The decision by an aide to President Buhari and a consulting firm to withdraw participation from a social media gathering because of one of the personalities involved has sparked debates about sexual orientation in a highly conservative Nigeria.
While Bashir Ahmad, a special assistant to the president on new media, cited pressure from “friends and colleagues” for bowing out, Alder Consulting, a brand management agency, said Idris Okuneye, a Snapchat sensation also known as Bobrisky, embodies some personality traits that the management found highly objectionable.
Consequently, Alder Consulting said Subomi Plumptre, one of its staff scheduled to play a key role at the event, will no longer be available for his appearance slot on Thursday</span
Ms. Plumptre was billed to moderate a discussion, themed: Rights and Responsibilities, which will centre around marketing and social engagement in the age of new media.
But the firm said the appearance of Mr. Okuneye, who many believe is homosexual, would intensely vitiate the two-day event, which was organised by Enough Is Enough Nigeria, a social advocacy group.
“The inclusion of Bobrisky unfortunately sensationalises and radicalises what should otherwise be a serious discourse on new approaches to media,” Alder Consulting said.
On his part, Mr. Ahmad was scheduled to appear alongside Mr. Okuneye for the discussion, during which they are expected to illustrate how Nigerians could harness the rising new media inclusion for their social and economic advancement.
It is not immediately clear who first cancelled appearance between Mr. Bashir and Alder Consulting, but their decisions began circulating on social media shortly before noon on Wednesday.
PREMIUM TIMES’ attempts to get Mr. Ahmad to expatiate on his decision fell through on Wednesday evening.
The development sparked instant outrage on social media, with ‘Bobrisky’ trending at number one on Twitter and Facebook for the most part of Wednesday.
Some critics said Alder Consulting’s action was borne out of an alleged intolerance of its management towards homosexuals.
Mr. Okuneye flatly denied being a gay, but said he’s a cross-dresser who spends exactly 48 minutes applying makeup for every outing.
Ayo Sogunro, a newspaper columnist and legal analyst, said the name-dropping by the ad agency was counterproductive.
“As professionals, Bobrisky should be interesting data for Alder. As Christians, they should love. As Nigerians, they should be tolerant,” Mr. Sogunro said on Twitter.
“Alder has a right to reject an invite. But once they included Bobrisky’s person in the mix, they also put their own character into debate
Another Twitter user, Mukhtar Dan’Iyan, slammed the “sanctimonious” display by Alder Consulting and Mr. Ahmad, adding that Mr. Okuneye was a better addition to the panel.
“Some Nigerians are sanctimonious, is Bobrisky not a bona fide testament to the effective use of new media to effectively push a narrative?
“Whether one agrees with his philosophy or message, there’s no denying fact that as far as Nigeria’s new media space goes, he’s effective,” Mr. Dan’Iyan said.
Several others disagreed.
A Twitter user, @Her_Petiteness, said Mr. Okuneye’s sudden rise to fame might be fascinating, but she believed he would be a wrong role model for such an event.
“I’m not the least homophobic, but having Bobrisky as a speaker is taking things too far!” She said. “What is he teaching kids? That light skin is life?”
Similarly, Biola Kazeem, a sports analysts, said Mr. Okuneye did not work to achieve his fame on the Internet and, as such, should not be seen as a model.
“Inviting Bobrisky to a serious panel about new media is same as inviting a lottery winner to a wealth creation discourse,” Mr. Kazeem said. “No difference.”
Mr. Okuneye is said to be the most famous Nigerian on Snapchat, a multimedia social networking platform. His activities on the platform attract about 22,000 people to his page daily.
Also known as Male Barbie amongst his avid followers, Mr. Okuneye’s emergence on Nigeria’s social media space has continued to draw attention from a larger audience.
But Mr. Okuneye is frequently left frustrated by conservative Nigerians who remained unconvinced that he’s not gay.
The critics said he’s hiding his sexual orientation to avoid running afoul of the country’s anti-homosexual laws.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan was widely praised when he signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill into law in 2014.
Despite the unwavering scepticism of the West, Mr. Jonathan, who was voted out of office last year, said at an event in England earlier this week that Nigerians are not suffering discrimination as a result of his controversial action.
Mr. Okuneye did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for comments for this story.
The organisers said the event will go on as scheduled, adding that Nigerians were looking forward to learning more about it.
“We look forward to the engagement panel tomorrow which would be an avenue for Nigerians to learn how to use the new media in unconventional ways,” EiE said in a statement to PREMIUM TIMES.