Let’s Get Things Straight – The Anti-Gay Law and West Africa
On January 13, 2014, Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan signed into law, one of the country’s most ominous bills – The Anti-Gay Law. The law, which contains daunting provisions, including a jail term of 14 years, bans on gay marriages, gay relationships, gay groups etc. provoked outrage on social media and the international community.
While the bill had been pending assent since May, 2013, the president delayed signing the bill till Monday and this was confirmed by presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati. Nigeria (and most of sub-Saharan Africa) remains top on the anti-gay sentiments list, as persecutions and crackdowns have been reported in these regions.
Speaking to a grad student in Uganda, who only wished to be identified as Liz, she claimed that schools in Uganda are quite “hard” on the students who may come out and openly admit to being gay, she confirmed that a popular girls’ secondary school in the Iganga district expelled several students for “engaging in homosexuality ” and in several other schools, students are expelled on the slightest suspicion of being gay. There are also several unreported cases of torture by the families of homosexuals in a bid to rid them of the ‘evil’.
While Ugandans are generally known to be very friendly people, being a homosexual in Uganda is probably the most trying thing one would have to endure in a life time. Liz stated that Ugandans are extremely homophobic and would want absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality; this explains why the Parliament recently passed a bill proposing to imprison homosexuals for life. While this might seem harsh, being in prison might be safer than out there on the streets, where gays and lesbians suffer mob justice, lynching and in some reported cases, burnt alive. In all these instances, young children are forced to watch the gruesome event as a lesson not to become gay.
The situation in Nigeria is no different, the gay and lesbian society operate in such clandestine ways that identifying them is almost impossible. While rumours are rife, it is extremely rare for an individual to publicly come out on his/her varying sexual preference. International observers fear that Nigeria could plunge into a cycle of hate and oppression towards individuals who are perceived to be gay. Most of the public outcry echoes the fact that the government’s priorities might have become displaced in the decision to pass the law. With acts of terrorism growing in the Northern region of the country through Islamist group, Boko Haram and the seemingly unending scourge of corruption, many Nigerians feel attention should be turned to more pressing issues.
For Nigerian gay rights activist, Bisi Alimi, the rights of the homosexual couldn’t be more pressing. Labeled as one of the first openly gay Nigerians, Bisi Alimi struggled to ensure that gay people gained social acceptance, a message he preached on a popular national television show in 2004. It goes without saying that Bisi’s arguments met more brick walls than yellow brick roads, as Nigeria remains quite a distance away from any form of social acceptance.
Roger Mbede, who died on the 10th of January, 2014, became a symbol of LBGT in Cameroon following his continuous opposition of the Government’s stand on homosexuality. Reports claim that he was denied medical care because of his sexual preference and died after contracting Hernia in 2012.
While the argument continues to rage on various fronts, with opinions more divided than the Korean countries, one thing remains blurrily clear to everyone – hate is certainly not the answer.