There’s a house on the street on which you live, the best of all the houses. In architectural sublimity no bungalow or duplex compares. You admire this house – no, envy it. You promise not to ogle it every time you walk by – you always break this promise. You wish you were the one who swaggered out its gate every morning, graciously ignoring – like any half-decent celebrity – the paparazzi-eye-flashes-of-jealousy from the neighbours.
One day, you walk into this house – maybe on an errand, maybe you’re now friends with the owners, maybe you’re a Jehovah’s Witness on a Sunday-salvation beat – whatever the reason, you walk into this house and as you stand in it, disappointment drowns you. This house, this dream abode which commands awe and respect from without, within is an unkempt ramshackle interior decoration of sullen existence.
The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recently signed into law a same sex marriage act which, amongst a host of holier than thou edicts: outlaws same sex marriage, prohibits any “public show of same sex amorous relationships”, and promises imprisonment for anyone who even witnesses a same sex marriage – good luck driving with your eyes closed as you pass by your rebellious gay neighbours’ wedding ceremony.
The venomous glee with which, most likely, majority of Nigerians met this gayvelopment has shocked some people. Mass hysteria reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials swept social media and the streets, with suspected homosexuals getting arrested in some states by the superior and sin-less heterus sexualae.
While this law raises pertinent questions about the contemporary relevance of orthodox religious beliefs, homophobia, our treatment of minorities and more, what intrigues me the most is what it says about our social consciousness and approach to life; about our perspective of right, wrong, and the indispensable grey area between; about our definition of greatness; about our value for truth.
Now, Nigerian (indeed African) culture embraces flamboyance, and in its egotistically evolved state, adores ostentation. The ‘big man’ is he who has the biggest yams in his barn (and in his pants), drives the biggest SUV, swaddles himself in the most regal clothes, owns the most cows, sprays the most naira at sister Clara’s wedding, speaks the biggest grammar (shout out to Honourable Patrick Obahiagbon, I see you bruv!) , or owns the most expensive house in Maitama. But the wealthy Nigerian doesn’t merely possess these things. No, he publicly displays the profundity of his possessions with boisterous galore – hyperbole is ever so important in these matters.
The essence is the outward show of achievement, the razzle dazzle. It doesn’t really matter if, just like that house, there is no concrete inner worth. Who cares? Pfft! The illusion, so long as its histrionics are upheld properly, far outweighs the reality. It doesn’t matter if you are dying inside, just make sure on the outside you look like you’re LIVING LARGE.
This culture easily expands to other facets of our lives. When it comes to marriage, you will readily find among the yet-to-be-wedded those very comfortable, expectant even, of a poor marriage so long as their for-better-or-worse half is fine putting up the regular show of ‘a happy couple’. Our contemporary music and movies are notoriously shallow, but worry not, just make sure you hype! hype! hype! We gladly gobbled the art of branding and continue to master the skill of “packaging” not bothering to ensure content is up to standard. And when it comes to religion, we see ourselves as the holiest nation fertilizing God’s green earth (insert angelic-chant sfx here).
It should be no surprise then that a statement such as “homosexuality is not our (Nigerian/African) culture, it is being forced upon us by the oyibo (the West)” would achieve mantra-like status. So much so the friggin’ EU had to respond to that assertion. Of course, homosexuality can’t be an African culture! Not that those who would swear by that statement can tell you much about the confetti of cultures found within their state, let alone their region, let alone the nation, let alone West Africa. No! Yet there seems to be a general expert knowledge of EVERY African culture, thus absolute certainty that “homosexuality is un-African“. Well… umm… you know, so long as you ignore trivial evidence like the Yan Daudu of Northern Nigeria, historical records of transgenders in Eastern Nigeria, documented research into homosexual cultures in the Yoruba and Igbo (West Africa); the Lovedu, Zulu and Sotho (South Africa); the Kikuyu and Nandi (East Africa); the Nuer and the Zande (Sudan).
You see, homosexuality puts our public ostentation of piety at risk. And so everything must be done to cease zis madness, mein führer! Its irrelevant if the whole world has no qualms with the Nigerian brand of homosexuality, because, like all things ostentatious, the show is more important to the performer than it is to the audience. Of course such an attitude is not the special preserve of Nigerians but what I do find peculiar is the hatred unleashed towards the homosexual lifestyle in particular. In the list of cultures (used loosely) which smear our public piety, homosexuality comes a distant third behind the heavyweight champions: CORRUPTION and INTERNET FRAUD. So why do these CLEAR VICES not receive half the vilification spewed at homosexuality? The answer, I believe, has to do with money (Ka-ching!).
To our social consciousness crimes appear to be permissible so long as they lead to acquisition of wealth, “Times are hard, chairman, man must survive!” Any means leading to a fatter bank account balance, though rebuked, is ultimately justified. Gross corruption and internet fraud (famously celebrated by one Olu Maintain), though more damaging to our dignity than two dudes or chicks trying to get freaky with each other, are much less detested because if successful they culminate in the possession and expected parade of affluence.
The future pilfering politician and potential yahoo-yahoo boy (that’s Nigerian slang for an internet fraudster) inside us sits by our left ear, whispering sweet nothings filled with promises of you one day being the BIG BOY. So, yes, fraud is illegal, and corruption is crippling our country, but some day I may be the one to benefit from it – “all na hustle” (note: pronounce as huzzle to win extra street cred points).
Nietzsche said, “morality in the individual is herd instinct”, and the instinct of the Nigerian herd has been programmed to ATTACK! Destroy any and all that threaten our public piety; if you must be putrid, keep it private – though even that is now under threat. I do not find this urge to attack, to kill, strange. Apart from a manifestation of the animal that is man, orthodox religion trains society in the distasteful arts of physical and psychological violence – sugar coated in righteousness, of course. Large scale bloodlust is a natural by-product; with morality as our justification we become blind to our own hypocrisy, double standards and fear of facing the challenges of dealing with TRUTH.
There is a house on the street on which you live, and now that you stand inside it, it doesn’t seem like the best of all the houses. Eroding walls, half broken tiles, tattered furniture, brown blobs all over the ceiling marking spots where rain snuck in past the roof, drapes draped in dust, bathtubs neglected to rust… But worst of all, this house is soulless. It is lived in but it has no life. This house is just a house.
You leave this house and return to the wider world, half disgusted at its pretentiousness, yet half amazed at the braggadocio with which it parcels its lie. You want to tell the neighbours taking Facebook-post-photos in front of the oh so elegant gate that it’s all a sham, a facade. But will they understand? No, will they care? And why should you? Why should you care? Isn’t it still a beautiful house? Isn’t it still the jewel of the street, the talk of the town? How the owners chose to live within it is not your business. It’s still a beautiful house and everybody loves it. Why shouldn’t I?
You begin to walk back to your own house, a thought dancing around your mind – you know, maybe I should put some more effort into beautifying the outside of my house.
ABOUT THE WRITER (this is where I talk about myself in the third-person)
Africa Ukoh (@Pensage) is a playwright, screenwriter, actor, stage director and creative concept developer. He has been the recipient of awards like the BBC African Performance competiton (1st runner up, thank you very much) and the Stratford East/30 Nigeria House prize. He co-founded a new age arts initiative called African Renaissance Theatre and Entertainment. Some of his works have been produced on platforms such as the BBC World Service, Voice of Nigeria and Sentinel Nigeria magazine (shey I try, abi?). If you love literature you can check out some of his works here, here and here (also, a play of his was published in the 2012 Sentinel Annual Literary Anthology, in case a copy actually exists). If you love theatre check out a review and photos from last year’s performance of an award winning play of his.
Ps: he is also looking for a job because these bills ain’t gon’ pay themselves!