human rights organizations and foreign governments, including that of the United States and those of Europe, have been vigorously criticizing this bill. Prime Minister David Cameron himself had publicly warned that his country might withhold aid if Nigeria adopts this measure; while on Tuesday, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enshrined LGBT rights as one of the priorities of American foreign policy.

But the Nigerians won’t budge. The Western powers can have their aid for themselves, Senate President David Mark said, but “our values are our values.”  It doesn’t help that homophobia is commonplace in the country, with many Nigerians subscribing to the view that  homosexuality is a “sad Western concept” that is not only alien to Nigerian culture but also a bane to societies that tolerate it. Bewilderingly, even the most cosmopolitan of the country’s newspapers agree to these views. Apparently, nobody has told them that the real oasis of the continent, South Africa, is in fact a bastion of gay rights.

Now, when politicians declare that homosexuality is a foreign concept that is against native African values; it’s called ignorance, and we can forgive people for that. But when they actually go to the extent of risking vital foreign aid and downgrades in relations with important states, and of spending political capital on a frivolous legislation at the expense of  addressing more pressing national concerns; it’s already called stupidity, and we must bang people’s heads on the wall for that.

There’s not even a clamor, even a silent one, for same sex-marriage in that country. Not even gay pride parades and things like that. As one Nigerian journalist said, gays in Nigeria “only pray for the right to be left alone since they do the rest of us no harm.”

No wonder Nigeria, despite its oil, is still Nigeria.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, an important institution known for its ignorance and occasional stupidity is stalling an important piece of legislation.

The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is criticizing the Senate for amending the country’s Anti-Discrimination and Profiling Bill to include measures against discrimination on the basis of  “sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.”  The Conference said this amendment could lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage, perhaps in the same way that the introduction of contraceptives could lead to the legalization of abortion. Or that the mass production of spoons could lead to obesity.

The CBCP’s lawyer, Jo Imbong, practically told reporters that homosexuals and transgenders are masochists who love persecution, and must therefore be left alone. “These people (the elderly, the handicapped and the poor) are disadvantaged not by their own choice. But the third sex, they choose this. How can you give protection to a choice like that?” the lawyer said.

No wonder the Philippines is still the Philippines.

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