While planning a quick getaway Kasie Anyawu, realised his Nigerian passport was due to expire a few weeks after his wedding day and had to be renewed.
Weeks later after the wedding, he set about completing the online application form for his passport renewal. Not quite used to being married, when it came to answering the Marital status question he chose “Single” from the list of available options. It still felt dreamlike. He still had to pinch himself sometimes and fiddle with the simple gold wedding band on his finger, to remind himself he was married.
He selected “Married”.
Then came the next two questions – “Name of kin” and “Relationship to next of kin”. When he was single, it had always put his sister down as his next of kin and stated their relationship, but with the change in Marital status a change of Next of kin designate might be required. He paused and thought for a second. Whom should he designate as his next of kin? His sister or his new husband?
A Nigerian passport is an official document and the property of the government. With the same sex marriage prohibition act (SSMPA) signed into law in 2014, it would be highly probably that the officials, being well within the law, may reject the application on the basis that same sex marriages are not recognised. Therefore specifying his husband as his Next Of Kin would invalidate the application.
But Kasie thought it would be deliciously underhanded to have the Nigerian government unwittingly recognise and rubber stamp a same sex union between two Nigerian citizens on one of its official documents.
He wondered if anyone would pick up on his answers at the passport processing office. He canvassed 15-20 Nigerian friends via WhatsApp asking what they thought about his idea. All except one, thought it was foolhardy. They advised him not to attract negative attention to himself and taint a personal joyous milestone with hurtful homophobic reaction from the fallout, on the high probability that the irregularity would be discovered.
Kasie asked for his husband’s opinion, after all if his plan went wrong, he would be impacted as well. The spotlight, no matter how fleeting would be on him and he would be named a co-conspirator. His husband gave his backing saying he would do the same too and stick it to the Nigerian government. That was all the encouragement Kasie needed.
He entered his husband’s title as “Mr”, specified him as Next of kin and their relationship as “Spouse”.
The passport processing officers may not catch on. Most names from the south of Nigeria where they both come from, tend to be circumstantial rather than gender based. His name Kasiemobi (Anglicised to Kasie) – meant “Console me” as he was born after a tragic event in the family.
His husband’s name, Abimbola meant “born into wealth”, which is quite self-explanatory. Though statistically more females tend to have that name, it is not uncommon to find males with the same name.
Kasie reasoned that if his subterfuge were to be discovered it might not only spark another, hopefully less faltering, debate on the prohibitive SSPMA but at the very least show Nigerian LGBT back home – who have in recent times been bereft of support from local and overseas based Nigerian self styled human rights activists and indigenous LGBT platforms, who have become selective in the type of humans and LGBT people they advocate for – that same sex marriage between Nigerians is indeed possible.
He also heard Michelle Obama was in town promoting her new book “Becoming” and was staying in a hotel next to the Nigeria High Commission (NHC). Selfishly he dreamed, his audacious behaviour would “break the internet” as they say and spawn a catchy #hashtag which she might mention on her social media profiles. Who knows, she might actually meet him in person and greet him with one of her famous homely bear hugs. Hugs that not only demonstrate affection and an enthusiasm for seeing someone, but also show a need to protect the huggee. Some commentators are of the opinion her hugs was one of the reasons the Queen invited her back for private visits, after they first met in 2009 during President Obama’s first state visit to UK in 2009. Indeed it can be lonely at the top.
On the day of the appointment, he said a passionate good bye to his husband, as it might be the last for a while and headed for the NHC.
He had no high expectations about how the day’s proceedings would go. He just made sure he had all the requisite documentation as listed on the NHC website and hoped that the requirements hadn’t changed between when he checked that morning and by the time he got to passport office an hour later. The NHC passport office can be quite changeable with the application requirement, giving the impression that they make things up as they go along.
And even if they were less capricious with the requirements, Kasie knew his people – where there is a rule, they test its limits the same way technicians stress test a system beyond its breaking point. A trait that has done him well in the past and still does today.
The NHC operate a queuing system in the passport & visa application reception hall. Visitors take a numbered ticket from the ticket dispenser and wait for their number to be called and then directed to an available counter where they will be attended to.
When he got to the crowded hall, Kasie took a number and according to the ticket display, officially there were 5 people before him. Unofficially however, because people hovered around the counters and shunted in between ticket numbers being called out, to ask questions – which have been answered in the FAQ section on the NHC website, he counted no less than 10 people who were attended to before his number was eventually called.
As he stepped towards the counter when his ticket number was called , a traditionally built lady – surprisingly agile for her build, wearing a floral sleeveless dress which exposed her evenly lightened skin until it came to her dark elbows and knuckles, with “natural” long flowing hair (Becky with the good hair wouldn’t be proud of) and long eye lashes pointing in different directions, almost knocked him over as she brushed past him saying “Hexcuse me, pleez I want to quickly hask the woman sontin”
He wanted to reach out and snatch her hair, but an inner voice told him to hold back and not be detracted from the mission at hand, saying “Not today Satan, not today”.
Five long minutes later, knock off Cookie Lyon left the counter and Kasie proceeded to the front of the counter. The lady behind the counter, who had a face like the applicants disturbed her sleep, looked over his application form and supporting documentation for only she and God know what, initialled and stamped his form and placed his documents in an out tray to be picked up by another officer. Kasie thought she probably was not looking for quality of the information in the form but rather its completeness, or she would have picked up on the irregularity in the form. Perhaps, he thought, this might be picked up at a later stage of the process.
Kasie was then instructed to go upstairs to another holding area where he would be called for the final stage which involved answering a few questions regarding the application, taking a passport photograph and having his fingerprints captured fingerprint scanning machine.
Upstairs, his name was called out and he went across the hall into a room with about five manned desks each with a computer, a digital camera and a fingerprint scanner. Four of the desks each had an applicant being dealt with and Kasie sat in the empty chair in front of desk he was called to.
“Good Morning”, he greeted the man behind the desk. He had a stern face, was of average build and wore a shirt that seemed a size too small as it struggled to contain his pot belly.
“Good Morning sir. How are you?” he responded.
“I am fine, thanks”.
The official looked over the application and looked up at him, squinted his eyes at the document a few times and frowned.
This is it Kasie thought. The moment of truth. A mild sense of excitement started to set in. His brain went into over drive. He was sure the official had spotted the irregularity in the form. And how he reacted would be crucial to the positive outcome of his end game.
The official would suggest that he made a mistake with the form.
Kasie would say he didn’t.
The officer would reject the application on the grounds that Nigeria did not recognise same sex marriage. He might be given the option to change the next of kin entry on the form and continue with the process or have it voided.
He would stand his ground and say his marriage was as legal as any other marriage. And it would be a violation of his rights to suggest otherwise.
The official would refuse and reject the application.
He would create a fuss, causing a ruckus while activating his Facebook live feed. He would ask – no demand to speak to The High Commissioner. The officer would refuse and call security to take him off the premises. He would stand his ground and refuse to be moved. He would be carried out. Everyone including Michelle Obama would share his live feed which would get multiple shares and go viral. All major news outlets would run the feed. CNN would assemble a panel of experts hosted by Anderson Cooper to discuss the plight of the LGBT people in Nigeria and they would find a way to blame President Trump for it.
“Mr Anyawu, do you go to the gym?”
Kasie jolted from his reverie.
“What?” Kasie looking quizzical. This wasn’t the line of questioning he was expecting.
“You are quite fit and you look like you work out a lot. How many times a week do you go to the gym?
“Erm, Thanks. 3-4 times a week, work permitting. Is everything alright with my form?” Kasie asked, half willing him to find the irregularity with the application.
“Yes. Its ok. Wow 4 times a week? I wish I had the time. Maybe I should start slowing, maybe 2 times a week and see how it goes. And what do you eat?
Kasie began to see the spotlight on the plight of LGBT folks in Nigeria, start to flicker.
“Yes, I guess starting slowing is a step in the right direction. And when you start seeing results you will be motivated to increase your weekly gym attendance. So you say the form is ok?”
“Yes it is. About your diet. Any tips?”
No catchy hashtag
“I cook my food from scratch most times. Fresh vegetables, meats and complex carbohydrates. No processed stuff. Did you check the title of the next of kin?
“Yes, next of kin is fine. I need to change my diet. I don’t have time to make my own lunch and I end up eating sandwiches from the supermarket. And when I get home, when my wife cooks dinner we have pounded yam and vegetable soup. Some nights rice and plantain. When she doesn’t cook we eat take away, Nigerian take away of course.
No CNN. No Anderson Cooper.
“It’s all about setting goals and focusing on achieving them. Speaking of focus, did I complete the relationship to next of kin question?
“Yes you did. Everything is in order”.
No bear hug from Michelle Obama.
And with that the official captured his fingerprints using the fingerprint scanner and took his passport photograph. He finished processing the application and gave Kasie an appointment date to pick up his new passport his in 2 weeks. He thanked Kasie for the exercise tips and promised to join a local gym.
Though it was not his primary objective, Kasie was a bit crestfallen as he left the NHC that day that he did not generate the publicity he had fantasised about. However, 2 weeks later there was an extra spring in his step as he sashayed away from the NHC with his new passport tucked away safely in his man bag, he took comfort in the knowledge that he had gotten the Nigerian Government – either by commission on his part or omission on theirs – to the recognise at least one Nigerian same sex marriage.