The Hut: My insights from The Vatican

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There is a common Igbo[1] proverb that says, ‘A man who does not leave his hut will bring nothing in.’[2] This saying describes a person with self-interest who is only concerned about the business in his hut and does not see the need to go or look outside. The hut represents a mindset. It is a way of thinking, that restricts not only the individual, but also their family and community at large.

Reflecting on this proverb reveals the potential of an increasing value to an individual and the community at large when a person is willing to go outside and bring more people in. The notion of: ‘with more people in the hut, the food gets smaller for everyone’ is a deceitful concept because with more people let inside, there will be more food. There are more resources outside therefore, more people coming in, means more resources and capacities.

“Whoever looks into a mirror in order to improve himself hasn’t really changed”. The capitalist world has looked at businesses in the same mirror for many years and the image it creates is a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Perhaps it is time to look, maybe not at the mirror anymore, but the window – to see who is outside the hut and if possible open the doors to let them in.

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This reason why the World Economic Forum called together 80 leaders from around the world was to explore ways of overcoming social and economic exclusion. The event was a result of the collaboration between the Holy See (Pontifical Council for the Laity) and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, and it took place on the 18th and 19th of November 2014 in Rome, Italy. The meeting was inspired by the teachings of Pope Francis contained in the book, Evangelii Gaudium[3] and his message to participants at the Annual Meeting 2014 in Davos-Klostiers[4]. His Holiness states that, ‘Business is – in fact – a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life’[5].

Today, half of the largest 100 economies are companies[6]. The governments who are meant to be custodians of the ‘greater meaning’ are now losing economic power to the Fortune 500s. Businesses are more interested in profits than the ‘greater meaning in life’ and this has dragged the world to an extreme poverty trap. With a billion and a half of the world’s population living in slums, the current social inequality has resulted into a global economic dysfunction. Economic and social inequalities are the root causes of social evil. This is evidenced by Oxfam’s statistics revealing that more than half of the world’s population owns the same wealth as the richest 85 persons[7]. In other words, 85 individuals in a world of 7 billion are living in huts that can accommodate half of the world.

Participants at the Vatican meeting comprised of World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers, Young Global Leaders and Social Entrepreneurs communities. Also present were representatives from the Holy See, senior business leaders and global experts on inequality and social inclusion. We examined the drivers of inequality and explored novelties from the private and public sectors, and civil society that can help build more inclusive, entrepreneurial economies that are based on the principles of love and respect for all.

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The outcome of the meeting was the creation of a new social contract for all human progress, which will provide essential resources for economic engagement, ensure well-functioning institutions, rights and responsibilities, and enable all global citizens to lead purposeful lives. The three areas to enable the realization of a new global mindset are: personal transformation, organizational transformation and cultural transformation.

On personal transformation: The Pope made it clear that people can make relevant contribution by placing their expertise at the service of those who are still in poverty; “The vocation of an entrepreneur is a noble work when it is led by a quest towards the broader meaning of life[8].” One hut can change the mindset of an entire community. One person can make the difference. Professor Klaus Schwab is one person. He founded the World Economic Forum in 1971[9] through inspiration from his own book, Moderne Unternehmensführung im Maschinenbau[10] – in which the stakeholder principle was first ever defined[11]. He is the same person who created the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship[12] in 1998, at a time when nobody knew what social entrepreneurship was! Two heads may be better than one, but one head is enough to inspire and commit others to improving the state of the world. Schwab’s ideology is that even if one hut (or stakeholder) may be too small, one must realize that there are those who do not have huts – and they constitute one and a half billion people.

The purport of organizational transformation is to create a new language in organizations. The language of using long term dynamism to meet short term goals; the language of leadership not rulership; the language of owning the responsibility for social transformation and human development. We have to evacuate ourselves from the circular economy of “take-make-waste” to “take-make-retake-remake-retake-remake.” Capitalism in its current model is unequivocally broken and it is going to get worse if we don’t incorporate ecological boundaries as well as the need to embrace equality in humanity. We need a world of plenty and not plenty for a few. Therefore there is need for organizations to transform their mindsets. It’s not about making profits but about making people.

Cultural transformations will only fruition with acceptance. We must work towards a system that embraces all people from all backgrounds, ensuring that each individual and group has the ability to contribute to a prosperous, purpose-driven world to their highest potential. They say what a man can do; a woman can do better. But why do women constitute 70% of the world’s poorest?[13] Anti-discrimination laws covering sexual orientation have an especially strong correlation with GDP per capita[14]. But do we need a business case before we advance equality? Living by the culture of your hut is like looking into the mirror to improve yourself. Stepping outside your hut will give you an opportunity to have a better perspective. Stereotypes must be unlearned.

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The new mindset is about recognizing the human dignity. It is about selflessness and sacrifice. It is ensuring that institutions exist for common good and stewardship. Businesses must be capable of feeling emotion, compassion and humanity. ‘How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?’[15]

The Qur’an instructs us to ‘give them [the poor] of the wealth of God, which He has given you’.[16] The bible says ‘whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed’[17]. Charity is a necessity in life because some of us are tested by being rich and some of us are tested by being poor, but charity is not enough. The new mindset goes beyond the thinking that the poor cannot help themselves, or that they have no capacity. Our role in helping the poor is not likened to filling up empty vessels but to ensure that the vessels are uncovered to all their potentials. There is no dignity in giving another man bread, if you are capable of teaching him how to make bread.

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Social and economic exclusion is not our inescapable destiny. We can make what seems inevitable, intolerable. We need to change the mentality of “we can’t fix this world” to “we can’t have this world like this” Hence the reason why the pope calls us to action, with a sense of urgency: ‘to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it’[18].

– End-

Jake Okechukwu Effoduh is one of the 4,401 Global Shapers: A Community of exceptional young individuals under the age of 30, initiated by the World Economic Forum with currently 359 independent hubs worldwide. Jake Okechukwu is the Deputy Curator of the Abuja Global Shapers Hub, one of the 5 existing hubs in Nigeria. He was invited to The Forum’s meeting at the Vatican where he worked with a selected caucus to draft the new social contract; a framework for meeting the challenge to overcoming social and economic exclusion in the world. It was submitted to, and accepted by His Holiness Pope Francis I. Email: Effoduh@gmail.com.

 

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Footnotes:

[1] A tribe from the South- Eastern region of Nigeria and one of the major spoken languages in Nigeria.

[2] Akporobaro F.B.O and Emovon J.A Nigerian Proverbs: Meaning and Relevance Today Nigeria Magazine, Lagos, (1994), p. 113.

[3] His Holiness, Pope Francis I ‘Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of the Holy Father Francis to the Bishops, Cergy, Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World’ <Evangelii Gaudium http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione- ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html> accessed 7th December 2014.

[4] The Vatican, ‘Message of Pope Francis to the Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum on the occasion of the Annual Meeting 2014 at Davos-Klosters’ (17 January 2014) Vatican.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Michael Posner, former U.S Under Secretary of State, Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, July 2012

[7] Oxfam International, “Number of billionaires doubles since financial crisis as inequality spirals out of control”, <http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2014-10-29/number-billionaires-doubles-financial-crisis-inequality-spirals&gt; accessed 7 December 2014.

[8] Ibid. (n3).

[9] The history of the World Economic Forum, <http://www.weforum.org/history&gt; accessed 7 December 2014.

[10] Meaning “Modern Management in Mechanical Engineering”

[11] This concept states that the management of an enterprise is not only accountable to its shareholders but must also serve the interests of all stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers and, more broadly, government, civil society and any others who may be affected or concerned by its operations.

[12] http://www.schwabfound.org

[13] Carly Fiona on ABC’s “This Week” January 12th 2014. <http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/jan/15/carly-fiorina/carly-fiorina-70-worlds-poor-are-women/&gt; accessed 7 December 2014.

[14] The Williams Institute, ‘The Relationship between LGBT Inclusion and Economic Development: An Analysis of Emerging Economies’ (2014) P.2.

[15] Ibid. (n3), P. 53.

[16] The Holy Quran, Verse 24:33.

[17] The Holy Bible; Proverbs 19:17.

[18] Ibid. (n4).

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Nigeria and the God syndrome

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One has to live under a rock to not be aware of the current crisis in the Middle East and portions of Northern Africa over the production and virtual circulation of a movie demeaning the Prophet Mohammed. A lot of the protests have been violent and intolerant with a government official in Pakistan offering a personal reward for the murder of the producer of the controversial movie. Muslims the world over have identified with the anger- if not the violent mode of its expression. It’s easy for the non-Muslim or the “enlightened” Muslim to write off the protests and protesters as barbaric. In this vein, celebrated American hip-hop act, Lupe Fiasco (who is a Muslim) has retorted by saying let Islam fight for itself.

But the urge to rise to the defense of one’s faith or religion either violently or otherwise is a thread so deeply woven into the fabric of human nature that it cannot be expunged by mere education or exposure, more so when education teaches that we have an inalienable right to our faith and expression. Even before democracy and formal education came to tell us this, we knew instinctively.

 

The story is told in the Bible of a young man named Gideon who destroyed the community idol. The community didn’t respond by talking about it or rebuilding the idol- they marched to Gideon’s father’s house and demanded for the boy. It took his father’s cunning to deliver him that day. That was in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Saul of Tarsus combed the length and breadth of Israel hauling Christians (who he deemed enemies of his Judaism faith) into jail- and even participating in the murder of some, like Stephen.

Outside the Bible, students of history are well aware of the Spanish Inquisition which lasted from the 27th September 1480 to 15th July 1834. The prime purpose of the Inquisition was to maintain the Catholic orthodoxy of Christians as well as converted Judaists and Muslims. Their tactics were not always friendly- or humane for that matter.  They included expulsion from the realm, denunciation, trial, censorship, prison sentences, burning at the stake, burning in effigy and ultimately, death and confiscation by the Spanish Monarchy for anyone caught trying to appeal to the Pope. In fact, decrees issued in 1492 and 1501 ordered Jews and Muslims in Spain to either convert or leave! Bear in mind that even Jesus-believing Christians who were non-Catholic were also subjected to these measures.

And this was not the only Inquisition. There was one in France and another in Portugal- that we know of.

The Muslim Jihad is very much fresh in our minds too- not just as a historical fact but as a present reality and daily news item. The Internet is brimming with pictures and videos of masked men wreaking havoc and violence as part of their Jihadi duties. And Jihad is a duty- it is mentioned 41 times in the Quran and many other times in sundry related texts. It is defined by the Dictionary of Islam as “a religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission of Muhammad…”  The final of the three components of Jihad (as postulated by the BBC) is “Holy War” and there are “commands inculcated in the Quran … on Muslims to fight those who will neither embrace Islam nor pay a poll-tax…” (Per Wikipedia).

One can see then that regardless of what the Holy Prophet could have meant when he taught and practiced Jihad, its construction by many Muslims as an active, physical war is either right or understandably mistaken.

The Tibetans (mostly Buddhists) have acquired a certain international notoriety for self-immolation particularly as an expression of political dissent. While this is in the immediate sense, is a victimless action, its propensity to incite and/or hurt the sensibilities of its witnesses cannot be disregarded.

The point made is this- religion has a strong hold on man and can cause him to bend over backwards, fly through hoops and lay his life for his faith. Recognizing this cynically, Karl Marx wrote; “religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”

The above quote by Marx has often been clipped to the final sentence and thrown around as an attack on religion. The full quote though suggests that Marx spoke from both sides of his mouth having acknowledged that in this mad, soulless and heartless world, religion is the soul and heart of society. I’m inclined to think that for all its imperfect past and present, religion does more of good than harm- it is only more difficult to overlook a hurt.

However loftily religion is placed though, man’s interpretation of it has subjected it to confusion, ridicule and distaste. The Nigerian man’s interpretation of religion also falls into this chasm of error. Briefly, we’ll lay out our take on this

1. Discord. Nigeria has 250 ethnic groups (at least) and only 3 major religions. In other words, we arithmetically have approximately 83 more reasons to disagree about our ethnicities than about our religions. Yet somehow, the reality is dramatically different. We bicker and bite over our religions. We take to the streets, burn, loot and maim in the defense of a God whose image and perception we’re trying so hard to embellish. In the heat of religious crises, some men have been known to kill their own wives- of an opposite faith! And because we’re experts at double speak, we preach tolerance in the papers and incite our followers behind closed doors. We say we don’t care what religion another man practices but his religion is a prime consideration when he needs our votes or employment. We smile on the outside and burn with hate and spite on the inside. We say we’re committed to the building and maintenance of a truly secular state and yet we arm our followers with the philosophy that it is the will of God to enthrone a particular religion in the nation- like we are in a battle for supremacy.

Religion should nourish the believer. Not harm the believer’s neighbor. Whither Nigeria?

2. Control. Religion is a shield. At least, it should be. It should shield man from himself. It should shield man from habits and inclinations that limit his potential and stunt his growth. It should shield man from choices and influences that harm his body and damn his soul. It should set a man free, not enslave him. Sadly, of all the modern form of hypnotism, enslavement and mind-control, religion appears to be the chief means. It’s the reason a man can push out his wife of many decades. It’s the reason why humans with a shared patrimony can take a knife to each other’s throats and celebrate at the end of it all. It’s the justification for the killing of innocents and defenseless women whose only offence is prayer to a different God-or no God at all. It’s the source of income for a refined orator with no divine connections but a lot of head knowledge.

The story is fresh of the United States’ minister, Rev Carl Keyes who is suspected of and under investigation for many allegations of financial impropriety including benefitting from the $31 million sale of his church building and diverting donor-supplied funds from his charities- Urban Life Ministries and Aid for the World. We also know of sheikhs who commission bombers but wouldn’t ever put themselves in harm’s way.

In Nigeria, religious people are more prone to developing a feeling of subservient fear and reverence for their religious leaders than in cultivating a personal relationship with their respective deities. This is a dangerous trend because the leader (who is first of all, just a human being), is prone to corruption and adulteration which he can pass down to impressionable and all-too-compliant followers. And this happens- even on non-violent issues like politics. After all, a member of Chris Okotie’s church was excommunicated from the fold after she spoke against his ambition back in 2003.

3. Resignation. This is our greatest grouse with the Nigerian interpretation of religion. The blame falls on both sides of the political divide to wit- the government and the people.

Sometime ago, a First Class graduate of a Nigerian university while being interviewed on her convocation was asked for the secret of her success. She said she achieved her glory by reading like she never prayed and praying like she never read. She understood that prayer alone could not change a man’s life as neither could effort alone. Even scripture tells us that faith without works is dead. Unfortunately, she falls within an infinitesimal percentage of Nigerians who understand this.

A lot of Nigerians have a culture of resignation. So when they have a representative in parliament who doesn’t speak for the people, they endure him through his term conceding that it must be the will of God for him to be in office and forgetting that it is also the will of God that they be aware of their power to recall the recalcitrant rep. When they take their kids to the hospital for routine inoculation and come back with dead or maimed kid- the victim of avoidable medical negligence- they ascribe it to the supreme wisdom of God who gives and takes as He pleases. When they have a valid cause to express dissent and object to authority, they recline and recoil, citing their God’s command to be obedient to leaders.

And because government is only a reflection of the masses, we’re bogged with leaders who have the same defeatist mentality. Who see a security lapse as inevitability rather than an error? Leaders who view hunger strictly as a punishment from God rather than a consequence of too little production for too many consumers. Leaders who think we are all pawns in the grand design of the gods without a choice in the matter.

This is why when planes built and designed to withstand gravity suddenly fall off from the skies, we organize prayers for the repose of the souls of the lost but never punish the corporate executives that profited and looked the other way when the first signs of disaster began to appear on the aircraft. It’s the reason why a state that has come to mean something to us is about to be submerged by the confluence rivers Niger and Benue and the incident is being treated as a natural disaster when in truth, it was the direct consequence of a decision to sporadically shed the hydro burden at Kainji.

Every time the government fails, they respond by saying they are doing their best as if they are being sabotaged by divine powers without any human remedy in sight. The truth remains though that God particularly loves Nigeria and it is His will that we do well. God doesn’t loot treasuries, we do. God doesn’t rob banks, we do. God doesn’t ram bomb-laden vehicles into buildings, we do. God doesn’t give or take bribe, we do. God isn’t tribalistic, we are. These are our true ills- God isn’t the cause.

We are not heathen, hedonist or atheists. We are religious men who will not be put in a box by narrow-mindedness. If we cannot live in peace in defense of our faith, then we have no need for that faith. In any case, one cannot understand the love and defense of God if he cannot practice the love and defense of his neighbor.

“If a man says, I love God, and hate his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” The time has come to put away childish things. To understand God for whom He is and politics for what it is – to realize that we are God’s representatives on earth with a wide spectrum of powers over the earth, an infinite imagination and a will unrivaled by no other occupant of this planet – to understand that God is more than a silly excuse for our incompetence. And to see that religion and faith are not one and the same thing. God Bless Nigeria.

This article was written by Ope Owotumi and edited by Okechukwu Effoduh – both human right lawyers with interest in governance and national development. Follow Ope Owotumi on twitter @SoloTrong and Okechukwu Effoduh @jakechukwu.

The incidence of Hate Crimes against the LGBTI community– A tale of systemic idiocy

A while ago, I watched an online video of a group of boys beating some naked girls and eventually raping them all. I listened intently to the conversations and cries of the girls. I was able to glean the reason for the attack: the boys had overheard the girls moaning the previous night- in an all-girls room. Apparently, the girls were either lesbians or experimenting with the idea. The boys on the other hand were the agents of “change” swooping in to teach the girls the path of righteousness.

Such acts of sexual aggression against members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Community are not new and sadly, very common. It’s known as “corrective rape”- a scenario in which a member of the LGBTI community (usually a lesbian or female bisexual) is raped and sexually assaulted with the goal that after such encounters, the lesbian is fixed and becomes straight. This theory and the reasoning behind it is what the Englishman calls BULLOCKS

Maryam Abdullahi, popularly called Sarauniya (Which is the Hausa name for a queen, maybe because of her fair complexion or her beauty) was a graduating student of the Federal Polytechnic Bida in Niger State who did not find it funny because she had turned down several guys and it was common gist that she was only “into girls”. On the eve of Christmas in 2010, four boys had attacked her with the aim of “correcting” her sexuality. They would have succeeded in raping her but for her struggling and shouting which caught the attention of some farmers nearby who came to her aid.  The conversation that ensued before she was almost raped was premised on the claim that they wanted to teach her how to “receive”.

Corrective rape is rarely reported in Nigeria but it does occur. In a country where lesbians and gays will soon be committed to prison for 14 years simply based on their predilections, the report of corrective rape is as good as handing over yourself to the wolves for painful and shameful scrutiny. As proof of this, the girls in that video I saw haven’t raised hell. They haven’t complained to the authorities. Even the rape of straight women is hardly ever reported here.

Corrective sex is a very real phenomenon. It is not a joke. It is not conjecture. In South Africa (where, by the way, homosexuality is legal), corrective rape was the rave of the year 2011. Eudy Simelane was gang-raped, beaten and stabbed 25 times for being an open lesbian and lesbian-rights activist. Had she not been a popular lady, she would have become just another statistic in a swelling ratio of unfortunate women that includes a 13 year old who was raped for being openly lesbian and a 24 year-old lesbian stoned to death after an apparent gang rape. Ndumie Funda, the director and founder of Luleki Sizwe Project, a charity that assists lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women in the townships of Cape Town reports that an estimated 510 women report corrective rape in South Africa every year. With these damning statistics, corrective rape is not recognized as a Hate Crime in South Africa. In fact, of the 31 recorded murders of lesbians in South Africa between 1998 and December 2009, only one case had resulted in a conviction.

Nigeria and South Africa both model the argument that whether she’s permitted by law or not to pursue her lifestyle, the lesbian or female bisexual/transgender is an “endangered species” In Nigeria, that danger is both official (as modelled in the Anti-Gay Bill) as well as unofficial (as modelled by the many instances of corrective rape).

Corrective Rape as an argument and practice falls apart like a pack of cards. Even in itself, it doesn’t make sense. It is akin to dousing fire with coal- sheer stupidity. Below are my arguments against corrective rape:

One: Even heterosexuals have been reported to hate men after rape. Some lesbians opt for lesbianism upon their exposure to rape or some other form of sexual assault by a man they trusted. Some other heterosexual women are unable to come to terms with male contact for a long while after rape- even when the contact is that from a loving husband or a devoted male care-giver. How then can rape fix the lesbian?

Two: There is no moral, religious, cultural, philosophical or scientific proof that rape has a corrective angle to it. In the world over, the news of rape causes the hearers to cringe. In fact, in jurisdictions like Nigeria, there have been calls to amend the laws to make it legally possible for rape to occur between married couples. And in that same world where such agitations are put forth, some people canvass the “positive” angle of rape? It makes no sense.

Three: If rape was really meant to cure the lesbian and not a sorry excuse by a bunch of losers to skip the means and claim the end, why kill the lesbians- as in the case of Eudy Simelane? Why “correct” her and then rob her of the opportunity to live “corrected”? The reason is simple- rape doesn’t correct anyone and while he’s brutally thrusting in and out, the rapist knows this.

Four: Corrective rape is used against real or perceived lesbians. Assuming without conceding that rape could be therapeutic, shouldn’t therapeutic visitation flow from diagnostic analysis? Do we administer Folic Acid on girl because we SUSPECT she’s pregnant? Or do we force an inhaler on a boy we FEEL is asthmatic? Medical attention (however beneficial to the patient) in the absence of consent is battery. A lesbian should be given an opportunity to request for fixing before she is suddenly, brutally and fatally descended upon- and that is in the absurd assumption that rape could be corrective.

Rape is not the only form of violent aggression against LGBTs. Gay bashing is more common and less regarded- but just as dangerous.

A 1998 study in the United States by Mental Health America found that students heard anti-gay slurs at estimated intervals of once every 14 minutes. In Britain, 41 percent of gay students confessed to having been physically attacked while 17 percent admitted to having received death threats. Nigeria’s own Damilola Taylor was beaten, submitted to homophobic abuse and eventually stabbed to death in Peckham even though the word “gay” meant nothing to him until his mother explained it to him- another example of lashings-out based on perceived sexuality.

In the year 2010, a gay man from Cameroon sought and got asylum in the United Kingdom after he reportedly fled the attack of an angry mob that had spotted him kissing his male partner. That one is small. Kingsley a National Youth Service Corp member posted to Nasarawa state, Nigeria for his primary assignment in 2010 had metal objects forced into his body parts because he was perceived to be a homosexual. The sad part is that when the case was reported to the police, their only action was a statement that “it was good for him”.

In Nigeria, many members of the LGBTI community who have been bashed or have been victims of hate crime in one way or the other prefer to remain silent about it. Many LGBTI persons that are attacked and battered prefer not to say the truth about what happened to them because of the huge stigma that follows when people realize that such crime was committed on the premise of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Rather than say that they were bashed, they resort to saying that they sustained injuries through motor accidents. Some claim to be attacked by violent robbers or from engaging in a fight. This happens countless times and it is only on closer scrutiny and investigation does it revel itself that such a person was attacked because of their sexuality which in most times is based on mere perception.

Where the bullying and bashing doesn’t kill the LGBTI person, the emotional burden of it all does. In 2009, 11-year old Carl Joseph Walker Hoover, in Springfield, Massachusetts, hanged himself with an electrical cord having been bullied and called gay by his classmates at Middle School! Closer home is the story of Justin Fashanu, brother to John Fashanu. He was an English footballer. He played for a variety of clubs between 1978 and 1997. He came out to the press later in his career, to become the first and only English professional footballer to be openly gay. He was also the first black footballer to command One Million pounds transfer fee, with his transfer from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981. Fashanu committed suicide in May 1998. Closest to home is the recent suicide story of a 15 year old boy of a private secondary school in Abuja who jumped off the third floor of the school after he was bullied for hours and demonstrated abusively on a sketched cartoon.

Whatever robs citizens of their lives without the sanction of the state or robs them of their will to live- however lofty and pious-minded- is downright wrong. And if we stomach hate crimes against members of the LGBT community simply because we loathe those members, we might as well stomach hate crimes spurred by racism, tribalism, ageism and caste mentality.

A crime is a crime. And it doesn’t matter who the victim is. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender needs no correction and even if they did, when I was a kid I was taught to fix broken things by holding them together- not by crushing them.

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This article is published on dailypost.com.ng http://dailypost.com.ng/2012/09/20/okechukwu-effoduh-the-incidence-hate-crimes-lgbt-community-a-tale-systemic-idiocy/

Protection of Sex workers: Lessons from the Bible

Recently I read through 1 Kings 3:16-28. The story therein caught my immediate attention. It was the time-defying story of King Solomon adjudicating between two harlots both claiming the maternity of a child.
The brief facts of the dispute are these- two women of easy virtue lived together. As an occupational hazard, they both conceived and bore children. On a certain night, one of them slept too deeply, lay on her baby and snuffed the life out him. Waking up to see what she had done, she quickly switched her dead child for her “colleague’s” living one. But as the owner of a thing will always recognize his property, the woman whose child had been taken rejected the dead child in her bosom. And so the dispute was born- they headed for the palace to get the attention of the king.

This is what strikes me about the story- Israel was a religious state that faithfully practiced and endorsed Judaism. For the sin of whoredom alone, God sent a strong plague that claimed many lives- the remedy to which was the killing of a man and woman who were in the act of open and unabashed copulation. In Israel, adulterers were stoned in public and covetous men were burnt alive- with their children and the coveted property. Needless to say therefore, a harlot had no place in Solomon’s Israel. But when these harlots-turned-mothers showed up at the palace craving royal attention, King Solomon attended to them

He did not discountenance their grievances for reason of their looseness as harlots nor did he condemn them both for being reckless and irresponsible mothers (after all, one of them had killed her child while the other had slept so deeply her child was taking from her side without her knowledge). He listened to them. And justice was done.

Solomon saw the bigger picture. Instead of embracing legalistic sanctimony, he understood the precedent that would have been set if he looked the other way. Rather than see two bickering prostitutes, he saw a child whose future was about to be thwarted into the hands of a wrong (and possibly cruel) mother. Rather than see two despicable women without honour for themselves, he saw them as what they were the day they were born- human beings.

And this is my contention. This is what drives me whenever I make a case for the protection of Sex Workers in Nigeria. My reasons are simple:
One: The sex worker is a human being: the law does not make a variation as to who deserves the good things of life and who doesn’t. Even a convicted criminal has certain rights that must not be infringed. The sex worker is no different. She may not have a high sense of self-worth but in the sight of the law, she maintains her right to dignity. So it doesn’t serve the purpose of the law to have her beaten, stripped, groped, unduly detained or tortured by Law enforcement agents in a bid to curb her activities.

Very recently, a sex worker in Abuja had her breasts roughly grabbed by a taxi driver- an action to which she violently objected to, resulting in the smashing of one of the windows of the car. As she fled from the man (who was in hot pursuit), she ran into a Policeman who summarily compelled her to pay for the window and then detained her afterwards. In a balanced society, the taxi-driver was to be regarded as a sexual predator and the sex worker, his victim. But in our society where fraud makes you a chief and petty theft makes you a convict, the poor sex worker spent the night in jail- until I had her released.

Her case is not new. Whenever prostitutes show up in Police stations to report sexual assault, they are laughed at. Some policemen tell them they invited the rape. Whereas the law is settled that even when a person has given consent to intercourse, once that consent is withdrawn, any penetration afterwards is rape. And the law is silent on (nay, does not recognize any such thing as) “invited rape”. This hypocrisy-based apathy is not limited to sexual crimes alone. Even in cases of kidnap, robbery and fraud, the sex worker is a pariah too filthy for the golden sceptre of Law Enforcement.

Two: A filthy attire is to be washed, not discarded . To let sex workers be at the receiving end of brutality and sexual impropriety is tantamount to throwing away a piece of clothing because it’s dirty.

And it’s not the prostitute’s fault that there are too many workers and too little jobs in this country. It’s not the prostitute’s fault that our legal system is retributive and not rehabilitatory. It’s not the prostitute’s fault that we love our high horses so much we would let a “smaller” evil thrive if it crushes the greater evil.

And this is our error. From Biblical times, the world has had prostitutes. And till the end of time, the world will have them. No degree of hate and violent opprobrium will stamp out sexual perversion from our land. So when we let the rape, assault and kidnap of sex workers go on by turning a blind eye, we are in truth making a statement on our collective morality (or the lack of it) and encouraging the growth and nourishment of two grave evils because NO ONE will erase the other. In the words of Dr. King, hate is a downward descending spiral- it only creates more hate

Three: The larger society is served by the protection of sex workers. These sex workers could so easily be our sisters. Our wives. Our daughters. Our mothers! That’s me just being sentimental? No, it isn’t. I had the privilege of a University education during which my definition of the word “prostitute” changed. They are in our classrooms, fellowships, clubs and associations. In fact, a campus magazine published names of prostitutes on my campus- a girl in my faculty was named. Today, she’s a Law graduate. What if she had been killed then? What if she had been subjected to assault-related psychological breakdown? What if she had been pushed to murder an assailant after she could no longer stomach the sight of him walking free, let loose by a legal system that crushes the weak?

Further, if there were no patrons, there would be no sex workers. These patrons are everywhere. But we never see them paraded on TV after a brothel raid. All we see are the hapless prostitutes paraded by kidnappers, trigger-happy drunks and patently corrupt bribe-takers. If a  sex worker services 6 men a day and gets a sexually transmitted infection from each of the first 5, she passes them all to the 6th patron who then passes them on to his unsuspecting wife who bears him children with congenital diseases that could have been avoided if the sex worker had enough protection to confidently demand healthcare and post-trauma attention.

Prostitutes are by default- even in the absence of rape and assault- victims. Victims of our collective wrong. Victims of a value-gap. Victims of a suffocating economy. It doesn’t make any sense therefore to expose them to scenarios and people who take them as victims and transform them to liabilities- the walking dead in a land of little life. I stand on the authority of the precedent set by the world’s wisest man known- King Solomon

 

This article is published on dailypost.com.ng http://dailypost.com.ng/2012/09/21/okechukwu-effoduh-protection-sex-workers-lessons-bible/