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  • on 29.01.2014
  • at 05:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

The social history of a ‘moral panic’ in Nigeria 0

It’s déjà vu all over again. Thirty five years ago, Stuart Hall and colleagues wrote one of the founding works of Cultural Studies, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order.

They wanted to understand the situation of a curious ‘crisis’ gripping the British population, largely through its media: mugging. As Hall et al. noted, the Daily Mirror early on captured the cultural moment: “As crimes of violence escalate, a word common in the United States enters the British headlines: Mugging. To our police it’s a frightening new strain of crime.”

For Hall and his group, the moment was the beginnings of a moral panic. Now in Nigeria: “No Right To Force The Legalization Of Same-Sex Union.” Different words, same “moral panic”:

When the official reaction to a person, groups of persons or series of events is out of all proportion to the actual threat offered, when ‘experts’, in the form of police chiefs the judiciary, politicians and editors perceive the threat in all but identical terms, and appear to talk ‘with one voice’ of rates, diagnoses, prognoses and solutions, when the media representations universally stress ‘sudden and dramatic’ increases (in numbers involved or events) and ‘novelty’, above and beyond that which a sober, realistic appraisal could sustain, then we believe it is appropriate to speak of the beginnings of a moral panic.

That was 1972, England. This is 2014, and this is Nigeria.

In early January, President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law something called the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2014. In many ways, the law reiterates laws already on the books that outlaw homosexual practices. It outlaws state same-sex marriage or civil union, which [a] was already illegal and [b] which absolutely nobody was asking for. It outlaws religious same-sex marriage or civil union, which [a] was already illegal and [b] which absolutely nobody was asking for. Nobody.

It outlaws the “registration of gay clubs, societies and organization, their sustenance, processions and meetings” and “the public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly.” Here’s where things get ‘interesting’. What’s a gay club? Even more, what’s a gay society or organization? If, for example, a group dedicated to treating people living with HIV tries to care for gay men, does that make them a gay organization? Especially if they hold “meetings”?

And what is an indirect public show of same sex, or any, amorous relationship, anyway?

The law ends in punishment. Fourteen years imprisonment for gay marriage or civil union, i.e. for “the coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of living together as husband and wife or for the purpose of same sexual relationship.” Anyone who acts as ‘witness’ to any such criminal offenses – same sex marriage or civil union, the registration of gay clubs, societies, or organizations – is also in violation of the law. As is anyone who does not report suspicious activity.

From here the script, with a few notable exceptions, is dismally, depressingly familiar. ‘Western’ nation-States – in particular the United States, the United Kingdom, and some members of the European Union – criticize the new law and threaten limited aid cut offs. In response, the ‘nation’ invokes ‘culture’ … over and over and over again. From Sahara Reporters to the Vanguard toPunch and beyond, from pastor to lawyer to activist to person on the street to the ‘human rights and women’s rights activist’ who argues against being forced to legalize same-sex marriage (which, again, no one was arguing for), an almighty hue and cry was raised across the land. Nigeria is under attack. Culture is under attack. Sexual purity is under attack. The Bible is under attack. The children are under attack. 145% of Nigerians support the new law. 400% want a stronger law. Clergy praised the State and thanked the Good Lord for the new law, while police carried out more sweeps and conducted more arrests, and thousands threw stones into Sharia courts, trying men for ‘gay crimes’. The crowds had decided the State was right, and due process was way too slow for this sort of epidemic.

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By Dan MoshenbergAfrica is a country

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