In June of last year, the Supreme Court finally overturned DOMA and deemed it unconstitutional. This revelation didn’t happen overnight, but it was a huge step towards progression and equality in the US. However, while some parts of the world are becoming more and more accepting, others are slamming their doors.
Nigeria is one of the least tolerant countries when it comes to homosexuality. 98% surveyed said society should not accept it at all. In fact, there are areas in Northern Nigeria where lesbians and gays can be legally stoned to death. Homosexual sex is already illegal, and gay marriage is certainly out of the question.
Where there is room for things to get worse, they often do. A new law was nonchalantly signed by the Nigerian president that makes it illegal for the LGBT community to even hold a meeting. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act outlaws clubs, associations and organizations that have anything to do with homosexuality, and the price a rule breaker will pay is 14 years in jail.
To understand the motivation behind Nigeria’s archaic and barbaric laws, you have to also understand the country’s culture and political background. Nigeria, as well as other parts of Africa, is an extremely religious and conservative society; homosexuality is considered a “deviation” from their cultivated norm. Nigeria isn’t the only country that has laws persecuting their homosexual residents. 38 African countries (about 70% of the continent) have laws that violate rights that many of us consider basic.
According to this New York Times article, critics “have suggested the anti-gay law was designed to distract attention from Nigeria’s many troubles, and to win Jonathan [the Nigerian president] favor with powerful churches that influence voters.” Nigeria is also experiencing an Islamic uprising in the northeast. The deadly religious wars have killed thousands, and there is a growing military presence in the southern part of the country where there’s oil, creating corruption and a disparate distribution of wealth and power.
The US and Great Britain are outraged by these new laws that deeply restrict and endanger many African citizens who cannot freely express their identity. According to a British High Commission spokesperson, the law “infringes upon fundamental rights of expression and association which are guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution and by international agreements to which Nigeria is a party.”
In response to Nigeria’s unconstitutional discrimination of its people, the British government threatened to cut aid to African countries that violated LGBT rights. This threat was essentially ignored, since compared to the money Nigeria makes from its oil, British aid is not significant enough.
Worst of all, it’s increasingly difficult for Nigerian citizens to fight this law and express their views. Jonathan’s spokesman, Reuben Abati claims that this new law is “in line with the people’s cultural and religious inclination,” and that “Nigerians are pleased with it.” There have been no demonstrations against it, and the few human rights activists who have tries to debate the issue in the House of Assembly, were harassed and booed.
Homosexual Nigerians who do not have the money to move live in oppression and restriction, whereas the wealthy are able to either move elsewhere, or fly to another country to spend time with their significant other. The Nigerian LGBT&I Diaspora states, “We visit home with trepidation because at home we have to live a life full of lies and deny who we are for us to be accepted. Why do we want to keep subjecting our citizens to such psychological and emotional torture?” A person should never have to flee their own country because it rejects their sexual orientation, but this is what Nigerians are resorting to. When you have Yahya Jammeh, president of Gambia, saying that “homosexuals should be decapitated,” it’s no wonder people don’t feel safe.
Featured image (Olumide Makanjuola) via