Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Response to "Brothers In Love"

A response to Brothers in LOVE.
By Rev Rowland Jide Macaulay

I wish to start with a gratitude to Joseph Ushigiale’s report about homosexuality titled Brothers in LOVE in ThisDay, Saturday Plus, dated August 18, 2007. Having quoted my personal experience accurately, in a well balance article, I wish to add more to the issues Nigerian gays and lesbians are facing. The arrest and conviction of the Bauchi 18, will no doubt be a catalyst for revolution for change. The world media are certainly on the tail of Nigeria to see what will happen. There is a pervasive view that homosexuality is a sign of western sexual corruption and immorality. Some African families even believe that homosexuality is a result of occult activities. Leading Nigerians and politicians have claimed that homosexuality is un-African and that the Western world is spreading a concept of immorality amongst her citizens.

Same sex relationships are totally frowned upon and are not accepted within the general Nigerian cultures. This attitude is reinforced by legislation. Same Sex Prohibition Bill stipulates five years imprisonment without trial. This has been problematic even for the entire Nigerian population to understand, but more fearful for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) population is the Islamic Sharia Laws. In January 2006, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced the proposal of a new law to ban homosexual relations and same sex marriage in Nigeria. The bill would make engaging in homosexual relations and entering into same sex marriage offences punishable by five years imprisonment. Priests or other cleric or anyone helping to arrange such a union would also be subjected to a five-year jail sentence. The law would also ban movements, associations or organisations that campaign for LGBT rights.

In June 2006, during a BBC World Service Programme called “Africa Have Your Say” the Rev. Cannon George Njoku, in Abuja, Nigeria, claimed the attempts of the Nigerian LGBT community, global justice and human rights movements to challenge the proposed bill amounts to terrorism and blackmail of the church. A freelance journalist in Nigeria whom we shall call Daniel Nwayere (who appealed for his real identity to be concealed) said that the motion to pass the bill to law originated from former President Olusegun Obasanjo with the backing of the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, Primate Peter Akinola.

The LGBT community itself is experiencing a high level of concern and anxiety at these new measures to curb the limited human rights. All these laws are creating an atmosphere of intimidation and repression for the community in Nigeria. Nwayere told me that he is a gay man and expressed his opinion that the seriousness of this matter has only just began. He said, for example, if he was known as a gay man, he would be ostracised and not be able to get any work in the media industry. Bisi Alimi now 31 years old, Nigerian who publicly came out as a gay man in 2004. He has faced and endured torrents of physical and verbal abuse and threats to his life in his daily life in Nigeria. He is a man of great courage and determination. In Nigeria the situation is so dangerous that only a handful of people are willing to share in his open struggle for the recognition of human rights of LGBT people.

The majority of LGBT people in Nigeria live in perpetual fear of discrimination, physical assault and threats to livelihood and rejection from homes and churches. For example, many LGBT people want to be able to worship in peace and seek spiritual guidance from the various religious leaders and institutions in Nigeria, but yet they are rejected and denounced by those same religious leaders and institutions. In contrast to Nwayere’s experiences, Alimi has been subjected to inhumane physical and verbal abuse purely on the grounds of sexual orientation, Alimi has many times considered self-harm. He said, if he was not in a meaningful and loving relationship with his partner of many years he would have considered ending his life. A

limi, being out spoken and popular as an undergraduate at the University of Lagos, was invited to speak on a Live TV programme on the 8th October 2004, it was on this programme that he confirmed that he is a gay man. Life after this single experience for Alimi has been little or no consolation. He struggles with finding suitable employment or housing because he is a known gay man. However, he continues to speak up and stand out wherever there is an opportunity to do so. In Nigeria, there are no licensed gay clubs, bars or safe spaces where the LGBT community could gather. However, the LGBT community is a resilient and resourceful community. They have organised events using the internet and continue to celebrate their sexuality despite the repressive laws. There is always a danger that when these events or social gatherings take place there is a risk of a police raid or hooligans who cause trouble. But yet they continue to live their lives with courage and hope. There are few organised groups, such as Alliance Rights Nigeria, Support Project in Nigeria (SPIN), House Of Rainbow, INCRESE, The Independent Project, who would be affected should the proposed bill become law. Lesbians and gays have reported that the police in Nigeria are now starting to use their “Stop and Search” powers to stop them and physically and verbally abuse them. The simple fact is that LGBT people exist in Nigeria. They are a part of the fabric of the Nigerian society.

For many years, a group of Muslim homosexuals operated in the majority Muslim Northern Nigeria under the coded name of Dan Daudu despite the strict Sharia laws. A Spokesperson for the Alliance Rights Nigeria estimates that a high percentage of Nigerian gays and lesbians are forced into heterosexual marriages to conceal their sexual orientation but they continue to pursue same sex sexual relationships. Openly LGBT people are excluded from the society and are often deprived of health care, especially if they suggest that they suffer from health complaints associated with homosexual activity. Talking about sexuality and spirituality in the light of prejudice from the Nigerian government, Dola who is a very private individual broke her silence. Dola now in her forties a Nigerian Lesbian who now lives in London expressed her deep concerns with me. She said, It really does not matter where you live, whether it is in the United Kingdom with a leap for freedom or in Nigeria with little or no hope. As a Nigerian, to identify with the cultural and traditional request for morality is a must, being openly and happily gay in Nigeria is not an option, this is what we seek to readdress, in our activism. Things are set to change for LGBT people in Nigeria, as a percentage of gay people are increasingly seeking support from many online web pages and forming social groups. There have been many discourses of the issues and some campaigns at higher level and events organised. Also an unimaginable number of people are driven into the closet for fear of retribution, isolation and rejection should their sexual orientation become public. The proposed bill to ban same sex relationships in Nigeria has not been made into law.

Human rights organisations and the Metropolitan Community Churches are campaigning for the proposed bill to be abandoned.

The Lagos State House Of Assembly on the 24th May 2007, called for a public hearing to debate the proposal to pass a law titled Same Sex Prohibition Bill 2007, this was a copy of the Law from Federal level, discriminatory but not as draconian in its provision, however the States against the Federal stipulates 10 years imprisonment for any offender successfully prosecuted.

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