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Same-sex Relationships in the Yoruba Culture

“Basically, because of this law the police treat people in any way that they please. They torture, force people to confess, and when they hear about a gathering of men, they just head over to make arrests - Executive Director of an Abuja NGO, 2015”. Bringing us more on this topic is Perspectoverse’s Hiba Riaz.


On January 7, 2014, Nigeria’s former president, Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same-sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill (SSMPA) into law. The notional purpose of the SSMPA is to prohibit marriage between persons of the same sex. In reality, it’s scope is much wider. The law forbids any cohabitation between same-sex sexual partners and bans any “public show of same sex amorous relationship”. The SSMPA imposes a 10-year prison sentence on anyone who “registers, operates, or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisation” or “supports” the activities of such organisations. Punishments are severe, ranging from 10 to 14 years in prison.

Such provisions build on existing legislation in Nigeria, but go much further: while the colonial-era criminal and penal codes outlawed sexual acts between members of the same sex, the SSMPA effectively criminalizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

While existing legislation already criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct in Nigeria, multiple reports have found that the SSMPA, in many ways, officially authorizes abuses against people, effectively making a bad situation worse. The passage of the SSMPA was immediately followed by extensive media reports of high levels of violence, including mob attacks and extortion against LGBT people. Human rights groups and United Nations officials expressed grave concern about the scope of the law, its vague provisions, and the severity of punishments.

While the Human Rights Watch found no evidence that any individual has been prosecuted or sentenced under the SSMPA, the report concludes that its impact appears to be far-reaching and severe. The heated public debate and heightened media interest in the law have made homosexuality more visible and LGBT people even more vulnerable than they already were. Many LGBT individuals interviewed by Human Right Watch said that prior to the enactment of the SSMPA in January 2014, the general public objected to homosexuality primarily on the basis of religious beliefs and perceptions of what constitutes African culture and tradition. The law has become a tool being used by some police officers and members of the public to legitimize multiple human rights violations perpetrated against LGBT people. Such violations include torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, violations of due process rights, and extortion.

For instance, in February 2014 in Gishiri village, Abuja, a group of approximately 50 people armed with machetes, clubs, whips and metal wires dragged people from their homes and severely beat at least 14 men whom they suspected of being gay.

In 2017, Richard Akuson started A Nasty Boy magazine to validate and affirm the lives and experiences of gay men in Nigeria, hoping that it could contribute, in some way, to broader tolerance for the LGBTQ+ community across the country. He attempted to start meaningful conversations around gender norms and masculinity that speak specifically to the realities as gay men within a culture that is poisonously patriarchaland deeply homophobic.

But neither the acclaim nor his considerable privilege as an attorney and son of a politician, could protect him from the four men who brutally ambushed him in his hometown. They accused him of being gay and “spreading a gay agenda” as they pummeled him.

And yet, even this gruesome attack pales in comparison to the fatal brutality many Nigerian gay men have too often experienced in the form of lynchings or pillory with tires before they’re set on fire- not for terrorism or worse, but for being gay, for being human, in a desperately homophobic country. In Nigeria, gay men are portrayed as cancers deeply eating into the fabric of society- tumors that must be obliterated. The federal Same-Sex Marriage act of 2014 says anyone found guilty of homosexuality faces upto 14 years in prison.

Shari’a law, which is practiced in 12 northern states in the country, imposes a penalty of death by stoning. Through these draconian laws, arbitrary arrests and extortion by the police, the Nigerian government sanctions violence against its LGBTQ+ citizens.

A 2013 PewGlobal research suggests 98% of Nigerians believe homosexuality should not be accepted by society. A 2017 survey by The Initiative For Equal Rights, a Nigerian-based human rights organization, showed 90% of Nigerians support the continued enforcement of Nigeria’s anti-gay laws.

Homophobia is the tie that binds a divided country: the one thing a nation of chronic ethnic loyalties, of religious tension, of failed government, can agree upon.

Written by Hiba Riaz

Illustrated by Anushka Doshi

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