Righting the Wrongs: Reclaiming Our Constitution by Chinue Igwe

Righting the Wrongs: Reclaiming Our Constitution by Chinue Igwe

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria enumerates eleven basic human rights accruable to every person by virtue of their existence as a human being. The rights are as follows:

  • Right to life
    • Right to dignity of human person
    • Right to personal liberty
    • Right to fair hearing
    • Right to private and family life
    • Right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion
    • Right to freedom of expression and press
    • Right to peaceful assembly and association
    • Right to freedom of movement
    • Right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of ethnic group, place of origin, circumstance of birth, sex, religion or political opinion
  • Right to compensation for property compulsorily acquired

These human rights are intended to protect and ensure the freedoms and integrity of ALL citizens of Nigeria. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) signed into law in January of 2014 directly contradicts 5 out of the 11 human rights listed under Chapter IV of the Nigerian Constitution (1999). For LGBTI Nigerians, their sexual orientations and gender identities are used as justification for restricting the rights guaranteed to them in the founding societal contract meant to unite Nigeria as a nation.

The Nigerian constitution reserves the right to personal liberty for all, and yet LGBTI Nigerians risk 10 years imprisonment for directly and/or indirectly exhibiting a public show of affection towards someone of the same gender. The Nigerian constitution maintains the right to private and family life; however, entering into a marital contract or civil union with a person of the same gender mandates a jail sentence of 14 years. Furthermore, the Nigerian constitution upholds the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and yet, LGBTI Nigerians cannot have a marriage or civil union solemnized in a church, Mosque, or any other place of worship. The Nigerian constitution defends the right to freedom of expression and the press even though LGBTI Nigerians cannot freely make show of any type of same gender relationship or gender non-conforming presentations. And lastly, the Nigerian constitution asserts the right to peaceful assembly and association, notwithstanding the fact that LGBTI Nigerians are persecuted for registering, organizing, or associating with any LGBTI affiliation or organization.

The same government that fought for the independence of the Nigerian people 55 years ago is undermining the civil liberties of LGBTI Nigerians. Discriminatory legislation and state sanctioned homophobia and transphobia have forced LGBTI Nigerians to exist on the margins of society because Nigeria’s cultural imaginary has not made room for the identities of LGBTI Nigerians. Historically, relegating entire communities as second class citizens creates vast chasms within our societal fabric and pushes us towards a breaking point. The SSMPA unconstitutionally promotes the division of Nigerian society by stripping rights away from LGBTI people. Fighting for LGBTI equality will be the only way to mend this divide. A unified Nigeria can only exist when we all fight to ensure that our Constitutional rights are equally applied to all people.

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