THE BLOG

Nigeria's Anti-LGBTQ Law

02/24/2014 08:44 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI via Getty Images

When Nigeria's "yan daudu" population no longer walked freely and publicly in their communities, it was a clear and ominous sign to everyone of what was coming down the legislative pike: a new draconian anti-gay law.

For more than a century, the "yan daudu" (shorthand for "men who act like women," or cross dressers) population was an accepted Hausa subculture in the Muslim north.

As a Muslim Bori practice, the yan daudu's religious ritual is traditionally practiced and celebrated among its most marginalized populations, like sex workers, gay and bisexual men, and transgender individuals.

Since January, however, the group, which was surprisingly driven underground, has been unearthed and actively pursued for punishment and persecution by murderous, marauding gangs of their fellow Muslim brothers.

On Jan. 7 Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, enthusiastically signed into law the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, aka the "jail the gays" bill. Nigeria already had in place harsh laws against its LGBTQ population, but Jonathan's recent edict tacitly encourages mobs who engage in what amounts to "queer cleansing" -- the violent and systematic eradication of any expression of LGBTQ identities and culture.

The act, which was unanimously passed in Nigeria's House of Representatives, not only prohibits people from entering into same-sex marriages but prescribes a 14-year jail sentence for offenders.

And if you're straight and think you're safe, you need to know this: It also prescribes a 10-year, guilty-by-association jail sentence for any friend or ally "who administers, witnesses, abets or aids" any form of gender-nonconforming or homosexual activity.

The law states that "any person who registers, operates (supports) or participates in gay clubs, societies and organizations directly or indirectly, makes a public show of a same-sex amorous relationship commits an offence and shall be liable to a term of 10 years' imprisonment."

In a religiously conservative country contentiously split between a predominately Muslim north and Christian south, the passing of the country's recent federal Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act seems -- sadly -- to be the one thing that both sides can agree on as a sign of a unified front of both nationalist pride and religious moral unity.

While Sharia law clearly dominates in the Muslim north and mandates that same-gender sexual activity punishment be meted out by the cruel and torturous act of death by stoning, in the Christian south punishment of same-gender sexual activity is meted out not only by draconian laws but also by vigilante mobs wielding nail-studded clubs, iron bars, whips and wires and shouting, "We are working for Jonathan," and claiming that they are "cleansing the community."

"The government has given a go-ahead authority to mob jungle justice," Ifeanyi Orazulike of the International Center for Advocacy on the Right to Health told The New York Times. "This is unacceptable. You can't attack people violently because of whom they choose to love."

The international community has denounced Nigeria's recent act and has criticized the country's democracy. But Nigerian lawmakers have pushed back, saying their country's stance on further criminalizing homosexuality is true evidence of a proud and participatory "democracy in action." And they have the numbers to prove it. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March 2013, 98 percent of Nigerians disapprove of homosexuality.

In praising Jonathan's law, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told The New York Times, "Every culture has what they regard as sacrosanct or important to them, and I don't believe what our president and lawmakers have done in that respect is contrary to our culture."

While the international community continues to denounce Nigeria's recent act, the country's traditionalists and religious conservatives -- both Muslims and Christians -- have made it clear they do not like the world's interference in their business. They continue to contend that homosexuality is anathema to African identity and cultural and family values, and that it's one of the many ills that white Europeans brought to the Motherland. (A similar homophobic polemic is still argued among religiously conservative African Americans.)

But truth be told, the criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria and other African countries is a byproduct of European colonialism. Nonetheless, the debate over what's "authentically African" and what's a vestige of Western colonial influence always finds a way to deny the reality of black LGBTQ existence. And Nigeria is not alone: Thirty-eight of 54 countries in the African continent criminalize consensual sexual activity with people of the same gender.

The international community has strongly encouraged withholding developmental aid to Nigeria. But economic sanctions against Nigeria, like those that were somewhat successfully used against Malawi and Uganda, would only serve as a slap on the wrist, because Nigeria is a major oil producer: The U.S. purchases 70 percent of Nigeria's oil.

With Nigeria's passing of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, murderous, marauding, homophobic gangs in the Christian south will continue to chase LGBTQ citizens from their homes while leaving their signature message, "Homosexuals, pack and leave!" And in the Muslim north, the century-old, small and marginalized yan daudu subculture will simply become extinct over time.