There Is No Engaging With A Keynote Speaker

There Is No Engaging With A Keynote Speaker

Let me talk a little about Robert Byrd. For those who don’t know him, Robert Byrd was a US Senator from Virginia and a member of the Democratic Party. He first served as a member of the US House of Representatives from 1953 to 1959 and then as a Senator from 1959 to 2010.

In the early 1940s, Byrd recruited 150 of his friends and associates to create a new chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Sophia, West Virginia. According to Byrd, a Klan official told him, “You have a talent for leadership; Bob … The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation.” Byrd later recalled, “Suddenly lights flashed in my mind! Someone important had recognized my abilities! I was only 23 or 24 years old, and the thought of a political career had never really hit me. But strike me that night, it did.”

Byrd became a recruiter and leader of his chapter. When it came time to elect the top officer (Exalted Cyclops) in the local Klan unit, Byrd won unanimously.

However by 1997, he had made a turn around and he told an interviewer he would encourage young people to become involved in politics but also warned, “Be sure you avoid the Ku Klux Klan. Don’t get that albatross around your neck. Once you’ve made that mistake, you inhibit your operations in the political arena.” In his last autobiography, Byrd explained that he was a KKK member because he “was sorely afflicted with tunnel vision — a jejune and immature outlook — seeing only what I wanted to see because I thought the Klan could provide an outlet for my talents and ambitions.” Byrd also said, in 2005, “I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times … and I don’t mind apologizing over and over again. I can’t erase what happened.”

Why am I giving a lecture on America’s political history, you may ask. Well, a couple of days ago, I woke up to the news that The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS) was having its conference on “Human rights, Sexuality and the Law”. Now, TIERs is an organization I have so much respect for, one that has blazed the trail and fearlessly championed the cause of sexual minorities in a dangerously homophobic clime like Nigeria. However I was shocked to my marrows when I looked at the outline for the event and saw that Dr. Reuben Abati was going to deliver the keynote address. REUBEN ABATI!

Now for those of you who may not know, Reuben Abati was the spokesman of former President Goodluck Jonathan, who we all know signed into law one of the most draconian laws infringing on the rights and liberties of the LGBT in Nigeria. Not only did Reuben Abati work for that government, he vigorously defended that law at every opportunity he got, claiming that the president was right and that the law reflected the wishes of Nigerians. Reuben Abati released statements, penned articles and even appeared on international media vigorously defending that law. He essentially became the poster boy for that piece of legislation.

TIERs is an organization that I have so much respect for, but this was a wrong call. If Reuben Abati is allowed to deliver the keynote address at the event, we will be by that action dancing on the graves of the people who have lost their lives as a result of that law signed by Goodluck Jonathan. It will also be a slap on the faces of all of us LGBT people and our allies; we do not provide a platform to the very same people who tried to take away our rights as human beings.

Now it is possible that Reuben Abati has evolved from his views and has maybe made a turn around. However, just like Robert Byrd did about his racism, I expect Reuben Abati to have written a piece in the media, apologizing for the role he played in all of this, if truly he thinks it was the wrong call after all Goodluck Jonathan himself has walked away from his support for that law. Robert Byrd did not go before the NAACP to apologize to them for trying to block the civil rights act in the Senate. No. He wrote several pieces in newspapers profusely apologizing for his membership of the Klan and walking away from his opinions. You cannot invite the person who killed me to come apologize at my funeral; things are not done that way.

Now I do believe in engaging people on the other side and maybe seeing if we can achieve some progress. If Reuben Abati was put on a panel at the event and questioned about his support for that law, it would be more acceptable. I am of the opinion that if you ask someone to be a keynote speaker at your event, that he embodies the values your organization represents. This is a wrong move by TIERs, and it sets a dangerous precedence. My good friend will always say that the abused in a society does not owe the abuser engagement or understanding, that should not be the way life moves. I am personally horrified that we are spitting on the faces of the people who have been beaten, humiliated, extorted, brutalized etc by that law through this action.

I am therefore starting a petition to get TIERs to drop Reuben Abati as their keynote speaker and replace him with someone who has not spat on all our faces. Kindly Sign This Petition Here and share to your friends, let the people at TIERs hear our voices.

Let me end with this quote by Chimamanda Ngozi Adchie in her New York Times article of this week: “The responsibility to forge unity belongs not to the denigrated, but the denigrators. The premise for empathy has to be equal humanity; it is an injustice to demand that the maligned identify with those who questioned their humanity.”

Written by Mandy

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  1. Rapum
    December 06, 07:55 Reply

    Signed. I’m still baffled by TIERs’ move.

    Aside: Chimamanda wrote that in the New Yorker, not in the New York Times.

  2. Tony Odekunle-Brown
    December 06, 08:04 Reply

    Has TIERs released a statement on why he is the keynote speaker? Plus, isn’t the event in collaboration with Ynaija? Do they get a pass? Also from the poster I saw, it just said they were “engaging him in a discussion” so there is a possibility he is part of a panel.

    If anyone has more information please kindly let me know.

    Thanks 🙂

    • Tony Odekunle-Brown
      December 06, 08:11 Reply

      So I just saw the previous post on this issue here. My bad. I totally agree. You don’t get a public Homophobe to give the keynote speech at an LGBT event.

      Makes no sense.

  3. Dennis Macaulay
    December 06, 08:49 Reply

    I expected TIERs to atleast issue a statement attempting to explain away this major gaffe and provide insight to why they think this is acceptable.

    Put Reuben Abati on a panel let the audience engage with him, you do not hand over the only LGBT platform in Nigeria to a raging homophobe who called us paedophiles and abnormal people!!!

  4. Nonny
    December 06, 09:51 Reply

    Shebi it’s because of them I couldn’t share the petition on fb…
    Issorait. Diaris god.

  5. Colossus
    December 06, 11:20 Reply

    I have much respect for reuben, I’ve always seen him as a learned professional so I believe he can hold his own if he is put on the spot. TIERs should believe so too and not shield him. The law is already here, we are now living with it and not expecting it to be repealed anytime soon. The one sure way to speed it up to that repeal point will be for those who crafted the law, signed and defended it, to thereafter admit to their mistake while calling for it to be done away with.
    Anyway, I’ve signed.

    • Olami
      December 06, 18:16 Reply

      Really nice one Bisi
      Worth the watch, totally was enlightened by the debate

  6. Simba
    December 06, 16:33 Reply

    This Blog is an LGBT forum, albeit anonymous. TIERS is an LGBT organization, Bisi is an LGBT activist. Bisi has reacted here, on his thoughts. We have equally reacted. TIERS should respect us and respond too, afterall TIERS exist because we are, TIERS is fighting for us right? Or am I wrong?

    • Francis
      December 06, 17:01 Reply

      Asin eh! The silence from their end is VERY irritating!

  7. Lizzy
    December 06, 19:53 Reply

    Noooooooo! This is wrong, too wrong. We abuse TIERs of doing wrong, what did we just did, right? No, I do not agree with this. Yesterday I asked on the old post, did Bisi reached out to TIERs checking why they decided for him when he saw the news? All I have seen from Bisi and co has been horrible, let us just face the true and stop letting sentiment get into our thinking. There is no way Bisi and those supporting him will not say to me that they doing this for a purpose and no way the agenda reflect my own issue. Since the start of this event, we have rubbish the event and the work those people do, this is too wrong. No, I refused to let anyone use me for their own agenda as this is now looking more like someone agenda.

    I have asked critical questions yesterday, what is this event, what is the aim of it? Before Bisi started rubbishing them, did he at all, by any chance reached out or engage them to check why they picked him? Did he understood the event?

    And someone will now tell me this is not a personal issue or beef, please no way we should allow our thinking to go this low. There is more to this and no way anyone can tell me otherwise as it clear Bisi is using people to push whatever the issue might be.

    Till anyone can show or say TIER did not reply their questions or provide information for the event, I do not see how we are different from whatever wrong we saying about them. I do not even know how to understand this. We doing petition? This community we get problem ooo, the gay men mostly. I said yesterday and again this is rubbishing is bad for us all and the work any organization do TIER including.

    • Francis
      December 06, 20:09 Reply

      Nne/Nna calm down and retype this abeg. It’s not intelligible. You get your own agenda, we get our own agenda. Every man hug your own agenda.

      • Lizzy
        December 06, 20:15 Reply

        Oga I go see where the agenda go take us oooo as I no sabi intelligible but you for try answer some of my questions sha, maybe I go see your agenda.

        • Francis
          December 06, 22:20 Reply

          Goan speak to ya friends Olumide and co, to release a robust statement on why they selected Ruby.

          • Lizzy
            December 07, 08:32 Reply

            Oga, Olumide is not my friend but you still never answer my questions. Wetin that one mean? Una just dey join wetin una no understand. Una wan statement now after una don finish them for public, rubbish them, called them all kind? Abeg, make we dey borrow ourselves sense small small.

            • Francis
              December 07, 08:37 Reply

              So you basically read this article and still want to know why we are making noise?! Odiegwu. I no get strength to repeat yarns again. Scroll back up and read the piece well again. Maybe na IH things dey worry those of una that see nothing wrong with this move

              • Lizzy
                December 07, 14:25 Reply

                You insulting those of us that failed to agree with you, wetin that one say about you? Even if I wan see your view, your pushing it down my throat will not let me see. Una want make all of us listen to una but other who want it should be shut up, talk of an oppressed becoming oppressor.

    • Tiercel de Claron.
      December 06, 22:13 Reply

      ‘We have met the enemy,and it is us.’ – Pogo

      Using a public blog to fight someone’s private battle.

  8. ambivalentone
    December 07, 09:23 Reply

    Its actually a shame really. The retweets by TIERS of abati show me that they are very unaware of the word play (or aren’t they?). “No person can be tried except within the purview of the extant law” when asked about violences against ppl percieved as avin differing sexual orientations MEANWHILE, it is cool if the police and courts try them them if they are alleged different because of these ‘laws’? Well, its a ‘human’ rights gig not specifically gay rights. So he is well within rights to be the keynote speaker. After all, from the Nigerian’s emotional, religious and cultural POV, gay ppl are persona non-grata

  9. […] is ever achieved without understanding and addressing the fears of the opposition. Someone said, you do not invite the KKK to an NAACP event. Well, sometimes, you do if you want lasting peace; and it happened as recently as 3 years ago in […]

  10. […] is ever achieved without understanding and addressing the fears of the opposition. Someone said, you do not invite the KKK to an NAACP event. Well, sometimes, you do if you want lasting peace; and it happened as recently as 3 years ago in […]

  11. Pankar
    December 13, 18:44 Reply

    can’t you all instead of bickering, wait out to see what he has to say tomorrow? TIER’s is a human rights org, not just gay rights

    • Francis
      December 13, 19:39 Reply

      Abeg get them to change this on their website >>> The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) is a Nigeria-based registered non-for-profit organisation working to protect and promote the human rights of sexual minorities nationally and regionally

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