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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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Interview with fellow Dr. Anthony Okeregbe

Interview with fellow Dr. Anthony Okeregbe

Dr. Okeregbe, the project you are currently working on during your fellowship is entitled “Children’s moral feelings about sex and wellbeing in the light of the Child’s Right Act and Entangled Sexuality Pedagogies”. What motivated you to investigate this specific topic?

As I stated during my presentations, two incidents motivated to attempt this research. The first is the submission of Sharon Slater, a former worker at the United Nations, during a workshop on Rights and Human Dignity organized by the Institute of Humanities, Pan Atlantic University, Lagos, Nigeria. At the workshop, Slater contended that the promotion of CSE (Comprehensive Sexuality Education) in Africa by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), was allegedly injurious to the dignity of the human person, especially children and teenagers.

The second incident comes from my discussion with a friend and colleague, who narrated a disturbing encounter with his 10 year old son in a public school in the UK.  The family only relocated to the UK a few years ago. His son had taken his sister’s pink coloured bicycle to school, one day, only to be curiously cornered by his classmates, who assumed the boy was gay on account of his riding a pink bicycle. The boy was obviously furious at his friends’ reference to him as gay, and he expressed it by shouting at them angrily in refutation. “No, I’m not gay. This is my sister’s bicycle!” Surprised at his reaction, the mates asked what was wrong with being gay. In response he made comments that later prompted a reprimand from the headmaster to the parents.

These incidents prompted me to reflect on the subject of right of the child to sexual identity or orientation and their moral space within the social space. Why the moral anxiety? Are African children aware of the Child Rights Act and the enshrined right to sexual orientation? What does this mean to them? How do they respond to sexual pedagogies in their respective spaces? What are the implications of all this to the issue of inclusion in a cosmopolitan world? Prompted by these questions, I had to embark on this pilot study to identify children's moral feelings about sex and well-being in the light of the Child Rights Act and the sexuality pedagogies in their spaces.

Your research project is currently very topical. In November 2022, the Nigerian Federal Government decided to delete sex education from the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC). Can you give us a little societal context? Why is there social regression in relation to this topic?

It is not only topical but also controversial. Matters of sex, sexuality and children tend to reset emotional and intellectual antennae. They attract moral anxiety as much as they elicit genuine concern. Perhaps, it was the anxiety that jolted the Minister of Education to cause the expunging of sex education from the school curriculum. What was the minister’s argument? That sexuality matters should be confined primarily to faith-based institutions and the home. The implication of the minister’s comment is that the geo-political entity and the territory called Nigeria is a moral space determined by religion.  This sentiment is not new. It has been at the centre of the tension between Nigeria as a multi-religious country and a secular country on one hand, and on the other hand, of public pronouncement and private life of citizens.

If I understand your question about ‘social regression’ to mean the absence or intolerance to conversations about sex education, then there are some reasons. One, there is the thinking that Nigeria is a multi-religious society rather than a secular country. So, at the mention of  ‘sex education’, politicians and the certain influential power elite think of exposure to sexual freedom, sexualisation of the female body, being sexually loose, amongst others, all of which are argued to be against indigenous cultures and traditional customs. Besides, postulations arising from CSE are viewed as secularist/humanist imposition geared towards corrupting the minds of young people, objectifying the body and stripping sex of its sacredness. All this narrative forms the bedrock of the positions of faith-based institutions, even though many people parading these views are overly sexually permissive in their closets, in their private lives and with their children. Given this contradiction, I think genuine conversations can take place.

How does this affect you research? Have you encountered a lot of resistance?

I think it enables me to feel the sentiments behind aversion to genuine conversations on sexuality pedagogies; that it provides opportunity for serious debate on the matter. Perhaps such debates may even give strength to the minister’s position, and open up hidden areas in sexuality pedagogy that have been glossed over for a long time.

Resistance? What have I written? This is a purely academic exercise; I am not an activist. But since this is just a pilot study, I hope to expand it later. However, if you talk of fear, anxiety, and then reluctance of parents to permit their children to participate, there is some resistance. Maybe one would have to get parents fully involved by letting them know the implications of the work.

How do you go about your investigation?

My investigation adopts a qualitative research approach comprising a semi-structured interview and questionnaire. Feedbacks from my presentations suggest that I have a focus group discussion and get some researcher, other than me, to do this. The study is theoretically framed around a version of Existential Phenomenological Ethics, which posits that intersubjective experience is ontologically ethical. To further on this research, I will have to get ethical clearance, which I am already working on.

How far along are you in your project? Can you tell us some preliminary findings?

As I stated, it’s just a pilot study. So far, we observed that the social space for sexuality pedagogies is a morally tensed one, and it is characterized by extremism. Given the responses from my respondents, that is, their language-use and the negativity expressed, there tends to be aversion to sexual inclusion. Maybe the author’s paradox might have been a factor in the responses got. Here is a dominant male personality, who is also a father, trying to get information from young people about socially-sensitive matters as sexuality. Findings also reveal that religion might be a very strong factor in their moral decision making since religious teachings form the basis upon which disapproval of certain sexual orientations and associations are rooted.  Besides, the feedbacks from my presentations at the Research Section and Academic Lunch will take me back to the field and the study. I hope to expand it later.

What are you hoping to achieve – will you be able to publish some guidelines for sex education in Nigeria?

First, I want to correct any misconception about my research. Although I attach some sentiments to sexuality pedagogy, I am by no means a crusader for any activist group. I often have concealed curiosity about controversial commonplace existential issues in my space, just as I am curious about the people with whom I co-exist and others I will live with. So, in so far as this project is concerned, I am just a simple existentialist inquirer trying to give some depth to my curiosity. Besides, when there is a fuss about minority rights, I want to understand how and why people around me react to them. Definitely, my reflections will be forwarded for publication, but not as some guidelines for sex education in Nigeria. It may be to join the debate in an informed manner, and thereby present possibilities for conversations and informed choices.

What is next for you? Do you already have a new project in mind?

Since I am a Philosophy scholar in the Learning Research Section, I basically reflect on pedagogies. Of course, there is another project in which I am participating. This time it is with Dr. Boudina McConnachie, an erudite  music educationist and ethno-musicologist at Rhodes University, Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown), South Africa. We are working on what we themed “Approaches to Sonic Pedagogy”. The goal of the research is to use the decoloniality approach to challenge established norms of teaching and learning music which are still based on pedagogies established in the Global North.

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