The role of any national government is to protect the safety and well-being of its people. This means that the government should strive to accommodate the needs of each and every part of society, regardless of nationality, gender identity, religion or sexuality. With scarce resources, the people need the government to best determine how to logistically and equitably distribute public goods and resources. We entrust them with this difficult task and to violate this social contract between the people and its government, is to violate the entire democratic system of Nigeria.
How then is it justifiable that as Nigeria continues to be plagued by water shortages, poor education system, a failing healthcare system, government corruption and staggering rates of unemployment that the Nigerian government would take the time, attention, and resources to investigate the “alleged” sexuality of a foreign ambassador?
In April of 2016, the Nigerian newspaper, Daily Trust, reported that the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Eric Mayooraz, had entered the country with a male spouse purported to be his gay partner. Shortly after the report, the Federal Government of Nigeria launched an investigation into these accusations. A Daily Trust interview with the Nigerian spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Akenremi Bolaji, quoted Bolaji as saying, “We are aware of the development and have started an investigation. It is either they have deceived us because we would never have allowed such a person to enter the country if we were aware before now. We have a law, which must be obeyed by all. If we find him culpable, he will be made to face the full wrath of the law.”
It is the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act signed into law in 2014 by former Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, that Mayooraz is thought to have violated. The law imposes harsh prison terms of up to 14 years for anyone engaging in or endorsing homosexual activity, same-sex marriage, or social affiliations that advocate publicly for LGBTI issues. The Nigerian government believes itself to be upholding the integrity of this law by probing the Swiss envoy over his alleged gay spouse. However, the idea that Mayooraz is punishable under Nigerian law is not only unfounded but sets a dangerous precedence for federal regulations on immigration for the global LGBTI population.
We have witnessed the social, cultural and economic consequences when governments enact immigration policies rooted in fear, rather than practicality and justice. The idea of banning international people, particularly representatives from sovereign nations, simply because of their “alleged” LGBTI identity is unenforceable and a disastrous foreign policy. It is an embarrassment that the Nigerian government has chosen to devote its energy to this modern day witch hunt. They are attempting to give validity to gossip, and in the process endanger Mayooraz as an individual, the Nigerian LGBTI community, and the future of the Nigerian economy.
As international attitudes towards the LGBTI community shift, Nigeria is going to encounter difficulty securing its place in the global economy if it continues to let unfounded homophobia influence its international relations. Without this foothold, there will be little opportunity for the Nigerian economy to grow in a way that would bring about substantial change for its people. Time and again, we see how securing LGBTI rights benefits the whole of our society. To allow homophobia to instruct foreign policy endangers the status of Nigeria as a key global player and demonstrates the misinformed priorities of the Nigerian government. We deserve more than tax-payer funded smear campaigns that are offensive to our international allies and the LGBTI community. We deserve a government that truly makes the well-being of all of its people their main priority.