The situation appears worse when the rights in question are of minority groups. Delving into the history of the marginalisation of minor ethnic groups would deviate too far from the point of this piece; but it does provide evidence to boot the foregoing statement.
It is relevant, however, to point to Nigeria’s treatment of its queer population. Ask any queer person living in Nigeria about their existence within society, and you’ll hear nothing but bad news. “I’ve been threatened with corrective rape, been told I’m an abomination and will burn in hell, and I’ve been called slurs,” says Simisola [not real name], a pansexual Gen Z living in Lagos. “Let’s not even talk about your family and the length they’ll go to ‘cure’ you of your sexuality,” she adds.
Apart from corrective rape and conversion therapies rooted in religious practices, other supposed ‘gay cure therapies’ include food deprivation, exorcism and physical violence, according to BBC. In some countries, these are already getting outlawed or on the road there, but in Nigeria, the law has taken a different route, a definitive draconian stance established in 2013, which seems set in stone even for the foreseeable future.
Goodluck Jonathan’s understated legacy: The Same-sex Marriage Prohibition Act, 2013
State-sanctioned hostilities against queer Nigerians can be traced to Goodluck Jonathan’s administration illegalising their existence in 2014, despite global pressure to act to the contrary. While queer Nigerians had largely been underground in the past, the Jonathan-approved SSMPA empowered legal brutality against them.
VicWonder, an activist for the rights of Queer people and one of the more vocal members of that community, has been living this dreary reality. “There is… state facilitated homophobia (SSMPA) which empowers authorities and ordinary citizens alike to harass, attack and in extreme cases even kill queer people,” he tells Pulse via email.
“It is also hard to find stable regular jobs or get an education because the moment our sexual orientation is discovered, then we lose all. There is also the possibility of losing family, friends and our lives changing from how we know them.
“Personally, because of my visibility and work as an activist, I have been targeted, abducted for two days by homophobic men, blackmailed and extorted to a tune of about one thousand dollars, beaten and assaulted before being released – a situation popularly known within the queer community as KITO. Kito refers to a situation where straight homophobic people catfish queer people on dating apps and social media to lure them into traps in a bid to harass, extort, blackmail, etc.”
It must be said that in other climes where LGBTQIA rights are protected by law, it has not been enough to rid the community of opposition. But it has helped keep those dissenting voices in check and to cut down hostilities to the minimum. On the flipside, the Anti-gay law was passed in Nigeria as a response to calls from a huge section of the public. In that sense, it can be said that the president was only doing the will of the people – a clear hallmark of democracy.
But how convenient is it that the Nigerian government and its people found a common ground, a unified voice on a decision as oppressive as this?
“One thing is sure, homophobia unites Nigerians, regardless of ethnicity or religion difference,” Tina [not real name], another Queer Nigerian, tells Pulse.
Just to be clear, the Nigerian government and the Nigerian people rarely see eye-to-eye on policies [not this easily, anyway]. Recall how Jonathan’s removal of fuel subsidy caused massive nationwide protests in 2012, he fired Sanusi Lamido Sanusi in one of his tenure’s most unpopular decisions; he was also the president who tried to change Unilag to MauLag, a move that was opposed until it was quietly reversed.
But on homophobia, there is a common ground
Homophobia is not unique to Nigeria and other countries with a legal stance against homosexuality. Homophobia is in itself an inherently inhumane thing. In simple words, you will find homophobic people even in countries where homosexuality is legal. As of 2022, the World Population Review lists Sweden, Norway and Canada as the topmost countries with Queer-friendly laws but even they still struggle with homophobic violence every now and then.
However, what happens in countries where non-heteronormative sexual orientations are illegal, is the removal of the recourse to law which people should normally have. It means they can be harmed, maimed, and inhumanely treated for just existing. “Because of this law, when we face unprovoked violence, we cannot seek justice,” Vicwonder says.
What are the chances of anything changing about the SSMPA soon?
To be frank? It looks pretty slim. Anyone that has been paying attention to Nigeria’s situation knows this, and so do the Queer people I spoke with.
Mark [not real name], a gay man who exchanged messages with me on this subject, has resigned himself to the harsh reality of things staying the same. “I feel bad because they keep pushing it back by saying we need a better Nigeria first before focusing on other things,” he sent via email. “And I feel like even when we get a better Nigeria, they wouldn’t remember or want to remove the stupid law against queer people”
Can Queer people be hopeful for change under Atiku, Tinubu or Peter Obi?
Again, no one is holding their breath for this type of change under any of these men. There is nothing in the apparent agenda of the triplet to suggest this.
“I’m not surprised that the survival of queer people doesn’t feature in the political agenda for next year’s election. It’s sad, but I’m not surprised.” Simi tells Pulse matter-of-factly. “We’re told that our struggles aren’t important enough to warrant attention, our lives don’t matter enough.”
If anything, the bits and pieces of relevant gist coming from the camps of presidential aspirants have been more of the same homophobic rhetoric that you’ve come to expect in these parts. No one would be shocked to hear more of the same from any or all of their camps if they ever address the subject head-on during this run.
In 2011, Peter Obi’s running mate, Datti Baba Ahmed, argued that death should be the ‘punishment’ meted out on gay people. However, Peter Obi himself said he is “tolerant of people’s views and their lifestyle.” In that same interview, he proceeded to say: “We have more critical issues to deal with today and that is what I will be concentrating on.”
Sure, there is nothing wrong with that; but one gets the feeling that this would feel very familiar for Queer people who have seen their agitation for rights remain an afterthought over and over again.
“If we are to be included in any agenda, it would be some homophobic campaign strategy to get Nigerians to think they are actually doing something for the people. And my people, the people of Nigeria will once again unite to support them, creating a mirage of impact,” says Tina.
Gloomy as all of this sounds though, Queer people hold a tiny ray of hope that there’ll come a day when their rights will be recognised and respected – and the change has already begun with the Nigerian people.
“Thanks to increasing impacts of LGBT+ visibility in the country, everyone is now aware of the fact that anyone could be LGBT+. There is an increase in family acceptance as compared to the times before now. Even when the laws are seemly not changing, the people are starting to lead a change to a better Nigeria.” Tina concludes.
Fingers crossed now. Fingers crossed.