Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

Nigeria: Homophobia Rules

Posted in African Politics, Nigeria by ruben eberlein on February 2, 2014

The Nigerian government tightens the laws against homosexuality. Most of Nigerians welcome this step. Read an English translation of my comment that appeared in the recent issue of Jungle World (pdf in German here).

The Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan does not have a walk-over these days. Leading members of his Peoples Democratic Party defected to the opposition and position themselves for the elections in 2015, a serious push against the rampant corruption has not been not been noticed during his tenure, and the war against the Islamists in the North of the country lingers unrelieved. But at the beginning of January this year, Jonathan could be certain to earn the applause of his fellow countrymen.

A new law, the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, threatens not only couples who live in a homosexual relationship or persons who hold a meeting with exorbitant prison sentences but is also directed against their supporters and all people who express sympathy for homosexual practices. The reaction of most Nigerians, if one believes the media, has been enthusiastic.

Within the twelve states in the North of Nigeria where the Sharia is exercised partly or entirely since years, the guardians of public morals took action against homosexuals in the past already. In fact, the Islamic law provides the death sentence through stoning for homosexuality, but the suspects had to endure mainly a series of blows and relatively high fines. In the Southern states which are mostly Christian, the arrest of dozens of people began promptly after the approval of the laws which passed parliament without a dissenting vote.

For many conservative Christians and Muslims and their prayer leaders, the legal actions against homosexuals constitute a part of a cultural fight against the allegedly perverted morale of the West. There are only few occasions where critique coming from the US and the European Union can be rejected as neo-colonial behaviour and where people can insist on the pecularity of culture and morale in their own country. Homosexuality is alien to Africa, it sounds unisono. The bible and the koran as well, answer the few critics of the homophobic majority.

The developments in Nigeria mirror a general trend in Africa to criminalise homosexuality to a greater extend. According to Amnesty International, laws in 38 African countries provide against same sex relationships. Some heads of states do not bother to trumpet their antipathy against gays in the loudest possible manner. Homosexuals are „worse than pigs and dogs“, commented Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabe, some years ago.

Nigerian homosexuals have only a few choices to protect themselves against punishment. The work of lobby groups against discrimination of sexual orientation is out of question, and so most of them are confronted with the choice of repressing their sexuality and emigration. In the West, the question of asylum for persecuted homosexuals has been contested for a long time. After all, the European Court of Justice ruled in November 2013 that prosecuted homosexuals have a right to aslyum. This holds only, however, when the threatened punishment of a country is actually imposed. Homophobic violence and the discrimination in everyday life are not considered.

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