Human security implications of the anti gay laws in Nigeria

Toyin Ajao
Toyin Ajao is a doctoral fellow at the University of Pretoria working in the area of peace and conflict



Early this year with great fanfare President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law an anti-gay bill that stipulated the following:

  • 14 years imprisonment for anyone entering same-sex marriage
  • 10 years for any organization or people supporting gay rights
  • 10 years for anyone displaying same-sex affection in public

These draconian measures made Nigeria the 36th country in Africa to openly persecute gays.

Within weeks Uganda followed with its own equally strident anti gay law. These developments are perturbing especially as they give crowds and mobs in these countries the license to assault and abuse homosexuals or anyone perceived to be gay. The laws validate the homophobic stance of religious and cultural beliefs that homosexuality is unnatural, un-African and immoral.  What was and is at stake is the very real threat against human security these laws represent.

It is germane to reflect on the Nigerian anti gay law in the context of peace and conflict through the lens of human security. This is because the current discourse while it captures the human rights paradigm it leaves out human security aspects.

The emerging paradigm of human security was stated in the Human Rights Report of the UNDP in 1994. The imperative components of Human Security as encapsulated there are: freedom from fear and want, and the guarantee for individual fulfillments. While the human security is similar to the idea of human rights, human security bears far more reaching implications as concerns peace and conflict. The difference is in the approaches of these two concepts.

Human security focuses on human crises that need practical interventions without which there will continue to be obstacles to human development. The practical components of human security include the individual protection from internal and external threats, access to food, health care, education, environmental security, personal safety, human rights, effective governance and absence of violent conflicts. This makes it pertinent to look at the anti gay law in the contemporary discourse from the human security perspective.

 The case of homosexuality in Africa

The claim that homosexuality is un-African is now largely discredited. Colonization came with draconian anti homosexuality rules amongst other things. This was itself a reflection of beliefs and practices in Europe where homosexuals were discriminated against and homosexuality considered unnatural and un-Godly.

Contrary to widespread beliefs studies now show that homosexuality existed in African societies long before contact with the West. African societies at the time simply took the matter in its stride and embraced diversity and tolerance. Amnesty International in its report on criminalization of same sex conduct in sub Saharan Africa notes that it was colonialism that first criminalized homosexual practices in Africa.

Colonialism imported homophobia, and not homosexuality to Africa. The position that homosexual practices in Africa predated contact with the West is well supported by such examples such as Sango, the effeminate Yoruba deity, the Azande warriors of the Congo who sometimes married other warriors, and the Hausa Yan Daudu men in Northern Nigeria who were recognized as individuals whose gender expressions are effeminate. Pre colonial African societies accommodated these individuals and practices without discrimination.

Today new waves of western missionaries have built on colonial homophobic rhetoric and have strengthened the climate of homophobia in Africa. Given the less well understood pre colonial history and culture of Africa, many Africans today genuinely believe that homosexuality is a Western invention.

Human rights group and enlightened people have made what efforts they can to demonstrate that the phenomenon of homosexuality is a universal human reality that occurs in cultures worldwide.

The alliance of Western Evangelical fundamentalist with State power in Africa has aggravated the problem of homophobia in Africa and in Nigeria in particular. Today pro gay pressures from the West, emboldens anti gay and religious fundamentalists in Africa. The growth of Christian and Islamic fundamentalism in Nigeria contributes greatly to the criminalization of sexual minorities in the country and is the main force behind the draconian anti gay law enacted in Nigeria.

The resulting threats to security

By passing the anti-gay law in Nigeria, the Nigerian government has strengthened the penal codes that exist in Northern Nigeria, to jail punish or even execute anyone considered homosexual. This has helped widen the scourge of discrimination that Nigerian sexual minorities already endure.

For a long time there existed in Nigeria a culture of discrimination and hatred against sexual minorities in the country. What the new anti gay law signed into force by Goodluck Jonathan does is to legitimize this culture. As a result, there are continuous incidents of gays, or people perceived to be gay, being evicted illegally from their homes, stripped naked on the streets, tortured and even killed. A recent example is the reported case of five gay people that were stripped, beaten and paraded naked on the streets of the eastern city of Warri this last March.

The Nigerian police, notorious for its brutality and abuse of power now have an open license to go after gay people or people perceived as such and do whatever it likes with them.

Throughout Nigeria NGOs and other bodies that render support to sexual minorities are now under threats because of the clause in the anti-gay law that spells out 10 years for any organizations caught supporting the group. Organizations working for the defense of LGBT rights now fear recriminations. The law has forced into silence many organizations that have in the past rendered good service to sexual minorities.  Given this clamped down, cases of exploitation and persecution of homosexuals or perceived homosexuals in the country can only rise.

With this new law, homosexuals living with HIV/AIDS are likely to go underground for fear of prosecution. The likelihood of increased spread of HIV/AIDS is real. The health hazard implication for the country as a whole is frightening.

Fuelling more threats both internally and externally is the media. Even as the media fights for gay rights, the same media has also been used for promoting anti gay hate and discrimination. On the other hand the effect of tabloid sensation of the gay rights issue is counterproductive. Negative reporting on gays has also hurt. Some media outlets in Nigeria have shamelessly and falsely sought to link homosexual practices with incest and pedophilia.