New Internationalist

Nigeria’s ‘anti-gay bill’ is another backward step

On hearing the news of the passing of the Nigerian Same Sex Marriage Bill, 2011 (the SSM Bill)–  which seeks to criminalize anyone who either enters into a same sex marriage or witnesses, supports or aids such a marriage– my reaction was…well, I was too numb to immediately react. I could only think about the miserable state my country is in. But did I really expect anything different?

In an article for CNN, Chude Jideonwo points to the real purpose of the Bill which is to expand the existing legislation on homosexuality to include organizations and individuals who ‘register, operate or participate in gay…organizations.’ As he points out, this could well include criticisms of the Bill such as his article and this blog post.

I would like to draw attention to the parallels between: (1) ‘The Story of Thomas,’ tweeted by @rmajayi, about a young man abandoned on the roadside and left for dead in Ado Ekiti in southwest Nigeria; (2) the non-investigation of a gang rape of a young woman on the premises of the Abia State University– neither by the Abia State government nor the police; and (3) this week’s passing by the Nigerian Senate of the SSM Bill.

What each of these cases explicitly implies is that citizenship is not open to everyone. The state and its institutions of power, both secular and religious, determine who is and what crimes are to be granted recognition, who is worthy of saving, who is considered a loyal citizen and who can therefore expect justice.

Those who criticize the SSM Bill on the basis that Nigeria has more pressing legislative issues to deal with such as endemic corruption (an age-old obsession that everyone complains about but one in which everyone partakes with no-one seeing themselves as part of the problem) fail to make the connections between homophobia and sexual violence or a violence which allows a man to be abandoned next to a gutter in front of hundreds of shoppers and passers-by and to die through lack of attention and care. Even when a ‘good Samaritan’ did attempt to do something she was disparaged and accused of only wanting publicity for her acts!

The sexual harassment of women, or being silent in its presence, has become so normalized within Nigerian society it has gotten to the point where it is happening on a day-to-day basis, publicly and privately, online and offline, in actions and words and body language. Women are constantly being degraded and verbally abused or demeaned on social media sites. Homophobia is horrifically expressed and applauded. These are all continuums of sexual abuse which takes place without question.

It is this normalization of sexual abuse and institutionalized misogyny that allows the police and others in authority to feel comfortable in making statements such as ‘she wanted to be raped’ and to be wholly negligent in their investigations. It is what allows the government of Abia State and the university to sit quietly on the sidelines and do nothing.

With respect to these now normalized and legalized acts of violence, what happens when a woman or man is raped, beaten or murdered because they were perceived to be LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgenger and intersex)? Will the fact the victims are LGBTI be used by the attackers as a defense? What if the Abia rapists claim they gang-raped the victim because they suspected she was a lesbian? What if the abandonment of Thomas and others like him is justified on the basis of their sexual orientation? Although these are individualized acts of violence they are representative of a pervasive violence or threat of violence against queer people, women, children, the poor and the vulnerable.

The rationale behind the SSM Bill and its proposed counterpart in Uganda, is a huge deceit being spread by secular and religious leaders that decriminalizing LGBTI persons would be pandering to Western imperialists’ moral decadence. On the contrary these legislations are part of a continuity of Western imperialism and ‘European heterosexual inheritance’* which were forced on colonial subjects and are a mark of our continued colonial dependency.

*see: M. Jacqui Alexander, ‘Erotic Autonomy as a Politics of Decolonization: An Anatomy of Feminist and State Practice in the Bahamas Tourist Industry.’ In: Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures. Routledge: New York, 1997.

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  1. #1 Jasmin 10 Dec 11

    Very succinct and well written and very true. The irony of claims by African leaders, which pertain to be nationalist and fighting against western hegemony, is indeed that the rationale they so often use is in itself a product of colonial imposition, as you argue. African historians have thankfully begun to uncover and redocument historic examples and evidence of patterns of sexuality and gender all over the continent which do not fit the stringent model of heterosexuality that is perceived to be the norm , but how long it takes for these findings to filter into mainstream society and politics (within African countries and the West) is another question.

  2. #2 Fred 12 Dec 11

    For a start, I don't how many people who might have time for this long diatribe. But suffice to say that Nigeria is an independent, sovereign, autonomous and democratic country which is capable of making its own law and looking after its affairs very well. So, America and Britain should do us a favour and butt out of our business.

    If Western nations are trying to use gay-rights to colonize us again through the back door, the whole of Africa will resist it even if we have to literally starve to death.

    As Dame Jonathan said, ’Man climbing man is an abomination’ and will be fought against no matter what.

    No African Head of State in contemporary history has ever tried to dictate to the West, so, why should always poke their nose in our business?

    My tribe which is Ibo and community have always opposed two men have conjugal sex with or without any colonial laws which anybody was hardly aware of. In fact, we have an adage which is employed when trying to express an impossibility which is thus, ’ as impossible as a man marrying another man’. Obviously, it is a traditional adage and was never brought by the white man. The mere fact that Africans never had laws and customs in written form before the advent of white invaders does not mean that we hard no laws. That would be stupid to think that way.

    Any African that feels gay or lesbian is more than welcome to live in Europe or America..and we'll wish them good luck as they depart.

  3. #3 ano 22 Dec 11

    Gayism and Lesbianism are both rejected by the vast majority of Nigerian people. It is absolutely not right for anyone to try force us to take what that sickens us. This practice is not only against our values but also makes large majority of Nigerians sick. This practice sickens us psychologically, socially, academically, emotionally. And so it is not about the feelings of the few gays we have in Nigeria but the emotional turbulence this will cause to many Nigerians. We have values and traditions we cherish. The west looses here.

  4. #6 Sam 20 Jul 12

    People, politicians, bureaucrats, law and government of Nigeria should concentrate more on the development and welfare part of the country and not waste their time on such issues that are absolute personal to each individual. - [a href=’’] Sam

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About the author

Sokari Ekine a New Internationalist contributor

Sokari Ekine is a Nigerian social justice activist and blogger. She writes an awardwinning blog, Black Looks, which she started in 2004, writing on a range of topics such as LGBTI Rights in Africa, gender issues, human rights, the Niger Delta, Haiti and Land Rights. She is a IRP 2013 Fellow.

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