Former Nigerian President’s media spokesman met with local LGBT community leader

Vu Chau

Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan cancelled his Sacramento State appearance at the 25th annual Peace Awards Dinner and Dance due to a sudden illness on Friday, April 22 and was replaced by his media spokesman, Reno Omokri.

“When Africans have the flu, it’s not something they’re used to,” Omokri said. “Right now, the president’s doctors advised him to rest a bit.”

Jonathan was scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at the awards ceremony Saturday night before falling ill. The former president was invited to the event by Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution to speak about the topic of peace after he peacefully conceded his loss of the presidency to the opposing party candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, in 2015.

Jonathan’s planned visit to Sac State drew in a wide range of criticism from both on and off-campus communities because of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act he signed into law in 2014.

This law criminalizes homosexuality and prohibits any supportive actions from being given to the LGBT community in Nigeria.

Any Nigerian who is involved in homosexual acts can be sentenced to a minimum of 14 years in prison, while those who belong to any gay organizations or show support to the LGBT community can also be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison.

Uwazie said that Nigeria is split between Muslims and Christians, so the idea of not accepting homosexuality is the one known thing that both religions can actually agree on.

According to Uwazie, Jonathan is not anti-gay personally, but would have faced impeachment had he not signed the legislation into law.

“Africa should be given its due time to evolve just like every other culture, society, and individual,” Uwazie said. “It is very unfair to hold Africa to a different standard from other countries and cultures.”

In an email sent out to students on Tuesday, April 19, Sac State President Robert Nelsen addressed Jonathan’s visit to the campus.

“Personally, I find the legislation that was passed in Nigeria to be more than abhorrent – it is a travesty against humankind that must be rectified,” Nelsen said in the email. “Dr. Jonathan’s presence … should in no way indicate that we … condone what is happening in Nigeria because of the passage of these laws.”

A protest on Sac State campus was also planned by the Sacramento LGBT community prior to the announcement of Jonathan’s cancelled appearance.

George Raya, secretary of the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, said the protest was cancelled right after the news was announced.

“It’s just human nature. Who wants to go to somewhere where they’re going to see a mass demonstration against them,” Raya said of Jonathan’s absence. “We never said we don’t want him to come … We just did not want the university to honor him. A keynote speaker means the university is honoring him in some ways and so that was our sticking point.”

A meeting at 6 p.m. on Saturday between Omokri and Raya was scheduled to clear up any of Raya’s concerns.

“I’m here to listen to you, so don’t feel like you have to filter your concerns,” Omokri said to Raya.

During the meeting, Raya compared the 2014 Nigerian law to the U.S.’ 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and 1994 Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

At the ceremony, Omokri gave the speech on behalf of Jonathan. The speech chronicled Jonathan’s legacy and time as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“When President Jonathan decided to run for office in September of 2010, he said he was willing to transform Nigeria,” Omokri said in the speech. “[President Jonathan] called the agenda he had, The Transformation Agenda … In 2015, when he lost the presidency, … there was no challenge to the winner of the presidential election by the candidate who lost. That was the first time it happened, and that was a transformation.”

After his speech, Omokri opened the conversation up to the rest of the attendees who had questions for him and Jonathan.

Out of the three questions asked, none was about the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Ac.

The Saturday evening Peace Awards Dinner and Dance ceremony closed out the four-day Africa/Diaspora Conference at Sac State that began on Wednesday, April 20.

“This is one of those out of class experiences for our students that I’m sure most of them will remember,” said Ernest Uwazie, director of CAPCR and criminal justice professor. “This conference should allow people to meet people from all over the world and definitely see Africa in a different light. Most different from wars, diseases and problems.”