*Encounters with lesbians
*The laws, the punishment
*What Sharia law says
*The dangers within
By Hugo Odiogor
Western hysteria about President Goodluck Jonathan’s signing of the Same Sex Prohibition Act 2013 could not have come as a surprise to watchers of the strong advocacy for recognition of the rights of homosexuals euphemistically called the gay community.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights have been on the front burner of public domain in the Caucasian world.
The idea of men and women having carnal knowledge of each other is generally regarded as an aberration and deviant behaviour which society abhorred for centuries. In Biblical times, the story of the punishment God meted to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah comes to mind.
That experience is a reminder that man should not violate the natural order. But over the years, Western nations have worked to force the human race to accept open display of homosexual culture and tendencies across all cultures and societies. They have promoted it among youths and deviants social groups.
Expectedly, the signing of the Same Sex Prohibition Act has provoked bitter reactions from the United States, Canada and members of the European Union peeved that the new law will violate the rights of the gay community in Nigeria.
The reactions brought to mind some encounters with members of the gay community in Nigeria. It is strange to think that there is this uproar to a practice that has been thriving in Nigeria’s urban cities, the academic community and northern part of the country.
The new law criminalises same sex culture and practice in the country, but the fact remains that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic recognises marriage “as a union between a man and a woman”. This means that marriage of people of the same gender is unconstitutional.
Sharia law, operating in 12 states in northern Nigeria, also criminalises same sex relations. The National Assembly passed the bill banning same sex in 2012 thus making it an offence attracting 14 years jail term for persons practising same sex, promoting it or exhibiting tendencies and attitudes that suggest and promote homosexuality.
Back in July 2013, I came in contact with a lady, 23, who claimed to be a part three student at University of Benin, UNIBEN. She came in company of about 18 other girls, within the same age bracket. They had been invited to a night party in Delta North, Delta State.
The girls, all dressed in black attires, were a curious sight. I approached the self-confessed lesbian and introduced myself, ready for a friendly evening chat. Her introductory statements shocked me as she said: “My name is Rose bud, but I am a lesbian.” I tried to conceal my shock knowing that there was an impending law that criminalises gay practices in Nigeria.
“My pleasure”, I responded.
“Glad to meet you,” I said.
“Are you with your partner?”, I asked.
She gestured to another young girl seated not far away, smoking. I looked in the girl’s direction. What I saw on her face showed that she was not comfortable with my presence.
“Same school”?, I asked the lesbian.
“No”, she said, “UNIBEN. ” That is University of Benin.”
I got more curious. I asked, “Is this a club”?, referring to the other girls dressed in black.
“No”, she said.
“Are you aware of the coming law against same sex relationships?”, I asked
Before she could respond, my colleague, Sunday Odita, from The Guardian, appeared to demand that we should leave. I was torn between leaving Rosebud and joining my colleague for my primary purpose of being at the event. Before I left Rosebud, I told her I was a journalist. She smiled and said, “If you write about me, they will jail you too.” I knew I had missed an opportunity to have a full blown interview with a lesbian.
Propagation of gay culture
We did not exchange telephone numbers but, as I left, I was reflecting on an a media lunch organised by the US Consul General in Lagos aimed at mobilising public opinion against the bill which President Goodluck Jonathan has signed into law.
Mr Jeffery Hawkins had invited journalists to his house to meet with gay rights advocacy groups mainly from northern Nigeria where the practice is prevalent. The groups needed the media to denounce the Same Sex Prohibition Bill, signed into law on January 7, 2014, and the series of discrimination and dangers that the gay community would be exposed to when the bill is signed into law.
The argument of the groups was that some of them are born gay and that they have a fundamental human right which is part of the universal human rights Nigeria is a signatory to and should respect especially in favour of the gay community.
The Americans were surprised that all the Nigerian men and women that they invited to the lunch were proudly Africans. The media men and women sympathised with the gay groups ,but could not see themselves advancing their cause which they consider to be an aberration to their culture and religion.
I have seen gay peoples march in New York. I have seen transsexual and transvestites that have become part of the modern Caucasian culture and sexual classification, but, in these encounters, the question has been: What is the psychological make-up of men who go after men and women who go after women.
They have always been in the minority in Nigeria and going about their businesses in their closets. The trouble now is how to keep the gay community within the confines of the law and socially acceptable behaviour.
This means that clubs, music videos, films, dress codes, symbols and totem that promote same sex will attract punishment. It is an offence for radio houses, television stations to embark on campaigns or canvass opinion favourable to homosexual conduct in the country.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that some Western countries have been encouraging young people with as much as $150,000 to form gay clubs and engage in activities that will bring them in conflict with the law, in order to remain in the media. The West wants to portray Nigeria as violating the fundamental human rights of its gay community.
South Africa, which has a liberal constitution that recognises same sex relations, the white population, which has a sub set of gay community, is small, but there are also black people who are gay. Other African countries are patently against gay practices and some of them have harsh sentences. The Gambia, Mauritania and Sudan, for instance, have death sentences.
Many other African countries have sentences ranging from life imprisonment to death sentence. Notable among them are Kenya, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.
Clash of civilisation
University of Lagos professor of international law and jurisprudence, Akin Oyebode, said the Western threat against Nigeria is inconsequential which we can ignore. “It is another instance of the clash of civilisation. Western countries’ civilisation is on a downward spiral and it intends to take people along to its doom,” Oyebode said. According to him, it is good that Nigeria is insisting to go to heaven on its own way, moreso, in a situation where propriety or morality is culture specific-and geography bound.
Nigeria has a population of over160 million who are almost equally divided between the mainly Muslim North and mainly Christian South. There has been widespread condemnation of homosexuality throughout the country and President Jonathan has been hailed for taking a proactive step to protect Nigerian youths from Western aberrations.
The law makes intra-gender anal sex by males a crime, regardless of consent. It prohibits “acts of gross indecency and exhibition of sexual behaviour between and among men in private or in public.”
But the big challenge is the enticement of these impressionable young minds with entry visas, offer of admission and scholarships by the West on the grounds that they want to escape from being jailed, lynched on the streets, beaten to death, or legally executed by stoning for the offense under the Islamic Sharia law that prevails in 12 of the 36 states. Ned Nwoko, a lawyer, said: “Sodomy was already illegal, but the bill signed into law January 7 bans all gay associations and gay marriage, with penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment for marriage.”
Nwoko, a former member of the House of Representatives, said, “This law is not a symbolic act. Law enforcement agencies should ensure its enforcement but there should be enlightenment of the law enforcement officers to prevent blackmail, extortion and other dangers where accusations of being gay could get anyone arrested.. There is public intolerance against homosexuality which is evidenced by the willingness of the press and the citizens to support the passage of the Act.”
Our society obviously frowns at LGBT issues especially open expression of homosexuality. A gay right activist, who pleaded incognito, told Sunday Vanguard: “The intolerance could lead to murder and acts of violence. We have to remember this is a bill that doesn’t just affect gay Nigerians. Anybody perceived to be gay, boys and girls in the university or higher institutions of learning could be seen to be gay and prosecuted.”
With the passage of the law, there has been increase in the number of arrests in Bauchi State. 12 people were held and put on trial in the state where they were almost lynched by angry mobs. There have been arrests in Abuja, Anambra, Imo, Oyo since the signing of the law. One Mubarak Ibrahim was the first to be found guilty of sodomy in Bauchi and got 20 lashes.
Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs, Ahmed Gulak, said the US, member-states of the European Union and their allies should respect the cultural sensibilities and sovereignty of Nigerians and other African countries.
Gulak told Sunday Vanguard: “The hostile reactions of Europeans and the United States to the signing into law, was a disrespect to the people of Nigeria especially the majority of the population that is against same sex relations.
“What the anti-gay law has tried to achieve is to protect and promote family values as we know it from the start. We accept that the Europeans have reached the height of their civilization; we are yet to see how marriages between persons of the same sex will accelerate our own socio-economic and technological advancement of our people”.
His defence of the anti-gay law continued: “We value the bilateral and multilateral relationships between Nigeria and its international partners and we believe that no unnecessary pressure will be brought to bear on us to accept what our people consider to be abhorrent.
“We are yet to see how same sex practice will reduce inequality, reduce the grinding poverty facing our people. Same sex rights and privileges will not generate employment, enhance health care, improved education and technological growth. We know that those who are into this practice are in the minority. The US and EU should respect the sensibilities of those in the majority who abhor the practice of same sex relations.
“Our lawmakers deliberated carefully on the bill before passing it and sending it to the president for his assent. We cannot dictate to Europeans on what bills they choose to make. They have been passing legislations to regulate migration of Africans into their countries without complaints from any other country. Some states in America have legalised the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Ordinarily, we should see that as a welcome development since we have people who grow the weed here, but for the sake of the health of our people, we cannot say what is good for America or Europeans must be good for us”.
What the law says
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Nigeria face unique legal and social challenges not experienced by non-gay population. The law in Nigeria forbids them from being open about their sexual orientation, and violence against LGBT people is frequent. The maximum punishment in the 12 northern states that have adopted Sharia law is death by stoning. That law applies to all Muslims and to those who have voluntarily consented to application of the Sharia courts. In southern Nigeria and under the secular criminal laws of northern Nigeria, the maximum punishment for same-sex sexual activity is 14 years’ imprisonment. Anti-same sex legislation criminalises same sex practices throughout the country.
Criminal law: Federal Criminal Code in all southern states
Sex acts between men are illegal under the Criminal Code that applies to southern Nigeria and carry a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. Sex acts between women are not mentioned specifically in the code, although it is arguable that the gender-neutral term “person” in Section 214 of the code includes women. Chapter 21 of that code provides in pertinent part as follows:
*Section 214 states that:
Any person who –
(a) has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; or
(c) permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature;
is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for 14 years.
*Section 215 states that: .
Any person who attempts to commit any of the offences defined in the last preceding section is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years. The offender cannot be arrested without a warrant.
*Section 217states that :
Any male person who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another male person, or procures another male person to commit any act of gross indecency with him, or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any male person with himself or with another male person, whether in public or private, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years. The offender cannot be arrested without a warrant.
Federal Penal Code in all northern states Section 284 of the Penal Code (Northern States) Federal Provisions Act, which applies to all states in northern Nigeria, provides that:
Whoever has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to fourteen years and shall also be liable to fine
Section 405 provides that a male person who dresses or is attired in the fashion of a woman in a public place or who practises sodomy as a means of livelihood or as a profession is a “vagabond”. Under Section 407, the punishment is a maximum of one year’s imprisonment or a fine, or both Section 405 also provides that an “incorrigible vagabond” is “any person who after being convicted as a vagabond commits any of the offences which will render him liable to be convicted as such again”.The punishment under Section 408 is a maximum of two years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both.
Sharia law enacted by certain northern states 12 northern states have adopted some form of Sharia into their criminal statutes are:: Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara. Sharia criminal law applies to those who voluntarily consent to the jurisdiction of the Shari’a courts and to all Muslims.
Meaning of sodomy
In Kaduna and Yobe states, “sodomy” is committed by “[w]hoever has anal coitus with any man”.
In Kano and Katsina states, “sodomy” is committed by “[w]hoever has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man or woman through his or her rectum”.
In Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Sokoto, and Zamfara states, “sodomy” is committed by “[w]hoever has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man or woman”.
Punishment for offense of sodomy
In Gombe, Jigawa, and Zamfara states, a person who commits the offence of sodomy shall be punished:
(a) with caning of one hundred lashes if unmarried, and shall also be liable to imprisonment for the term of one year; or
(b) if married with stoning to death (rajm)
In Kano State, a person who commits the offence of sodomy shall be punished:
(a) with caning of one hundred lashes if unmarried, and shall also be liable to imprisonment for the term of one year; or
(b) if married or has been previously married with stoning to death (rajm).
In Bauchi State, a person who commits the offence of sodomy “shall be punished with stoning to death (rajm) or by any other means decided by the state”.
In Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, and Yobe states, a person who commits the offence of sodomy “shall be punished with stoning to death (rajm)”.
In Sokoto State, a person who commits the offence of sodomy shall be punished:
(a) with stoning to death;
(b) if the act is committed by a minor on an adult person the adult person shall be punished by way of ta’azir which may extend to 100 lashes and minor with correctional punishment.
In Sokoto, “ta’azir” means “a discretionary punishment for offence whose punishment is not specified.”
Meaning of lesbianism
In northern states of Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara, lesbianism is believed and defined as committed by a woman who engages another woman in carnal intercourse through her sexual organ or by means of stimulation or sexual excitement of one another. Bauchi, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara states include the following official explanation: “The offence is committed by the unnatural fusion of the female sexual organs and/or by the use of natural or artificial means to stimulate or attain sexual satisfaction or excitement.”
Punishment for offence of lesbianism
In Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara states, a person who commits the offence of lesbianism “shall be punished with caning which may extend to fifty lashes.”
In Bauchi, a person who commits the offence of lesbianism “shall be punished with caning which may extend to fifty lashes and in addition be sentenced to a term of imprisonment which may extend to up to five years”
In Kaduna, the punishment for committing the offence of lesbianism is ta’azir, which means “any punishment not provided for by way of hadd or qisas”.
“Hadd” means “punishment that is fixed by Islamic law”. “Qisas” includes “punishments inflicted upon offenders by way of retaliation for causing death/injuries to a person”. In Kano and Katsina, the punishment for committing the offence of lesbianism is stoning to death.
Meaning of gross indecency
In Kaduna State, a person commits an act of gross indecency “in public, exposure of nakedness in public and other related acts of similar nature capable of corrupting public morals”.
In Kano and Katsina states, a person commits an act of gross indency “by way of kissing in public, exposure of nakedness in public and other related acts of similar nature in order to corrupt public morals”.
In Gombe State, a person commits an act of gross indecency by committing “any sexual offence against the normal or usual standards of behaviour”.
Bauchi, Jigawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara states do not define gross indecency. Their law instead says: “Whoever commits an act of gross indecency upon the person of another without his consent or by the use of force or threat compels a person to join with him in the commission of such act shall be punished”.
Punishment for offence of gross indecency
A person who commits the offence of gross indecency “shall be punished with caning which may extend to 40 lashes and may be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year and may also be liable to fine”.
In Bauchi, a person who commits the offence of gross indecency “shall be punished with caning which may extend to forty lashes and may be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years and may also be liable to fine”. In Kaduna, the punishment for committing the offence of gross indecency is ta’azir, which means “any punishment not provided for by way of hadd or qisas”.
“Hadd” means “punishment that is fixed by Islamic law”.”Qisas” includes “punishments inflicted upon offenders by way of retaliation for causing death/injuries to a person” In Sokoto, a person who commits the offence of gross indecency “shall be punished with caning which may extend to 40 lashes or may be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or both, and may also be liable to fine”.Secular criminal law enacted by certain northern states
Same-sex sexual activities
In Borno state, a person who “engages in … lesbianism, homosexual act in the State commits an offence”. A person who “engages in sexual intercourse with another person of the same gender shall upon conviction be punished with death”.
Males imitating the behavioural attitudes of women
In Kano State, a person who “being a male gender who acts, behaves or dresses in a manner which imitate the behavioural attitude of women shall be guilty of an offence and, upon conviction, be sentenced to one year imprisonment or a fine of N10,000 or both”.