The omens remain frightful regarding what awaits us this year in the moral conscience arena of our ever more degenerate social landscape. On Monday, 14 January, a holy mob in Ekwe, a village in Isu Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State, arrested three men suspected of having consensual sex, beat them up, stripped them bare to their dangling nuts, tied them together and paraded them through the streets. The photo image of this latest evidence of our headlong descent into a sadistic barbarism joins the shameful gallery of others in the past year yet to fade from the world’s memory: the lynching of the Port Harcourt Four, the Mubi student massacre, scenes of the unending bloodbaths in Plateau State and of Boko Haram’s exploded bombs.
Let us examine the image in all of its rustic innocence. An unpaved path with bush and trees on either side, no house or sign of a dwelling in sight; certainly no indication that it would lead to a police station, the physical symbol of law and order, or to an elder’s house, where wisdom, moral counsel and counsel may reside. In the forefront, the three naked men, tied together at the waist with a yellow rope long enough to round them securely and still trail out of the frame; enough for a leash and I suspect that the more righteous and eager ones in the mob took turns to drag the already “judged” men to their assured condemnation; as one might drag a rabid dog to the slaughter. Then there is the mob behind them, mostly of young men and women. The one that appears the most indignant is a man dressed in a predominantly red tee-shirt with an image difficult to make but the top of which resembles the head of a dragon, and in a mostly orange pair of long shorts. He is right between two of the older-looking naked men, one of whose arms are folded across his chest in seeming surrender to his humiliation.
This “leader” of the holy mob is close enough to slap, shove and knock around the men being shamed in rope-chains, and to shout obscenities directly into their ears. Most of the others are content to spit out their outrage and curses and a few to record the scene with their mobile phones by way of photos, videos and text messages — as two young men in the right foreground of the photo are visibly doing. To his or her credit, one person in the left foreground, perhaps a woman (not completely shown), appears to be walking away from the shameful carnival. Perhaps out of respect for the viewer’s sensibility, the publishers of one version of the image covered up each of the naked men’s genitalia with bushes of hair so dark and thick that their good intention has the unintended effect of a desire to hide something sinister and evil. After all, the prevailing unscientific and so grossly uninformed view of the righteous majority of our countrymen and women is that homosexuality is unnatural and a sin against God. It is only proper then that anyone who was not there in Ekwe be spared the trauma of seeing the offending organs with which this greatest of sins was committed. Yes, far more than murder, kidnapping, massive and systemic corruption in government, rape, the rigging of elections, child abuse, wife battering, etc., the emerging consensus of our rabidly religious country, across tribe and creed, seems to be that same sex intercourse is the greatest sin and a threat to human existence.
No African belief espouses the fire-and-brimstone condemnation of sexual difference that the Abrahamic religions exult in. Homosexuals did not drop from the sky into our corner of the earth yesterday. But until quite recently when the fire of Pentecostalism, finding inexhaustible fuel in the unprecedented poverty and misery of the people, began to lay waste to our land, homosexuals were not demonised and persecuted. Mocked and teased, perhaps, but not condemned to second class citizen status, stripped of their basic human dignity and subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment for consensual sex behind closed doors.
In a three part essay on the rising tide of homophobia in our country — see “Homosexuality and Nigeria’s Enochs and Josephs,” “Homosexuality, Biology and the Bible” and “Sex and the Church’s Missionary Position” in The Guardian of 19 and 28 December, 2011, and 9 January 2012 respectively, also available online at SaharaReporters (http://saharareporters.com/columnist/ogaga-ifowodo) — I addressed the dangerous fallacies spewed from the nation’s bankrupt pulpits and parliament that drive the orgy of hate against our fellow citizens. I am concerned here with what I see as the gradual coarsening effect of the self-righteous mob on the moral soul of the nation as shown by the Ekwe show of shame. The majority of those in support of the criminalisation of what at best is a sin would protest if told that they belong to the same camp as the Islamic fundamentalists of Boko Haram; that they have common cause with those who will stone to death a woman who commits adultery and cut off the hand of a man who steals a goat. Yet from inter-tribal wars to the oppression of woman (as the primal order of history) on to slavery and colonialism, every morality of the majority deemed to be the law of God/nature, becomes a sanction for mindless cruelty to the minority or the weak. And, invariably, the result is that victim and victimiser are brutalised simultaneously.
Take the sad spectacle of Ekwe. Whereas the three men engaged in a private act, the holy mob broke in upon them, stripped them naked and paraded them before the eyes of the world. But none in the mob could claim to have been hurt by the men’s alleged act. So coarse and hardened of heart do holy warriors become that they will not see the inhumanity of their actions. They forget that it was God himself, and not Lot, who meted out the justice of fire and brimstone on Sodom in the seminal Judeo-Christian tale of homophobia; a tale that established the idea of homosexuality as the unpardonable sin. Which is why Lot would offer his two daughters who “have not known man” to the Sodomites and watch them raped rather than witness the sin of “sodomy.” Indeed, by the end of Chapter 19 of Genesis, when Lot’s virgin daughters “lie with him,” the Judeo-Christian God has no problem with incest.
But what would Jesus have done had he come as the Messiah not to the Jews but to the Igbo and happened on the Ekwe scene? Would he, perhaps, have said to his (God-the-son’s) holy protectors what he told the men set to hurl stones at the woman accused of adultery: “He that is without sin among you, let him tie the first knot and lead the shame parade?” Our righteous warriors will do well to heed the injunction of loving one’s (sinful) neighbours as oneself, and to let God, as Baal, fight for himself. They should be consoled that none shall escape judgement — unless of course they do not believe their holy books.