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Monday, 13 January 2014

Gay Rights in Nigeria : Gay & Endangered

The senate in Nigeria, home to The Politician, Africa's most populous country and 170 million strong  approved a bill to ban gay marriage and homosexuality. On the 13th of January, 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan (pictured right) signed the bill into law. Your blogger has been involved in combative and often destructive debates about gay rights - arguments based mainly on socio-cultural and psychological grounds.

International condemnation has been fierce but sometimes clumsy about this development. Some in the West have called for their governments to cut aid to Nigeria. Considering how aid allocation works, that is very unlikely. The country is a perfect breeding ground for bored Charities. The country is vast and populous, which makes working there fulfilling. Besides, aid accounts for very little of the country's GDP, repatriations from abroad even surpass the inflow of aid. And with the country producing 2 million barrels of oil a day, the world needs it.


What is the rationale for criminalizing gay marriage and homosexuality or equating it to armed robbery? What makes the introduction of this law abhorrent is that there are no grounds for it's introduction. Its neither in public interest nor public safety, but on some sort of share cultural conservatism. Nigerians are not necessarily culturally conservative ( I know I am contradicting myself) but are more zealous on religion than identity. It lies more in their perception of culture and the way they make post-colonial sense of it.

The British colonial law banning sodomy had already driven Nigeria's gay community to lead an underground lifestyle. The new law secures a prison term of 14 years for those caught to be gay or even support homosexuality. Reuben Abati, the presidential spokesman broke the news saying "More than 90 percent of Nigerians are opposed to same-sex marriage. So, the law is in line with our cultural and religious beliefs as a people".The popular mantra is that lesbianism and homosexuality are alien to Nigerians and Africans. It is thought to be against their cultures and values system. That's not entirely true. There have been reported cases of homosexuality in boarding schools and undoubtedly in prisons. 

Indeed over the centuries, traditional societies in the pre-colonial era had remained conservative in their own way but homosexuality had always been there and even institutionalized. Sociologists have studied women who have lived together as couples - even polygamously - in certain in African societies. The research shows that they often adopted children, often in coercive ways from their natural fathers. This example can't be generalized but it is evidence all the same. 

Most people see same sex as repugnant as outside the natural way approved by God. We might as well started stoning suspected witches to death and while at it, ban smoking because because it is not a Nigerian lifestyle. It is one thing to frown at a lifestyle and another to criminalize it.


Its fair enough and understandable if society frowns upon a certain sexual orientation just the same way polygamy is frowned upon in the West, even criminalized in places like the United States. But what happened to the Nigerian values of caring, tolerance and treating others the way you will like to be treated? Besides Nigeria is a secular State and religion has no place in lawmaking and no group had ever lobbied for there to be gay marriage.  

Sadly, in the new law those found supporting or campaigning for gay rights and marriage, as well as any sexual act as well as any public display of affection are likely to receive a 14 years jail sentence (even for mere holding of hands). For what it is worth, the law is just wrong.

The Nigerian government's defense is that an overwhelming majority of Nigerians support the law. But even if the law has such support, the law is wrong because it infringes on a person's human right to live but also of freedom of speech, expression and association. It goes against international law, which upholds human rights law before that of a sovereign state. Although countries like Britain have sought to overturn human rights law to enable them deport suspected terrorists, even at the likely violation of a persons human rights.

As far as social practices are concerned, this blog insists there should be fairness in the formulation of social policy. Policies should consider safety, freedom and freewill to be just in any country. On that note, the government should decriminalize homosexuality and over turn this new law. Put simply, the 'anti-gay' law violates the human rights to freedom of expression, association and non-discrimination of all Nigerians. Nigeria should roll back this regressive law. A good start could be to revert to that lousy colonial law.

The Politician got legal advice before writing this article.