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Being Gay in Nigeria Now Means Arrest, Prison

Nigeria has arrested dozens of gay men under the country's new anti-gay law, signed by President Goodluck Jonathan on January 7, 2014. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act criminalises homosexual relationships, bans gay marriage, gay organisations, societies, clubs and events, and imposes prison terms of up of to 14 years.

The bill was passed by Nigeria's Senate in November 2011, the same Senate that approved child marriage in July 2013

Pew's Global Attitudes Project shows that Nigeria is the least tolerant country in the world when it comes to homosexuality.

A map showing penalties targeting gays and lesbians in Africa. Image source: http://ilga.org/

Homosexuality is outlawed in 38 African countries and it can be punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria. The parliament of Uganda passed a controversial anti-homosexuality bill on December 20, 2013 that would punish gays and lesbians with life in prison in some cases as well as jail anyone who did not report gay people to authorities.

The Nigerian government has started arresting gay men since the president signed the bill into law.

Nigerian blogger Ayo Sogunro reacted to the news by explaining why Nigerians should be worried about the anti-gay law. He countered most common arguments put forward by anti-gay groups in Nigeria. One of the arguments is that homosexuality is not part of “our culture”:

A common argument in support of the prejudicial legislation—and one infamously and misguidedly utilized by Mr. David Mark, the Senate President, states that homosexuality is not part of our “culture”. Let us ignore the obvious fact that Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups with diversified cultures out of which at least one involves a woman “marrying” another woman, another involves a husband “gifting” his wife to a male guest, another approves raiding a neighboring nomadic camp to kidnap a wife, and several involve a brother or son taking the surviving wives of a deceased as inheritance—let’s ignore all of these disparate sexual and marital cultural phenomena and focus instead on the nature of culture. What we call “our culture” is not a set of fixed, written rules handed down by our forefathers in a leather bound book. Instead, “our culture”, like any other culture, is an interwoven set of constantly changing practices. Culture, a student of sociology will tell you, is constantly in a state of flux: it grows new ideas, it borrows from other cultures, it ceases some long-held beliefs, and it is forever changing. You see, the only permanent culture is a dead culture. Jackets and fast cars are not the African culture, but I am yet to see a black man going to jail for perfectly stringing a Windsor knot.

He concluded by saying:

And now, here’s the worst part: if this law is allowed to sail through, it could be your affairs that will be considered criminal tomorrow. You use your left hand to write? Criminal. You squeeze your paste from the bottom of the tube? Criminal. You wear your wristwatch on the right hand. You criminal! The facts may be different, but the principle is the same. This law is a test by the legislature, a measurement of how much nonsense can be dumped on the public. Of course, it is general public opinion that there is a number of clowns seated in the legislature—some whom attained their claim to lawmaking solely by affiliation with their political party and not through a personal resume—and there is a tendency to just ignore them. However, when clowns begin to create dangerous precedents, then it is time for the audience to get serious and put them in place.

Ayo's post has attracted over 100 comments. Reader Uju, who admits being extremely homophobic, said the law is harsh, stupid and wicked:

though i’m extremely homophobic, I can’t help but reason with your article. Criminalizing homosexuality is very harsh. However, I just don’t wish for time when two men will be publicly displaying their affection. I can’t also help but feel like a hypocrite since I know I have my sins but in my defence, it’s my private sin. My point is most of us may never come to term with homosexuals being born that way but we will try not to cast our hypocritical stones at the born that ways as long as they keep their ‘born that wayness’ in private. That being said, I vehemently believe that making homosexuality a criminal act is sheer stupidity and wickedness.

Despite being a Christian who considers homosexuality a sin, Osemhen thought it is not up to the state to decide on a moral issue:

[...]I’m Christian, and I consider homosexuality a sin. I think it’s absolute nonsense to hurt someone because they’re gay. I think it’s outside the jurisdiction of the state to decide on what is so obviously a moral matter, and not a legal one.
I’m not sure of the origin of this bill but I think it started with someone wanting to legalize gay marriage. Talk about back-firing. This is what happens when you invite the government into your bedroom.

Another reader, spacyzuma, observed that:

[...]Homosexuals didn’t delay my civil service salary; the oga employer at the top of my employee organization did. He also reduced my salary; homosexuals didn’t. Homosexuals didn’t raise fuel prices; aren’t the ones who keep crippling our power, educational, agricultural, petroleum, transport sectors. [...] These legislators who wanna pass this anti-gay law will never support a bill that says looting our Treasury should be punishable by public flogging or decades of years in jail. They will completely ignore a bill that requires adulterers and fornicators to be jailed and punished.

Ashiwel wondered why there are lots of pending bills demanding urgent attention:

It worries me that there are a lot of pending bills before the Legislature, some since 2005– like the bill to deal with cybercrime– which demand the urgent attention of Nigeria’s lawmakers; and yet they choose to focus time and resources on criminalizing sexual orientations.

Should we take that to mean they lack the intellectual capacity to focus on and deal legislatively with these issues?

And if both religions claim to preach and practice love, peace and tolerance, where did the storied tolerance go?

American blogger David Mixner wrote a post explaining the reason behind the signing of the bill into law:

With all the dramatic problems facing Nigeria (including an insurgency that threatens its very existence as a nation state) why would President Jonathan be using political capital to pass and sign such legislation? It is exactly because of the Boko Haram insurgency that the President has signed the law. With his signature, he distracts his Christian followers from his failure to stop Boko Haram in the Islamic northern provinces.

He warned:

Ironically, the anti-gay law only deepens the division in this frail nation state and in the end won't make a damn bit of difference in the direction of the emerging civil war. Don't be surprise to see political opponents arrested for ‘homosexual conduct'.

Below is a sample of reactions on Twitter:

Not all tweeps are against the new law:

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