Nigerians only rise up, when it affects them – Onyeka Nwelue

Last week, the LGBTQIA+ community in Nigeria, joined the #EndSARS protests, carrying placards and demanding that police not assault them. Predictably, Nigerians rose up quickly and voiced their disdain. Nigerians said: “This is not the right time to bring this up!” I was not shocked. Nigerians think they are smart and that if something does not affect them personally, that thing is not a priority and does not exist. Who the hell are these people who think their issues must be treated first before another? The Yahoo boys cried out, nobody shut them up. The tech guys did, nobody shut them up. The boys who have dreadlocks did, we empathized with them. The effeminate boys cried out and we tell them it is not the right time. Effeminate boys have been kidnapped and raped by Nigerian police. And made to pay money. I know some of them, who have been through this horror.

We watched as a Nigerian public servant used police to shut down Bobrisky’s birthday party. Nigerians were happy. Shame on Nigerians and their acute hypocrisy!

Before Bobrisky became famous, there was an Igbo instrumentalist and cross-dresser, living in the East of Nigeria, called Area Scatter. From the 70s to early 80s, Area Scatter braided, did make-up and wore beautiful fabrics and walked around in heels, playing music in homes of the upper class. Suddenly, Area Scatter disappeared. Never to be seen. Nobody knows what happened.

We have tried that with Bobrisky, but she is stronger than we thought. Now, we are giving up. We go to her Instagram to watch what she does, daily. We are obsessed with Bobrisky. We are addicted to her. We can deny this, but there are lots of lessons to learn from her.

When I lived in India, in Delhi, right there in Pahar Ganj, I spent time being entertained and cajoled by the hijras. Let me explain what the Hijra means: a person whose gender identity is neither male nor female, typically a person who was assigned male at birth but whose gender expression is female. There are lots of them in South Asia, who subject themselves to prostitution, to feed, because there is no ‘job’ for them. Married men go only at night to have sex with them. These married men will also shame them in the day. There is superstition in Hinduism that the hijras can take away your luck if you do not do what they ask you to do. So, these hijras beg people money and they feel obliged. Many hijras are used as sex toys. In fact, in Arundhati Roy’s last novel, A Ministry of Utmost Happiness, she details the life of a hijra. No matter the cultural implications, cross-dressers are still not taken seriously.

Weeks ago, a young man who was diagnosed of Leukemia (blood cancer), reached out to Bobrisky and told her that he needed help and did not want to die. He needed about 2 million Naira for his treatment. According to Bobrisky, she could not eat or ignore the message after reading it. She acted quickly and I think, she helped raise about 3 million Naira. Those who despise Bobrisky in the open, go in the dark, to seek for her help. For whatever its worth, Bobrisky’s heart is not different from the way she dresses: colourful and flamboyant. What she is doing now, is what Jesus Christ did. Those who hate her, do so, at their peril. They can’t even do what she does. Moreover, last year, when a certain old Nigerian man raided her birthday party, I was pained. I was gutted. I felt as though it was done to me. I had been at an event with that old man before: we lit a fire at my book launch, organized by the Indian embassy in Abuja. For the first time in my life, I did not feel the need to keep in touch with him.

You can’t hate anyone because they are different from you. This is not when I used to write open letters to people: Bobrisky deserves an open letter, to be praised. Oh yes, many people call me the ass-kisser and other fine names, but we see that this strong soul, Bobrisky can’t be taken down. All we have to do, is to give up and give her the space to continue to entertain us and save lives.

I have suggested that Bobrisky needs a documentary on her, a tv show and a book. She needs to be studied. Not because of her flamboyance, but, because of her tenacity, to live among people who are drained in self-hate. They have tried to break her. She is still standing. It is possible she cries in her private space, yet, her energy is infectious. This is probably the strongest person I know. I have learnt from her, but I can’t do what she does. When they came for me, I took off from social media, deleted all my social media accounts and checked myself into a psychiatry. I did not want a fellow human being to break me down. Now, I have monthly psychiatric appointment because of the trauma humans shoved my way online. I cut many people off. Now, they ask: “Where is he? We miss him.” Bobrisky will never run like me.

If you hate Bobrisky, you hate yourself. And because what concerns LGBTQIA+ does not concern you, does not make their case invalid.

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