By Gideon Arinze Chijioke
NSUKKA, Enugu State, Nigeria – When former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill criminalizing same-sex relationships in January 2014, it drew a lot of cheers from Nigerians who found gay relationships totally unacceptable.
The bill came as a surprise to some Western countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, whose leaders vehemently condemned the bill, saying it infringed on the fundamental human rights of the citizens.
But none of the protestations from the European Union, the UK or the U.S. meant much to religious bodies at the forefront of the crusade for such laws in Nigeria.
The conservative nature of the society meant that anti-gay sentiments were rife and when the cultural and religious beliefs of the vast majority of Nigerians are considered, it is pretty clear that homophobia is pervasive.
Homosexuality is widely frowned upon in Nigeria. In addition to being morally wrong, it is considered reprehensible.
This is the basis for the passage of the 2014 law that prescribes prison sentences of 14 years on those found in a gay marriage or civil union. Further, there are prison terms of up to 10 years for involvement in gay organizations or public displays of a same-sex relationship.
This is a sharp contrast to what is obtained in the U.S where those who practice the act are under no legal limitations. They have the leeway to practice their ways of life.
Despite the pressures mounted upon the country by the U.S government, which considers the law a grave violation of human rights, the Nigerian government has chosen to stick to her guns on the issue.
The liberal nature of the society in some Western countries where LGBT rights are well pronounced and accepted still amazes many people here. People are tempted to ask why on Earth would a country like the U.S. support same-sex marriage?
In a bid to corroborate their stance, many Christians here are quick to reference the Bible. For instance, Genesis 2:23-24 reads: “And the man said: This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh! She is to be called Woman, because she was taken from Man. This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
Underscore the use of man and woman, then wife – all of which points to the variation in gender as opposed to same sex.
Pardon the excursion into biblical passages, but it goes without saying that the anti-gay sentiment in Nigeria is something that is hinged on religious beliefs. It also has some cultural undertones, too. In traditional Nigerian societies, a man is meant to marry a woman. So, anything else is considered an anomaly.
The Economist, an English weekly news magazine based in London, reported in January 2014, that “many African governments are strengthening their democratic systems and liberalising their economies, minority rights often remain weak. Homosexuality is illegal in at least 36 of Africa’s 55 countries.” It said a law in Uganda proposed in 2009 almost recommended death for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ – a term used to denote homosexual acts with a minor, a disabled person or someone infected with H.I.V.
The fear of getting their foreign aid withdrawn has hamstrung many African governments who would have long passed anti-gay laws. The Economist cites Malawi, which depends so much on aid, as an instance. Western pressure makes it difficult to pass the law in the country.
In truth, it appears Nigeria is not swayed by such pressures as its economy is heavily dependent on oil rather than foreign aid. Here, homosexuals lead a life that can simply be described as “a disguised life.” In public, they will never say they are gay, but in the secret chambers of their homes or some secluded places, they can proudly flaunt their uniqueness in a country where anti-gay sentiments are rife.
Editing by YJI Senior Correspondent Linus Okechukwu in Nsukka, Nigeria.
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