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With Runsewe’s barking, can he bite Bobrisky?

Judging from happenings in the last three weeks, activities of controversial cross-dresser, Bobrisky, have reached the point where government can no longer ignore or dismiss him as unserious. The Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, thinks Bobrisky is a threat to Nigeria’s moral fabric and has threatened to arrest him. But does Runsewe have the legal leeway to proceed against Bobrisky? OLADIMEJI RAMON asks lawyers

In the Nigerian social media space, the mention of the name Bobrisky is certain to provoke an instant debate. The reactions range from utter indignation to passive approval. ‘The guy is busy making money, while you are here criticising,’ is a common riposte from those who approve of Bobrisky to those who resent the Internet personality’s way of life, which is seen as alien to the Nigerian cultural lifestyle. Over time, it has become clear that this controversy is the very lifeblood of the brand which Bobrisky says he is promoting.

Bobrisky is the nick name of 27-year-old Okuneye Idris Olanrewaju, who is described by an online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, as an entrepreneur. There is no detail about the nature of his business, though. The young man started out his controversial lifestyle dressing like a female and wearing make-up. He graduated into enlarging his rumps and breasts. To leave no one in doubt about his intentions, Bobrisky, about May, declared he would like to be regarded as a female, and asked that anyone talking about him use the pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her.’

In a recent a video on Instagram, he warned that no one should ever refer to him as a male.

“Hello, guys, good evening to you. This video is for some idiots on my page. I’m going to post a picture and you tell me, ‘You look good, bro’. Who is your bro? Please, tani bro e? Your bro is in Yaba, collecting treatment.

“I am a beautiful girl. So, if I post a picture and you want to comment, you comment and say, ‘You look beautiful, baby girl, pretty woman’. Don’t come to my post and tell me bro.”

If Bobrisky was seen all along as a comic relief in a country contending with so many matters of life and death, now the Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, thinks he is a threat to the Nigerian moral fabric.

Runsewe fears that if Bobrisky is not stopped, he would soon be seen as a hero and role model among the young people.

“Bobrisky is a national disgrace. He started by selling and using bleaching creams, now he has grown boobs, bums and hips. If a Bobrisky is doing well with his immoral lifestyle, how do you convince Nigerian youths to do the right thing? Bobrisky has the right, but not within the Nigerian environment,” the irritated Runsewe declared recently.

And declaring his resolve to go after Bobrisky, the NCAC DG said, “My job is to protect and preserve the fabric of our good culture. Bobrisky is not a role model or an icon that Nigerian youths should look up to. We should all condemn him so that he would go back to how he was created. He has a right to leave Nigeria for any country that practises and encourages trans-gender lifestyle. If he is caught on the streets of this country, he will be dealt with ruthlessly.”

But as offended as Runsewe is, lawyers doubts if he has the legal leeway to proceed against Bobrisky.

A Lagos-based activist lawyer, Mr Olukoya Ogungbeje, notes that by virtue of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2013, homosexuality is a crime that attracts 10 years’ imprisonment on conviction in Nigeria.

However, Ogungbeje says he is not aware that Bobrisky has come out to openly profess being a homosexual such that the Nigerian anti-gay law can be used against him.

Ogungbeje says, “Bobrisky may be behaving in such a manner that suggests that he is gay, but I am not aware that he has come out openly to say he is one. I think he is doing what he is doing to promote his business and I don’t see any concrete reason why the state should proceed against him, although we condemn his activities, which could be immoral.

“Under our law, it is a criminal offence to get involved in homosexual acts. In our society, it is not only illegal, it is also immoral, unlike in the US, where it is a fundamental right.

“However, the power to arrest and prosecute Bobrisky as a gay or an alleged gay does not lie with Otunba Runsewe; that power is vested in the Nigeria Police Force, who can conduct an investigation into his activities and if he is culpable, can initiate an action against him in the court of law. Otunba Runsewe can only express his anger against Bobrisky’s activities, which we all condemn, but the legal implication, how far can it go?”

Another lawyer, Mr Emeka Nwadioke, says he is not aware of any Nigerian law that criminalises indecent dressing and vests the power of arrest in the NCAC DG.

Nwadioke says, “It does not seem to me that Chief Runsewe, in his capacity as the Director General of the National Council for Arts and Culture, is especially empowered to pursue and prosecute citizens for alleged indecent or immoral acts. Also, immorality is not an offence known to the Criminal Code.”

Nwadioke adds that though Section 231 of the Criminal Code Act criminalises indecent acts in public places, the court would have to decide whether cross-dressing, as Bobrisky does, amounts to an indecent act.

He says, “It does not seem that the Criminal Code has exhaustively delineated acts to be classified as indecent acts. Accordingly, whether cross-dressing is an indecent act for which a person may be arrested and prosecuted is for the courts to determine.

“I am aware that an Indecent Dressing Bill presented by a former Senate Committee Chairman on Women and Youths, Senator Eme Ufot Ekaette, did not pass. It was even harshly criticised by the Nigerian Feminists Forum as a non-issue. While the debate on LGBTQ rights rages, the argument by UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidib, that the Same Sex Act in particular could lead to increased homophobia, discrimination, denial of HIV services and violence, based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, must be further interrogated.”

Similarly, another Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Ige Asemudara, observes that Nigeria has no law regulating morality.

He says, “I do not entirely agree with the DG. Law does not regulate morality unless specifically enacted. Unless there is a specific law that Bobrisky’s conduct has breached, you cannot arrest him. If you do, you will be breaching his right to freedom of expression, etc.

“Morality and law have a dividing line and legal scholars through the ages have debated it. Prof. HLA Hart and Lord Devin were great examples of the proponents of the legal intervention in moral issues.”

Asemudara says the only leeway for the state to proceed against Bobrisky is if he is found to have breached the legislation prohibiting homosexuality.

“This, you must prove. Here we do not recognise what the West call the LGBT rights and I agree with our jurisprudence on this. Such conducts or rights, if allowed by our law, are capable of provoking disgust which can lead to the collapse of the societal fabric,” the lawyer says.

Also, Mr John Nwokwu, another lawyer, says no matter how offended anyone may feel, Nigeria has no law regulating morality. He adds that the police reserve the power of arrest.

Nwokwu says, “The police, under the Police Act, have the power of arrest and investigation. It is not within the jurisdiction of the NCAC DG to issue an arrest warrant.

“Which of the laws provides that you cannot go naked? Though it is seen as an eyesore to the society and it corrupts morality, but there is no place for morality in law.

“This is not to say that I am supporting anybody going naked or dressing indecently. We should all condemn such acts for the purpose of upholding the moral values of our society but there is no written law against such and nobody can be punished for an act not criminalised by any law.

“But if you think Bobrisky has violated any law, it is the police who reserve the power of arrest; not the NCAC DG.”

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