Small Word, Big Meaning

Word – Right

Applicable meaning – a moral or legal entitlement to have or do something.

In the comment section of a random social media post, one of the daily thousand lamentations on the failing state that is Nigeria, two strangers, perceivably youths, engaged each other in an interesting discussion. Triggering the lengthy thread was a response to the original caption, in which the poster proposed the recognition of LGBTQ rights by Nigerian government. The responder argued this, not from a homophobic standpoint, he claimed, but that of one who recognises the aberrance of our judiciary system. In a nation where child marriage is common, backed up by religious laws seemingly superseding municipal law in certain communities; where the judiciary has done little to punish child molesters and where the legislature are more concerned with limiting citizens’ right to free speech than imposing harsh

punishments on sex offenders, who is concerned about rights of child? If government is weak and a vast majority of citizens are ignorant, how then can we ensure that by granting this group their rights, we wouldn’t experience a surge in cases of pedophilia and child molestation? Aren’t the daily reports on child abuse enough cause for worry? Shouldn’t the priority here be a fair, efficient judiciary to regulate actions of citizens, a concerned legislature implementing harsh laws against offenders as a curbing measure? These were the concerns of the responder, who raised the salient point of first fixing Nigeria’s dysfunctional judiciary, to protect children from abuse, to protect them from all who seek to take advantage of its corruption and avoid due punishment. He did not attribute pedophilia to the LGBTQ community alone, but emphasized the need to prevent a worse scenario. In a Nigeria where child brides were a dime a dozen, where measures implemented to control this occurrence is of little effect, it would be alarming to include child gay marriage in the mix, spiking the numbers.

His perspective, although understood, is arguably redundant. We live in a world where the heterosexual community go about sex and marriage as it pleases, so why should a gay individual, who possesses equal rights as his counterpart, be prevented by law from marrying a consenting adult of his choice? If the fundamental human rights of heterosexuals are not impeded upon by the crises of pedophilia and child marriage, why should it be any different for the gay community? Is this, in itself – the threat of imprisonment for being with a, again consenting adult of the same sex – not the very violation of the human rights the state of Nigeria claims to uphold and promote?

This argument however, begets an essential question: can rights exist without awareness?

A people cannot exercise their individual and collective human rights if they are unaware of said rights to begin with. It is imperative to mention that I do not pretend to know the magic of making it happen, I am simply identifying a primary problem here.
I am inclined to believe, based on observation, that a good percentage of Nigerian people are unaware of their rights, and this is why they cower before oppression. Adequate standard of living, enfanchisement, free speech, fair hearing/trial before a court, self determination, enjoy family relationships without government intrusion. These are human rights that would vastly improve the pitiable state of its people, and ensure protection for the young.

In a modern state, the government is mandated to protect citizens’ collective and individual rights. Therefore, every individual in a modern state – of which Nigeria identifies as one – by virtue of citizenship, possesses the right to self determine, the right to safety among numerous other human rights enshrined in treaties the state ratified to without reservations. For example, Article 12, of the UDHR states the right to privacy and family without arbitrary interference. Though not a legally binding document, it’s the foundation upon which current human rights laws are officially established, and treaties signed. Nigeria happens to be a member-state of the UN, one of the one hundred and ninety-two member states in signed agreement with the Declaration. It also backs up Article 12 with section 37 of its 1999 constitution. In reality, this agreement fails to reflect its practice, because it is legal to arrest anyone caught in same sex act, irrespective of whether or not the act occurred in the privacy of their home. Clearly, arbitrary interference must’ve occurred for an arrest to take place, given the situation. Worse, individuals are sometimes arrested for “seeming gay”, a ridiculous excuse to violate their right to self expression (article 19, UDHR).

A people also possess the right to choose their governing body without being bribed by a few bags of rice and loaves of bread that neither alleviates poverty not provides proper health care plans.

A child has the right to seek education in place of hawking on the streets.

Parents reserve the right to provide basic necessities for their children (food, clothing and shelter), instead of participating in child labour in order to put food on the table.

These rights cannot be exercised, if the people are not aware they are entitled to them.

Understandably, certain organisations have been created at some time or another to spread such awareness, but the desired effect remains, to this day, to be seen.

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