BY EBUN SESSOU
The number of homosexuals in Nigeria seems to be on the rise, which explains why the National Assembly recently passed a bill prohibiting the act and sentencing defaulters to a 14-year jail term.
Little wonder some Nigerians took to the streets protesting what they termed “Anti-gay practice” and infringement of their fundamental human rights. Amongst them was 22-year old Ahmed, who dubbed members of the Senate “species who spend their precious time on irrelevant issues” in his tweet.
Ahmed says he had his first homosexual experience when he was 15 years old: “I discovered that I am more attracted to the same sex individual than the female folk. So, any government that would not allow me to exercise my fundamental rights is not a responsible government.”
At present, some homosexuals converge on a secret gay club in Lagos. A recent investigation by a BBC reporter revealed that some of the men always dress like females. They wear wigs and take a quick glance at their pocket mirrors, before adjusting their tight-fitting red dresses.
In 2006, one Reverend Rowland Macaulay set up House of Rainbow, a homosexual church, at No 36/38 Yakoyo street, Ojodu Berger, Lagos.His members were only men who worshiped as brethren and lovers.
It would be recalled that in 2008, Saturday Vanguard reported that he was initiating new members into the gay club and at same time running the church secretly in Nigeria. He was also reported to have appeared sometime ago on Cable News Network, CNN, where he proudly talked about his gay church.
The initial reaction which greeted his exposure created doubts in the minds of Nigerians over the existence of such a church on their shores. But an uproar in the Anglican communion in Europe on gay bishops once again brought the case of Reverend Rowland to the fore.
However, when the Saturday Vanguard visited his residence at plot 145, flat 1, Jakande estate, Isolo, Lagos, his apartment was under lock and key.
It was learnt that the gay pastor vacated his home when he read the story of his clandestine activities in a national newspaper. He is currently running his church in London and some other African countries including Kenya, South African, Uganda, among others.
Kunle (not real name), a gay man living in Lagos, is outraged by the proposed law: “How does a government think that sending someone to prison would change his or her sexual orientation?
One of Nigeria’s few openly gay human rights activists, Rashidi Williams, notes that the bill seeks to ban something which is already illegal and which no one is publicly advocating. For him, repealing the repressive laws in this country will go a long way.”
Meanwhile, the recent Anti-Gay law might constrain some gay Nigerians to seek asylum in countries where the practice is accepted, while others will have to go underground. At the gay club, for instance, no one is allowed to take any photos despite the free atmosphere.
The fear of being identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in a country where the public still turns to mob justice haunts some here. And that is a huge concern for Richard (not his real name): “If you don’t become discreet and try to hide yourself, even the man on the street will want to also act on the bill because it has been passed.
“If you’re walking on the street and he stones you, he knows the law would stand for him because the law is against you.”
Recent investigations revealed that Nigerian LGBT’s in Diaspora held a rally outside Nigerian Embassy in London, UK to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The rally was on the theme: “We Are Family- Freedom to Love for all Nigerians”.
Speakers shared personal stories and experiences of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia and a letter was delivered to officials of the Nigerian High Commission.
A former student activist of the OAU, Ile-Ife, Yemisi Ilesanmi, led the protest. She said a position paper on the Anti-Same Sex Marriage bill currently pending before the Nigerian legislature had already been sent to the Nigerian Legislative organ and the Executive.
However, those who spoke against the practice are of the opinion that the homosexuality is not part of Nigerian culture and that it is a sin against God.
A lawyer, Ebun Adegboruwa, explained that, “Every law must reflect the cultural dimensions of the society that constitutes the primary constituency of the said law. There is no culture or tribe in Nigeria presently, that endorses same sex marriage. It still remains a cultural taboo in all climes in this country.
“Similarly, virtually all religions in Nigeria prohibit same sex marriage. So in promulgating the anti gay law, the National Assembly is only reflecting the cultural pattern of Nigeria and indeed our spiritual inclinations. It is thus a welcome idea, to prohibit same sex marriage, in Nigeria.
“Furthermore, in Nigeria presently, both the criminal law and indeed the Marriage Act, prohibit same sex marriage. Thus, the law being promulgated by the National Assembly is not the first legislation on same sex prohibition. It has been part of our existence as a nation, to abhor un-natural affections between man and man and woman and woman.
“But those who are protesting are equally exercising their rights to freedom of expression under section 39 of the 1999 Constitution. However, since both chambers of the National Assembly have now passed the Bill, the option open to the protesters is to take their grievance to court, as expected in any democratic environment, governed by the rule of law. I therefore urge the President to assent to the Bill, without further delay, as it is a reflection of the wish of the people of Nigeria.”
But Dr Abiola Akiyode opposed that the bill. She said, “I believe the entire law on same sex violates the rights of the individual to decide freely on his or her private life, and also the right to make a choice about one’s life and what you want to do with it to be fulfilled as a human being.
“The government is a busy body in this instance; after all, they left more important issues worthy of legislation like violence against women legislation and other critical matters affecting Nigeria. Rather, they are poke-nosing in people’s private matters. A review of the law shows that it is largely defective and poses dangers to all whether you are straight or not.”
For Joei Odumakin, “Application of the Bill as passed by the National Assembly is that its contents are at variance which certain laws that are already enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria. This is a key issue that is expected to be considered in order to avoid a situation whereby our laws may be running on parallel lines under a single system.
“They are such clauses in the Bill which are likely to become instruments in the hands of the state to victimize certain individuals or groups in the long run if critically analyzed.