• Dami Afam Ade-Odiachi

Many thoughts about Bolu Okupe's sprint out the closet

A Nigerian boy, Bolu Okupe came out as gay on instagram. He posted a picture of himself with the caption, “Yes. I’m gay AF.”

AF here stands for as fuck.

I found that out on twitter. The first thing I did was check to see where in the world he was. France. I breathed a sigh of relief. I could smile. When Nigerians come out of the closet in Nigeria, loudly, proudly, I worry for them. It’s a bit like being in hell and screaming for demons to punish you, ill advised. But this boy of Nigerian beginnings was living his truth in Paris. “Good for him.” I thought, and then I moved on, or I tried to move on. His surname rang through my head like a dull alarm. Okupe, Okupe, Okupe, Okupe.

My father, my mother and I, have dinner together most nights. These days, we’re very somber. Each of us is trying in our own way to give strength to the other. I’m the worst at this. I’m so needy, so embattled, so psychologically imperilled that I worry I am sapping them of the will to live. I don’t know why I’ve become so glum. I was fine just two weeks ago. Now there’s talk of this therapist, or that therapist, or that minister, and that mentor, but I don’t want any of it. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just blue, which is a lovely colour.

“You spend far too much time inside your room.” My father said.

I can’t remember what we were eating.

“Well, it’s far better than spending too much time outside.” I said.

“You need to get your vitamin D.” My father said.

“This time last year, I was barely home and I was getting quite a lot of vitamin D. I think my current life suits me just fine. I don’t bother anyone. No one bothers me.” I said.

“Well this time last year you’d painted your nails black. I was convinced you were a drug addict satanist homosexual. You were also quite thin… I think I prefer the current you, but you could still do with a bit more vitamin D. Dr. Okupe wrote in the Thisday Newspaper that the elite are dying from Covid because we’re Vitamin D deficient.” He said.

“Nobody at this table is Vitamin D deficient in Jesus name.” My mother said.

“But it’ll be a shame if he dies from Covid after everything he’s put us through.” My father said.

“I have seen his success in my dreams. He will win awards. He will stand before kings and not before useless men.” My mother said.

This sort of faith makes me smile. It is love. I feel loved. I am wanted. I am accepted. It doesn’t mean I don’t get insulted, but it does mean that I’ll never be rejected.

“Was I wearing nail polish at the ceremony?” I asked.

My mother rolled her eyes.

“Dr. Okupe wrote that we should spend at least 30 minutes outside each day to get the required amount of Vitamin D to fight Covid. He’s a good chap Dr. Okupe. He was my Egbon (senior) at school.”

I let the conversation fade into nothingness that night. But Okupe, Okupe, Okupe… what were the odds that we’d discussed the father just days before the son would occupy my thinking. Life is strange like that is it not? There are no coincidences. Everything has reasons that can’t be explained by reason.

Dr. Doyin Okupe’s son Bolu Okupe has come out as gay. That’s what the headlines said. The story was carried widely by the press that day. I wondered why it was so viral. I clicked a link to one of the stories, the one published by The Guardian, and there it was, the reason. The boy’s father had been a special adviser to former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan who signed Nigeria’s now infamous anti-gay bill into law. The turn of events was and is quite frankly hilarious. Worthy of laughter that starts from the belly and ends in a shriek - stupendously funny. Almost as funny as Dr. Okupe’s own run-ins with Nigeria’s laws. The good Dr. Okupe has been thrice accused of fraud by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Two of the cases have been settled, but the third remains in court. He’s been accused of laundering and diverting 702 million Naira from the $2 billion given to Colonel Sambo Dasuki to procure weapons meant to help fight the war against the terrorist insurrectionist group, Boko Haram. He’ll be back in court on the 8th and 9th of February 2021. There’s no real question about whether or not he is guilty. To be a Nigerian politician is to be guilty of something villainous. It may not be the thing they’re accused of doing but there’s certainly almost always something. It is the main reason why Nigerian politics cannot be the occupation of anyone who possesses an accurate moral compass. Of course there are a few outliers among them. People who are perhaps too good for their own good. I wonder how they endure living with the stench of corruption. I suppose they must not be very good if they can abide it but that’s neither here nor there.

Dr. Okupe on hearing the news of his son’s rather public coming out took to his twitter account and said, “My attention has been drawn to a publication of my 27 year old son Bolu Okupe, in which he declared publicly that he is gay. I have been aware of his new orientation for a while now. He knows that as a Christian and a witness for Christ (an evangelist) I am vehemently opposed to homosexuality as it runs contrary to the avowed precepts of my Christian faith. I gave him that name Moba Oluwa Rin (I walked with God) because he was born at the time I gave myself to Christ.”

I suppose he must be commended for sticking to his position so steadfastly. I certainly wouldn’t. With a keen understanding of what it means for a Nigeria to come out of the closet, I would have kept my Christian protestations to the family group chat, lest anyone see them and think I did not love my son. Lest anyone see them and think it was license to go after the boy with death threats and unkind words. In fact I’d say nothing at all, lest anyone google me, find the details of my troubles with Nigeria’s criminal justice system and label me a profound hypocrite. I wouldn’t have found it in myself to say anything at all.

It’s such a terrible situation.

I was feeling a bit off about it, a little unresolved, so I called a friend, a gay friend, who’s now living his best gay life where it is legal to have a gay life, to ask him what he thought about the whole affair.

“Jojoba, have you heard about this whole Okupe ruckus rocking the internet.” I asked.

“Yes. I have. It’s very funny.” He said.

“It’s rather funny, but it isn’t too funny. After all, these are real people with very real lives.” I said.

“I didn’t expect that it would go differently.” He said.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“People from that generation are so limited in thought. They really can’t help themselves. I suspect the father was positioning for his friends who are probably just as homophobic as he is. Maybe he thought the gayness would stain his white.” He said.

“How is it good to throw your child clean under the bus? It strikes me as not very good parenting.” I said.

“It could have been worse you know? And that one was already very good. What did he say? I’m a Christian so I don’t support him, but I am proud of him? Of course he took too long to say that he was proud, but that’s already very good for a Nigerian.” He said.

“How was it for you, coming out?” I asked.

“Well, I told my mum a couple of years ago and it didn’t go as well as I would have liked.” He said.

“What happened?” I asked.

“It’s still happening, 6 years after. She will not accept it. She cannot get past it. We talk about everything but the fact that I’m gay. To bring it up is to be sent Bible passages and prayers. She worries for me.” He said.

“I’m sorry.” I said.

“Don’t be. It’s for the best. I deserve a happy life, surrounded by people that bring me joy. Things aren’t perfect, and they don’t have to be. I’m doing my best. If I worried about what everyone thought of me, I don’t think I’d have the energy required to live my life.” He said.

“But surely, it would be good to come home, to be with family.” I said.

“What good is a family that cannot take you as you are? I chose freedom. I chose me.” He said.

“And what of Mr. Okupe and his son. Do you think they’ll be alright?” I asked.

“Even if they’re not alright, they will be fine in the end, when they’re dead.” He said.

“I’m not as jaded as you. I hope for better. I don’t see the harm in being gay. It’s two consenting adults. They’re not depriving anyone of anything. It shouldn’t be criminal. If it weren’t criminal you’d be here, and I wouldn’t be as lonely.” I said.

“That’s sweet of you to say, but even if it were legal I wouldn’t be there. I think I’d kill myself if my green passport was my only passport. Nigerians are brutes. They don’t respect anyone’s right to a decent life. The other day I read about a 12 year old girl somewhere in the North who was raped by her teacher at school. She had the baby and I was like, why the fuck didn’t she abort it? And then I remembered that abortions are largely illegal, so there you have it, another child mother. Not the first and not the last.” He said.

“But it’ll get better. Life here will get better. It has to.” I said.

“When you’re 50, 12 year old Nigerian girls will still be having children and Nigerians will still think it’s okay. Did you hear about the female police officer that was sacked because she got pregnant without having a husband? Can Christians and Muslims marry freely even now? Are women free to inherit the property of their husbands in every part of the country? Is it not still a big deal when Igbos marry Fulanis? Nigeria is the wilderness, and as I’m not a beast I cannot survive there. I wonder how you do it.” He asked.

“I think it’d be impossible if I didn’t have the family or friends I have. We’ve built lives that completely isolate us from the true state of the country. We’re an island and everything else is the sea.” I said.

“It works for you. It didn’t work for me.” He said.

We let the silence sit. It was an unhappy silence.

“In any case, the Okupe story is a good lesson.” He said.

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“A lot of the time, Nigerian lawmakers don’t seem to understand the power they have. They believe themselves immune. They have no imagination. They only really get it when they’re affected personally. Bolu’s dad’s boss signed the anti-gay bill into law. Many people were affected by it including me. People extorted me, harassed me, abused me, and I could not report them to anyone. They could have killed me and my killers would have walked free. I was completely unprotected. I don’t care that Christianity frowns upon the way I choose to live my life. I really don’t. But it doesn’t mean that people should beat me up and threaten to kill me because I’m gay, and that should I have to keep silent because I don’t want to end up in prison for 14 years. It’s poetic justice.” He said.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know that happened.” I said.

“Thank you. It is a small joy that the man wittingly or unwittingly condemned his son to the same fate. When he dies do you think the boy will be able to come back for his father’s funeral? With his face plastered on every newspaper and every gossip magazine do you think he’ll be safe in Nigeria? He won’t be.” Jojoba said.

“I don’t think it’s anything to be happy about. It is good that the boy lives in France. I wish him and his father all the happiness in the world.” I said.

“Isn’t the man due in court soon?” Jojoba asked.

“Yes. On the 8th and 9th of February.” I said.

“That’s very good. Can you imagine? He’s in court for what is essentially theft and he thinks he has the Christian clout to talk anything? Where do these people get off?” He asked.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know.” I said.

The conversation died shortly after that. I was exhausted and I think Jojoba was too. It isn’t very easy to talk about other people’s lives, especially when there’s much opportunity for disaster. It is much better to focus on other things, happier things, like the put your head on my shoulder challenge on social media. Naked or semi naked Nigerians winding their waists and dancing to what I think is a very very good song. How lovely.

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