Buggery and Impunity

Last week President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that criminalizes gay marriage, gay organizations and anyone working with or promoting them. Since its passage more than 168 suspected homosexuals have been arrested or detained, primarily in Bauchi State, and the police are actively pursuing suspected homosexuals in other areas of the country. The law also criminalizes people and groups who support "the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies and organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria." Those convicted could be jailed for up to 14 years.

There is no question that the large body of opinion in Nigerian society opposes homosexual acts. A prohibition of the crime of sodomy has been on the books for years. Nigeria, as are many African states, is quite socially-conservative and views homosexuality as something in conflict with the accepted religious and cultural norms of their societies. However the passage of this act has been condemned by the U.S., Britain and Europe as denying citizens their human rights. These states have conveyed their displeasure to Nigeria. There is now some serious discussion with the international community about the effect of this ban on the international campaign against AIDs and other social diseases. No doubt there will be disagreements about sovereignty and the rights of states to make their own laws.

As a long-term observer of Nigerian society I am not surprised by the passage of this act. What does surprise me is the sheer hypocrisy behind some of those who supported this matter. It has been common knowledge in Nigeria for many years that several of the leading Nigerian politicians, generals, governors, editors, businessmen and others have been engaged in homosexual relationships with other Nigerians. No one speaks publicly of this but almost everyone I knows references this in their analyses. Usually it has been a prominent Northern figure in a relationship with a South-South dignitary. Many young politicians started their careers in this manner. This is not to say that these people engaged in homosexual practices do not also have relations with women; sometimes even their wives. Most are part-time homosexuals.

The fact that these same people have now passed a law banning the very acts that they themselves have committed shows their confidence in the impunity of Nigerian politicians from any prosecution or embarrassment. Without that impunity there would be far more restraint by many in the National Assembly, by several past governors, by a raft of businessmen and generals, and by some former occupants of Aso Rock in risking public embarrassment for their personal predilections.

On the other hand they may feel that this law does not apply to them as they are bisexual and confine their activities to a small circle of friends or, in some cases, a limited number of species. Perhaps, as their exploits are made known to the public they will be subject to only a partial jail term or sentence to reflect their record of sexual diversity.