Opinion: Why gay people can’t get married in Nigeria

by Mz Agams


It took organized, sophisticated and well funded gay rights movements in America and Europe decades of activism to earn the right to get married and only after they had been able to show that they suffered peculiar disadvantages and discrimination in economic entitlements.

It’s all the buzz. What everyone is talking about. Nigeria’s Senate passed a bill prohibiting same sex marriage and slapping huge sanctions on homosexuality or even knowledge of homosexuality. Civil rights activists all over the world are fuming. ‘How dare they!’ Cut off their aid!’ (‘Off with their heads!’ Remember that one?) Well Nigeria is too rich to succumb to that type of blackmail.

I reminded some colleagues today that the gay rights movement is nonexistent in Nigeria. Well, almost and pretty much. They’ve only started very timidly asking for non discrimination in access to health care particularly HIV/AIDS in the past decade and I’ve only heard of one underground safe space.  In Nigeria, girls and boys don’t walk around holding hands much less boys and boys or girls and women or men and men. And it’s not going to happen any time soon.

People let’s take it easy on the hysteria. Most gay Nigerians live abroad because the society is so hostile. The only ones that can live safely here are the rich ones. Its only poor gay people that will be discriminated against through this law, the rich gays will go abroad if they want to get married. Back home, they will spread the patronage and no one will bother them.  These are established people. They’re not about to start a movement. Others seek asylum abroad.

There are more than a few elite Nigerians from all sections of the country that have been more or less openly gay. They met social obligations had wives and families and still lived their gay lifestyles. It’s those young men we hear gather in red light districts in certain towns and prostitute themselves because they have to that will suffer, not the men that patronize them. It’s the elite that describe it as a lifestyle choice. To the illiterate ignorant suckers that sell themselves, it might be nothing more than an economic choice.

This bill will discriminate against the poor! Na poor people go suffer! Na de poor people de argue for am pass. Ah ah. People wake up and smell the coffee or the roses if you prefer. It’s not about being for or against homosexuality, it’s about equity and protection of human rights. What you think of homosexuality doesn’t matter. What matters is where you stand on human rights. Those saliva spewing overzealous homophobes come across more like repressed homosexuals terrified of some dark truth.

Like I said, there is no gay rights movement in Nigeria. There has been no demand for gay rights much less gay marriage. In case we all forgot the Prohibition of Same Sex Marriage Bill was first proposed shortly after South Africa passed its own law allowing gay marriage. The SA action sparked outrage among the Nigerian elite and ruling class and, I believe, marked a turning point in relations between the two countries. That was when the Nigerian elite recognized a divide between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. That’s when Nigeria decided that SA was more ‘white’ than ‘black’.

The proposal was like the throwing down of a gauntlet, a gesture declaring Nigeria would defend black African values which they insisted excluded homosexuality. This Bill is so much more than about gay rights. As a matter of fact, it’s not about gay rights at all. Because you know what?  There is no gay rights movement demanding, protesting, or demonstrating for the right to get married and there is no legal or administrative or social advantage for them to gain if they could.

It took organized, sophisticated and well funded gay rights movements in America and Europe decades of activism to earn the right to get married and only after they had been able to show that they suffered peculiar disadvantages and discrimination in economic entitlements. Their governments responded as best they could, maybe because welfare based governments want to keep people off welfare and reduce their bill; (Yeah. I think they are right – it is the economy stupid!)

In Nigeria where I repeat there is no gay rights movement, how and why does the Nigerian gay community (which does exist at home and abroad) and David Cameron expect Nigeria to suddenly stop being homophobic?  On the other hand, the National Assembly really can’t ban homosexuality from Nigeria for eternity, when the people are ready they will overturn whatever laws made today to suit their beliefs and values tomorrow.

As for all my colleagues out there speaking courageously in defense of gay rights and human rights, please tell me what we have done to advance gay rights in between our seasonal responses to this Bill? Because there is no gay rights movement to speak of, nothing much happens. It’s the human rights movement that comes out each time to protest the anti same sex bill, but no money or program time is devoted to the issue in between to support the growth of a gay rights movement.

This Bill is about power and influence on the continent, and it all plays out to the disadvantage of the already exploited poor masses. I have heard that the House of Representatives will not give the Bill much time and isn’t likely to pass it. If they do, I doubt Jonathan would sign it. So what’s the uproar? Did we only just discover that a large cross section of Nigerians are homophobic? Or do we seriously think our morale outrage alone, brought out on cue each time the Bill rears its head, will vanquish their homophobia?

I’m pretty sure we’ll hear of this Bill again and again and again till we tackle the issues that give it such broad based support, sort of like the Indecent Dressing Bill that taunts us every now and again and gets us all worked up. Could this be some sort of pattern? We best check what else they are doing during all the fall out and drama that captured our focus. What other Bills did they pass while we weren’t looking? But I’m frequently assured that the Nigerian elite lack that sort of sophistication by arrogant and cunning Nigerians that think they know it all.

Whatever the story is behind this bill, one thing is certain – it will continue to plague the polity and incite tempers until the gay community organizes and starts a long term campaign to be accepted in society.



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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