Unlike Joseph’s coat of many colours which brought him fortune with time (Genesis 37:3), Bolu Okupe’s status where he came out as gay, displaying a multicolored pair of underpants, has left a sour taste in the mouth of many Nigerians including his dad, Dr. Doyin Okupe (former Special Assistant to President Obasanjo on media and publicity and former Senior Special Assistant to President Jonathan on public affairs).

Bolu holds a Masters Degree in International Management from NEOMA Business School. He currently resides in France, one of the countries that has legally recognized gay rights.

To Bolu’s dad, Dr. Okupe, his son’s status is beyond the physical. He believes the young man, Bolu, must be under the influence of some spiritual manipulations. He hopes that one day, his son will make a u-turn from his current sexual orientation to the “natural” one as contemplated by God originally.

Same-sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA)

Dr. Okupe served in the President Jonathan’s administration when Nigeria passed the law criminalizing the activities of LGBTQ. On January 7, 2014, the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act (SSMPA) came into force. The SSMPA prohibits same sex marriage, and frowns at cohabitation between persons of the same-sex as sexual partners. It prohibits any “public show of same sex amorous relationship.” The SSMPA prescribes a punishment of 10 to 14 years imprisonment for any person who “registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organization” or supports the activities of such organizations.

Of course, Bolu is aware of the existence of such law and could not have had the confidence to fly his rainbow flag and flaunt his panties of many colours on Nigerian soil.

The arguments

The underlying philosophy for legalizing the activities of LGBTQ in some countries of the world centres around human rights; the freedom of people to live freely and explore their preferred sexuality, which arguably does not affect or harm any person in the society. Therefore, the recognition of LGBTQ rights is effectively an extension of fundamental rights recognition and preservation. Thus, if criminal law is all about protection of the public from any form of harm, therefore criminal law should not concern itself with the gay community, whose activities do not harm anyone. 

However, those against LGBTQ rights believe that recognizing such rights is taking fundamental rights too far. Their argument is hinged on the origin of the world (according to Biblical texts), when the Lord God made them male and female, to procreate accordingly and fill the earth. The sexual orientation of LGBTQ appears to smack of some unacceptable absurdity. It is believed by some, that by stretching the strong arm of the law forcefully, those under such orientation will be forced to abandon such orientation and become “normal” again.

The argument that the activities of LGBTQ hurts no one is not unassailable. While some members of the LGBTQ community may contend that they are the way they are without choice, there are others who see homosexuality as a trend, which younger people could find fashionable and take up as a lifestyle.

Nigeria has come under heavy criticisms for passing the SSMPA. According to Human Rights Watch:

While existing legislation already criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct in Nigeria, the report found that the SSMPA, in many ways, officially authorizes abuses against LGBT people, effectively making a bad situation worse… The SSMPA contributes significantly to a climate of impunity for crimes committed against LGBT people, including physical and sexual violence.

While violent acts towards members of the LGBTQ camp are condemned, gay people may have to come to terms with the fact that their sexual orientation would not be embraced by everyone, especially not in Nigeria. How easy is it to accept the fact that persons of the same sex desire to get married and adopt children born by couples of opposite sex? Social psychology teaches us that the way and manner some children are brought up could be responsible for breeding future LGBTQs. There are more questions to ask.

It is suggested that the rights of the gay community to exercise their sexual preferences without discrimination or fear of lynching should be respected. However, members of this community may need to be more private about their love life, seeing that they live in a society which is heavily tethered to culture and religion, and simply doesn’t understand them yet, and is not prepared to.

With panties of many colours, young Okupe appears to pose a “spiritual and legal challenge” to his father and Nigerians respectively, but the existence of the SSMPA means that he would have to, like Grammy nominee Burna Boy says, keep it “On the low.”

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has advised a number of both established and startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.
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