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What sex work has to do with who you vote or rep for in Nigeria’s Presidential election – Odele Meji Alaga

A crowd gathered in Southern United States to witness a lynching
A crowd gathered in Southern United States to witness a lynching

Nigeria is not a simple country and the choice of the correct president is not a simple one; in the context of its recent social and economic history, most of the aspirants would be a worthy candidate for president;  broadly speaking, Nigeria is a country where divides are ideological, generational, economic and ethnic; it is likely if you are younger than 70 or 80 years old that your inclinations are mostly libertarian with some degree of socialised concern for the poor or deep indifference towards them; if you are older than 70 or 80 it is likely that your instincts are broadly patriarchal, capitalist and conservative – and invested in big man politics and politicians as representatives of your ethnic group; similarly, it is clear that each large ethnic group especially has skin in the game – and if the different zones were voting as countries, the battle would be between the candidates from those regions against each other; further, there are various interest groups that though rarely thought of have different interests vis a vis who enters Aso Rock, notably sexual minorities, women and a number of vested economic interests, particularly the segment of society that depends on Nigeria’s economy remaining one with a currency that is relatively strong against foreign exchange, even if that means a smaller and less productive economy.

The aspirant to vote for in the 2023 presidential elections will differ greatly depending on where you stand on these matters; for the diaspora and the externally oriented, the president that plays well and articulately on the international stage, and will also make the country more secure and stable for business, creative economy, travel and return is likely to be crucial, alongside their regional considerations. Firstly, it should be said that given the electoral machines and the system bias, it is unlikely that the winner of the election will not be from one of two major parties, the APC and the PDP, and it is very possible that it is a one horse race, because the APC and the Labor party may potentially split the vote from the same  segments of the electorate – so depending on where you stand it would be wise to vote tactically.

Despite the natural uncertainty we want to hazard a position on what the proper concerns should be in this election; crucially in terms of this election we want to encourage you to think about your values through the rubric of social approval or disapproval of sex work, regardless of the public ‘shame avoiding or prideful’ public positions you espouse. It is typical to exhort Nigerians to vote in the interest of ‘One Nigeria’ – in this election and generally however, we exhort you to vote for the many Nigerias  to which you belong and the Nigeria and Nigerians you know – whether that is ‘Queer Nigeria’, ‘Diasporic Nigeria’ – Feminist Nigeria, Shariarist Nigeria, or Socialist Nigeria.

As to our own considerations, Dr. Maya Angelou said tell the truth to yourself first, and at this publication our  positions and considerations within the democratic commons we all occupy are Humanist, Mejinist, Queer, Libertarian, Socialist and Sex Positive,  Faith-driven, Diasporic, Oyoruba and South-Westernly and of course, Nigerian and Afropolitan informed position –   nevertheless, we believe our view is a balanced one; in our view, there is a national interest and ideological consistency that could and should guide voters come the 23rd February – and it is this; if Nigerians remain serious about sustaining the electoral balance and exchange between North and South, then a candidate from one of the southern regions is the only viable option – if Nigerians are serious about reflecting their view of electoral performance in the ballot box then from the perspective of this publication, the two parties in serious contention are the APC and the Labor party for the following historical and current reasons; from a libertarian perspective, the PDP, when in government presided over the erosion of civil and human rights, the illegitimate extension of religious law and laid the ground for the insurgencies and insecurity happening today; most disturbingly and emblematically in our view, it introduced the same-sex marriage prohibition act which was a direct assault on the freedom of association as well as other rights guaranteed in the constitution, and specifically and genocidally targeted up to 17 million Nigerians for discrimination, if they, their allies and their families, who theoretically at least  number over 34 million people wish to signal their rejection of this oppression and the general idea that minorities are fair game in Nigerian and African politics, the ballot box would be a good place to send that message in 2023.

Further, the continued castigation of homosexuals is a continuous rejection of progressive and simply practical ideas of individual freedoms in a modern polity that has implications for women, girls and young people in particular, and for this reason, they also should reject the People’s Democratic Party en masse; these two groups in combination, with other social interests can secure a defeat of a particular conservative interpretation of what it means to be Nigerian; likewise, many in business should know that people perform better as workers when their home life and bodies are secure – their social and sexual freedoms outside of work are part of this. Further, in ideological terms, the People’s Democratic Party is in our view an environmental capitalist party, with a strong emphasis on crony capitalism, that benefits SUV millionaires rather than focused on the creation of a broad-based prosperity, and because of its particular history in government is also likely to be beholden to interests that have the environment as their key concern, but  only as leverage for continued extraction of rents; while the APC and Labor Party will and do no doubt fall short of the redistributive principles they stand for, at least for the foreseeable future it is the only logical direction of the Nigerian state, alongside the basics of any government policy including road-building, reducing graft and improving security.

Now, to the All-Progressives Congress that has governed for the past decade, it would be unfair to tar the aspirant with the same brush as the incumbent – because, there will always be this situation for a candidate from a party where the incumbent cannot stand for election; in this view, the aspirant of the party must be treated as separate from the existing administration and effectively as a new candidate. It is a hard balance to strike and while it cannot be said incontrovertibly that Tinubu’s administration would live up to the ideals it espouses, the APC comes from a tradition that is broadly market socialist in outlook, and either by lip service or action, has an emphasis on redistribution and creation of a broad-based prosperity, for this reason, while power must change hands, it does not in this election, have to change parties.

Similarly, considering the candidate with the strongest novelty factor, Peter Obi and the Labor Party, which is also in essence, a market socialist party, it is unlikely that he and they will win, nevertheless, if he did win it would be historically significant as a marker that we have started to be more comfortable with the legacy of the Biafran-Nigerian civil war. The suggestion that Nigerians should vote for Obi because he has the ear of the youths is the least important reason to do so; rather, it would be important to do so because even though his vision is not any more compelling than the other candidates –it would represent a reckoning with history that will play well internationally, and more importantly, may signal a civic ability in Nigeria to vote tactically in the economic, regional or national terms despite our fears of ethnic annihilation or alienation by other ethnic groups.

While we considered deeply endorsing one candidate in this election, in the final analysis it does not make sense to do so – the issues at stake are not simple, nor will they be solved by the expectation of a heroic rather than diligent and charismatic leader. In this election, the heroism must come from ordinary Nigerians themselves weighing all their own different interests and the future, and contrary to the view of many, there is no candidate that would be an unpatriotic or stupid choice – but there may be a wrong one. From our view, the ideological positions of Nigerians and Africans in general are too often obscured by the focus on ethnicity as the only way we think politically; to break this pattern, our suggestion is that people think of their positions in this regard from the perspective of sex work, and how much they approve or disapprove of it – and what attitude to it they expect from governments; this will give a strong indication, if nothing else about which political party and candidate is likely to be in line with your broad political inclinations. In our view, there are at least the following ideological positions that we are examining through the prism of prostitution.

Firstly, there are those who say – prostitution is not good – if you see a prostitute or indeed anyone that does not conform to a particular extreme heteronormative idea of sexual behaviour – you should kill them on the streets like animals; people who take this position we can call extremists for their commitment to death and cruel, inhuman punishment as the solution for members of society they do not like; it is the position that advocates a fourteen year jail sentence for a sexual habit or orientation by one group, but does not expect to have the same law for adultery by heterosexual men. Then, there are those who say prostitution exists – there’s little we can do about it – except make rules for it and measurements for it; if you are one who takes such a position, that regulation of prostitution is the best possible social and government attitude then you are a liberal; if you are in the position of thinking and praising

prostitution, and sex work as a private and public good, on the basis that there are all sorts of people in the world and they are at liberty and at freedom to do what they want – then you are likely a libertarian; as with many others, you may be one says that all the funds of the government and the honour of the state is and should be a commonwealth, and your position is that all work is, and as such prostitution is good and generally dignified as all work is, then you might be considered a positive socialist; then of course we have those who say prostitution is disgusting or immoral, they are those who say sex work is wrong – and no one would want to have a prostitute for a child or relative and that there was no prostitution in the old days and there was no prostitution when the world was first made; you are the conservatives, and you may not necessarily agree with putting prostitutes to death but often stand by while their freedoms are restricted or indeed whilst they are put to death, and your general discomfort results often in an ambivalence that allows civil rights to be trampled because they don’t match your religious ideas.    

The position of this publication is that sex work, well regulated and undertaken by those who have the temperament to do it, and who do it without coercion or undue economic pressure – is a public and private good –  especially because in all its facets, whether that is paid for sexual services – especially therapeutic ones; sexually explicit media or the sale of sexual tools, toys and health products, the sex industry, formal and informal, sits at the heart of our interpretation of what the limits of life and government should be; it is an expression of the value that governments should by and large not interfere with your freedom to use your body and your mind however you see fit; for in the matter of government, citizens have to guard against the state going beyond its station and interfering in how people choose to live their lives; in addition, our position is also that all facets of sex are an integral part of our commonwealth of health – and sexual liberty, both private and public sexual liberty is part of this; as such the liberty of persons, particularly in terms of what they do with their own bodies should be, apart from health provision, is not the business of the government. So, in terms of this election we want to encourage you to think about your values through this rubric of social approval or disapproval of sex work, regardless of the public or ‘shame avoiding’ public positions you espouse and vote accordingly with your conscience.

In our view, however you vote, you would do well to analyse your position on who to vote for through this rubric we have explored; for this publication, in this red light, a party that introduces legislation that criminalises sexual identity is not for the freedom and liberty of anybody’s sex and personal life; for this reason, we cannot endorse the party that passed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act into law, nor its candidate; in the end, Nigerians, at home and abroad must decide what kind of civic, legal and moral nation and peoples they want to be; whether they want to be a  nation that is legally based on the social and religious prejudices of some people – or a faithful state and society civically based on respect for human rights, natural justice and the law that guarantees everyone the freedom of their own body; if it is a religiously informed and prejudicial society – then it must press for fourteen years for all things considered sexual infractions including adultery, especially for males. This paper of course stands for a morality that is not based on our individual prejudices but on the idea that however distasteful or good another person’s freedoms, it is better they keep it, lest all our freedoms be further endangered.

We actually like the candidate of the PDP, they may well be a good leader and we particularly like his track record on educational philanthropy, but in the context of Nigeria, the other leaders are just as good choices, so their likeability cannot be a factor in who to vote for; especially because, in the end, whoever wins will have to adopt the most important commitments of their opponents – so the electorate would do well to vote not from their ethnic self but from their private selves, the past performance of the party and the degree to which that party has enlarged or endangered the idea of respect for human dignity in social, economic, legal and moral terms.

The humanist as well as common law by which we are all governed says all are equal before the law; the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was an unnecessary further assault on the very idea of freedom that the federation of Nigeria is built on, which though it has not been fully articulated, should not be further endangered, and for this reason a vote for the party that introduced that law should be roundly rejected as an indication that minorities and the socially vulnerable, sexual or otherwise, are not fair game for incompetent governments striving to curry favour and pander to the lowest instincts of the electorate.

The correct person in terms of this moral decision may not win the election – but the vote of conscience suggests there are only two choices in this election and it is not for the People’s Democratic Party, the party that in government undermined the idea that all Nigerians are human, and deserve, whatever theirs or your private prejudices, to live in freedom without fear of persecution for who they are based on their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, physical or neurological limitations, or ethnic identity.

We, at The Vex, wish our brethren who have the vote all the best in making the correct choice in this election; whatever, happens, long live the federal republic of Nigeria, and God bless you all. Choose Love.

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