Buggery and Impunity: Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act Still Holds


Flores no Sotão by Roberta Ribeiro via Behance

Flores no Sotão by Roberta Ribeiro via Behance

During the last year of President Goodluck Jonathan’s term of office, the Nigerian Government passed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which criminalises gay marriage, gay organisations and anyone working with or promoting them. Under Nigeria’s law, it is a crime to have a meeting of gays, to operate or go to a gay club, society or organisation, or make any public show of same-sex affection.
The law says, “A person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies or organisations, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years.”  Anyone convicted of entering into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union faces up to 14 years imprisonment.
Since its passage more than 235 suspected homosexuals have been arrested or detained in Nigeria, primarily in Bauchi State, and the police are actively pursuing suspected homosexuals in other areas of the country.
There is no question that the large body of opinion in Nigerian society opposes homosexual acts. A prohibition of the “crime of sodomy” has been on the books for years. Nigeria, as are many African states, is quite socially conservative and views homosexuality as conflicting with the accepted religious and cultural norms of their societies. However, the passage of this act has been condemned by the U.S., Britain and Europe as denying citizens their human rights. These states have conveyed their displeasure to Nigeria. There is now some serious discussion with the international community about the effect of this ban on the international campaign against AIDS and other social diseases. No doubt there will be disagreements about sovereignty and the rights of states to make their own laws. It is not as harsh as the Ugandan law, which allows capital punishment for homosexual acts, but its impact on the rights of homosexuals in Nigeria is severe.

As a long-time observer of Nigerian society I am not surprised by the passage of this act. What does surprise me is the sheer and utter hypocrisy behind some of those who supported this legislation. It has been common knowledge in Nigeria for many years that several leading Nigerian politicians, generals, governors, editors, businessmen and others have been engaged in homosexual relationships with other Nigerians. No one speaks publicly of this but almost every analyst alludes to this in their discussions on the ties which bind the upper echelon of the Nigerian political elite. The most frequent examples have described a prominent Northern figure in a relationship with a South-South dignitary. Many young politicians started their careers in this manner. This is not to say that these prominent Nigerians engaging in homosexual practices do not also have relations with women; sometimes even their wives. Most are only ‘part-time’ homosexuals.
The fact that these same people have now passed a law banning the very acts that they themselves have committed and continue to commit shows their confidence in the impunity of Nigerian politicians from any prosecution or embarrassment.
Without that impunity there would be far more caution by many in the National Assembly, by several past governors, by a raft of businessmen and generals, and by some former occupants of Aso Rock in risking public embarrassment for their personal predilections.
On the other hand they may feel that this law does not apply to them as they are bisexual and confine their activities to a small circle of friends or, in some cases, a limited number of species. Perhaps, as their exploits are made known to the public they will be subject to only a partial jail term or sentence to reflect their record of sexual diversity. The level of hypocrisy is stunning.