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NIGERIA: A Gleamer of Hope for the LGBTQ community in Nigeria

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By: Stephen Chukwumah

In Nigeria recently LGBTQ issues was in the news again following a campaign called the Free and Equal Naija. A group of LGBTQ activists, lawyers and organizations had come together to work on the campaign with an aim of celebrating human rights day and also calling on Nigerians to end violence and discrimination towards LGBTQ individuals in the society.

There’s been little attention given to LGBTQ issues in the media lately and this is a far opposite of the situation some several months ago when the Nigerian government enacted a same sex marriage prohibition act. The media was awash with all kinds of stories about the new law and reports about homosexual activities in Nigeria and what this meant for them. Several activists also used the media to speak against the dreaded law and its negative implication to the already complicated human rights situation of LGBTQ people in Nigeria.

Religious leaders, political office holders and a large percentage of people speaking through the media didn’t waste an opportunity to spew hate towards LGBTQ Nigerians and use the opportunity to gain cheap political points.

It has shown over the years that in Nigeria lots of politicians use the homosexual debate as a tool to gain cheap political pointss as is evidence with the newly enacted same sex marriage act. The bill was introduced in the senate by senator domingo obembe who’s always been in oblivion in the house, but shot into fame when he introduced the SSMPA and also his colleagues used the opportunity to also score cheap points.

Homosexuality has always existed in the Nigerian society and also within the culture, but this statement doesn’t fly so freely with homophobes who immediately argue that it is a western behavior and not part of the African culture. Religious leaders also don’t waste time to make reference to Sodom and Gomorrah and how it was destroyed due to homosexuality. They ignore the number one message of LOVE that Christ came with to earth.

There’s always been an effort by religious leaders and the government to outlaw homosexuality in Nigeria and efforts to that regards started as way back as 2006 with the introduction of a bill in the house of representatives, but the failure to achieve this till 2012, has been largely due to change in government officials and priorities.

In a country like Nigeria that is recently facing pressing and serious issues like insecurities In the north, power failures and bad roads, it leaves nothing to imagination why the government rather than addressing this would chose to outlaw homosexuality even while the penal code already makes the act illegal.

LGBTQ people in Nigeria face risks of violence, discrimination and arrests and this is usually heightened whenever the issue comes up for debate at the house of representatives as is the case in 2006 till recently in 2012 and after the enactment of the SSMPA. LGBTQ people are considered most at risk to the HIV virus, especially men who have sex with men and this is based on the constant discrimination they face at home, in the society and even within sexual health programs in Nigeria.

Organisations like Women’s health and Equal Rights in Abuja, Improved Youth Health Initaitive in Eastern Nigeria and the Initiative for Equal Rights are continuously providing information and services on sexual health and rights to LGBTQ people even in the face of serious backlash and arrests by law enforcement agents as the new law also prohibits individuals and organizations from “aiding and abetting” LGBTQ people with a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment.

It is generally inspiring to see that activists are still speaking up, challenging the government and religious leaders and also restrategising so as to enhance their work in achieving equality for LGBTQ people. The creation of the Solidarity Alliance which is made up of LGBTQ organizations, activists, lawyers, and doctors indicates that the fight for equality for LGBTQ people in Nigeria is not over yet, infact it has just been energized and this testifies to the fact that one day, Human Rights would be applicable to everyone in Nigeria regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression and identity.