Homosexualidad en Nigeria: Entrevista a Williams Rashidi

Posted on octubre 31, 2012


Por: Jerónimo Delgådo Caicedo
Coordinador – Estudios Africanos

En el marco del especial sobre Homosexualidad en África, Jerónimo Delgådo Caicedo, Coordinador de Estudios Africanos, realizó una entrevista a Williams Rashidi, Fundador y Director de Proyectos del Queer Alliance Nigeria (QA) y Coordinador del Queer African Youth Networking Centre (QAYNC) con sede en Lagos, Nigeria. Mayor información sobre QA/QAYCN en su página web: http://www.gayn-center.org/

What is the current legal situation of Homosexuality in your country? How does it affect your daily life?

The Criminal Code of Nigeria: This code came into being on the 16th June 1916 and was inspired by Victorian Morality. The Code is usually applied in the predominantly Christian South of Nigeria. The provision in this code condemns consensual same sex activities between consenting adults. It is termed as ‘un-natural and carnal knowledge’.

Chapter 21 of the Penal and Criminal Code of Nigeria

Section 214 states:  Any person who- (1) has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; or (2) has carnal knowledge of an animal; or (3) 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 fourteen years.

Section 217 specifically states: 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 Sharia Penal Code: The provisions of the Sharia Penal Code apply predominantly in Muslim north. The north coincidentally houses more male homosexuals, compared to the south of the country (Sexual Diversity and Human Rights Research Project 2007 -2008 – INCRESE).  Since 2000, 12 Northern Nigerian states have adopted Islamic Sharia laws with harsh punishment for people with sexual orientation and gender identity considered deviant and un-Islamic. This include homosexuality whether male or female but with harsh punishments for male homosexuals.

Section 130, 131 and 134 of the Sharia Penal Codes stipulates and states that “whoever commits the offence of Sodomy shall be punished: With canning of one hundred lashes and if unmarried shall also be liable to imprisonment for a term of one year: or if married with stoning to death (rajm).

Sodomy in this clause is mostly restricted to anal sex between men. The Sharia Penal Code is not usually applied to the act of sodomy by heterosexual couples. Also in the Sharia Penal Code is a provision that stipulates to punish: “Any woman who engages in same sex relationships with caning which may extend to fifty lashes and in addition sentenced to a term of imprisonment which may extend to six months”.

What is the main objective of your organisation and how do you plan to achieve it?

Queer Alliance Nigeria (QA) is a human rights and health advocacy/support group for the LGBTI persons in Nigeria. Queer Alliance played a prominent role in the defeat of the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Act in March 2009. At such the aim of Queer Alliance is to advocate for a Nigerian society where the citizens can make decisions as regards their sexuality, which would not be accompanied by a societal demand or fear. Mission: Queer Alliance works to promote the wellbeing and advocate for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans persons in Nigeria through advocacy, leadership development and capacity building and research and publications.  VISION: A non-discriminatory Nigeria, especially on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Our aims and objectives as an organisation are streamlined into the main areas in which we work namely: advocacy, leadership development and research/documentation.

Advocacy:  Working strategically to secure and promote the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people; representation, defending and advocating for the respect, recognition and protection of the human rights of LGBTI and inclusion in legislative instrument and other policies of government as members of the Nigeria society. Queer Alliance is actively involved in the work of the Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights in Nigeria on the Sexual Diversity and Human Rights Project aimed at the repeal of discriminatory and repressive laws that contradicts constitutionally guaranteed human rights.

Capacity Building and Leadership Development: Capacity building and Leadership development is aimed at providing a platform and opportunity for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people in Nigeria to share and exchange ideas, information and skills for the advancement of the community in the context of human rights. This will take the form of workshops, internships and annual leadership summit. Queer Alliance is currently developing a project that is aimed at enhancing knowledge in human rights and building the capacity of LGBT people in our catchment areas and beyond to self-advocate for their rights.

Research and Documentation: The insufficient knowledge on the lives and experiences of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women in Africa has resulted to various myths, fallacies and misrepresentations of lesbians, gays, bisexual and trans people in Nigeria. Queer Alliance will therefore undertake research and documentation projects/activities through various media to build knowledge in issues of sexuality, sexual diversity, sexual orientation and gender identity. Queer Alliance is also working on developing a book that speaks on queer sexualities and human rights, detailing the lives experiences of queer people in Nigeria.

How could you describe the current conditions in the African continent for LGBTI citizens?

I describe the current situation on the African continent for LGBTI as hostile, frustrating, challenging and difficult. It is like living with no air. From corrective rape of lesbians and serial killing of gay men in South Africa, the anti-gay legislations in Nigeria and Uganda, illegal arrest and detention in Cameroon, hostile and violence inciting comment from political and religious leaders and with capital punishment in Sudan and Nigeria. There never will be an appropriate word(s) to describe the situation for LGBTI people on the African continue. It is like living without oxygen.

What kind of solutions could be implemented in order to improve the living conditions of LGBTI citizens in Nigeria?

To improve the living conditions of LGBTI in Nigeria, discriminatory and repressive laws must be addressed by the government. Existing legislation that criminalise on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity should be repealed or amended as necessary. This is the first step. A comprehensive sexuality and Human Rights education that would ensure that every citizen understands sexual diversity, sexual orientation and gender together with human rights education must also be put in place. It is not enough to address the laws without also address the lack of knowledge in issues of sexuality. There also is a need for us as a country to have laws that criminalise violence against anyone, making serious the legislations on hate crimes, enacting one if there is none. Violations of fundamental Human Rights by anyone must be prosecuted. This will lead everyone to respect each other even with our differences. Lastly, it is also important that the issues in religion be separated from issues of the law on the African continent.

For many years it has been argued that homosexuality goes against African traditional values, what is your opinion in this issue?

What exactly is African? I guess it is the trousers, weave- on and artificial hairs that our women wear, subordination of women, female genital mutilation that has ruined the lives of many girls on the continent, Christianity and Islam that has reshaped our lives and held us in mental slavery so as not to question teachings/doctrines that are discriminatory and repressive. I guess what is African to our political and even in some quarter’s religious leaders is corruption and the masses living in penury. I do know what exactly the African Traditional Value is. It is hospitality, communal love and non-discrimination. Let me also answer the question by countering the argument of Molife Asante. ‘The overall African philosophy is that life and the reproduction of life sit at the core of human society. Men and women have children who ritualise their parents and ancestors. In the process of building community, African culture has no place, no category and no concept that can accommodate homosexuality as a way of life because it does not fit with the view that humans should reproduce in order to be remembered for eternity”. (Molife Asante).  This assertion is a modern hetero-normative and heterosexist philosophy and does not in any way reflect the viewpoints of African ancestors whose knowledge of human sexuality, though limited was still significant enough not to discriminate against people with a homosexual orientation. However, I do support the claim that life and reproduction of life sat at the core of the African human society. This forced ancient African homosexuals into heterosexual settings so as to continue the ritualisation of their parents and ancestors but with the advent of science and technology, African homosexual men and women can still ritualise their parents without necessarily going into heterosexual relationship.

There is nothing Western or African about homosexuality. Since traditions were defined, a small percentage of people were emotionally, physically and sexually inclined to their own sex/gender. It might not be an expected feature within any society, but the Africans had ways of accommodating homosexuals in ancient times.

What is the opinion of civil society in your country about same sex marriages and adoption?

The larger Nigerian civil society does not tolerate LGBTI let alone accept them as members of the Nigerian society. Only 1.4% of Nigerians is “tolerant” towards sexual minorities, according to a 2008 survey by Nigeria’s Information for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. We cannot talk about the opinion of the civil society on issues of same sex marriages and adoption without first addressing the root cause of the problem. The civil society is not in support of same sex marriage and adoption. We also as LGBTI advocates are not calling for same sex marriage at this point in time in the history of our country. We need tolerance, acceptance and equality first. And if I speak the mind of most LGBT Nigerians, Same Sex Marriage is not a priority on the minds of LGBTI Nigerians. We cannot even talk about same sex partners adopting when the law says they are criminal.

Has your organisation achieved any kind of improvement for LGBTI rights in your country?

Since inception in 2009, Queer Alliance has worked to provide information in human rights, sexual health and rights with HIV/AIDS as a focus category to the LGBTI community, most especially men who have sex with men who may not necessarily identify as gays and bisexuals. Queer Alliance was also instrumental to the defeat of the anti-gay bill in 2009. We also have been able to create safe spaces for LGBTI to express and enjoy their sexuality.

Though much work remains to be done, we have been able to increase the knowledge on critical issues that affects the community, such as HIV/AIDS. Other organisations have been able to provide legal defence for LGBTI who were arrested and detained illegally. Another significant improvement for LGBTI in Nigeria was the establishment of safe religious spaces for LGBTI of the Christian Faith by House of Rainbow.

How do you get financial and international support?

Queer Alliance is currently not funded by any organisation or donor. Since inception in 2009 we have worked with funds that were contributed by our staff volunteers and Board of Directors members. It was an organisational decision as at the end of 2009/2010 fiscal year that we consecrate our efforts in building the capacity of our staff volunteers towards our institutional development whilst still working in our own little way.  Our aim for 2012 and beyond is to promote a deeper and conceptual knowledge on sexuality, sexual diversity, sexual orientation and gender identity/expression all in the context of human rights amongst relevant state and non-state actors in Nigeria, whilst working to combat intolerance/homophobia towards LGBTIs and providing HIV and sexual health information and services where necessary and appropriate in Nigeria. Our projects within this timeframe have been carefully streamlined to meet this objective.

The Staying Alive Foundation from 2012 will support our HIV Prevention work for LGBTI, especially for gays and bisexuals in Delta and Anambra States. We now would begin full scale sourcing of funds to enable the organisation achieve its mandate.

What has been the relation between religion and LGBTI citizens in Nigeria? 

The majority of LGBTI Nigerians are well integrated into their religious societies, albeit in the closet. Religion and LGBTI are two parallel lines that may never intersect, putting into perspective the divide in the country on grounds of religion. We have the Christian South and the Muslim North. Our main problem, even outside the issues of gay and human rights still remains religion.

Who has been the most important obstacle in your fight for LGBT rights?

Religious Leaders. Religious Leaders in Nigeria command great respect and authority.  Their influence is readily seen as in the case of the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill which has just been passed by the Nigerian Senate.

Who has been the most important supporter of your organisation?

There is no single most important supporter of our organisation nor the fight for the rights of LGBTI in Nigeria. We appreciate the efforts of international partners and even the Federal Government of Nigeria that have in the past provided funds in collaboration with international partners in fighting the HIV epidemic amongst men who have sex with who may not necessarily identify as gay or bisexual.

What is the government’s response to the campaigns in favour of LGBTI rights in Nigeria?

Their response is full of hostility. Argument is usually based on what their religion says and not what the constitution says. This makes me think if Nigeria is ruled by the Bible or the Quran.

Is there any additional information you would like to share with our readers?

We would like to appeal again to the Nigerian government to shelve aside this bill and focus on the problems confronting Nigeria holistically. Same Sex Marriage is the least of our problems as a country. This bill will not necessarily make Nigeria the moral country that we want it to be neither will it stop same sex practices. It only gives room for more violence and hate crimes to be committed on just mere suspicion of a person’s sexual orientation.

Entrevista concedida por:
Williams Kwame Oludare Rashidi
Fundador / Director de Proyectos
Queer Alliance Nigeria
Coordinador Queer African Networking Centre
Lagos, Nigeria
E-mail: queer.alliance040@gmail.com

Posted in: Nigeria