Nigeria: Hotbed of Homophobic Violence
Even in Africa--a continent not known for its gay-friendly cultures or governments---Nigeria stands out for the virulence and violence against gay men in particular as well as lesbians.
The cultural residue of colonial occupation and political maneuvering encouraged by the country’s influential Christian and Muslim faiths makes Nigeria one of the most challenging African nations in which to live openly as a homosexual. A federal republic whose 36 states and capital territory are home to over 140 million people, Nigeria’s current leader is Umaru Musa Yar’Adu, whose April, 2007 election to a four-year term was characterized by a U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor report as "marred by massive fraud, vote rigging and political violence."
That report also noted "government officials at all levels" committing abuses, including "politically motivated killings by security forces, arbitrary arrest and prolonged pretrial detention" as well as "restrictions on speech, press, assembly, religion and movement." Homosexuality, illegal under federal law, is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. In northern Muslim states, which observe Sharia law, those found guilty of homosexual intercourse can receive death by stoning.
Authorization by the governor is required for a sentence to be carried out. While this has yet to happen, convicted homosexuals can expect to spend the rest of their lives on Death Row. In the Christian-dominated south, things are not much better.
"The real threat of death or serious injury is not from legal actions by the state, but from mob violence and unofficial actions by the police who are a law unto themselves," says Davis Mac-Iyalla, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria. "In that way, there is very little difference between North and South."
Mac-Iyalla, currently living in exile, emphasizes another troublesome similarity between the Christian south and a Muslim north: "One of the few common perspectives between Islam and popular Christianity in Nigeria is a hatred of homosexuality."
Rev. Pat Bumgardner, global justice ministry chair of Metropolitan Community Churches (one of the few U.S. organizations on the ground in Nigeria), observes, "Even if there weren’t a Christian-Muslim split, the situation would still be complicated by the fact that the primary religious voices are fundamentalist."
The MCC, a Protestant denomination that was founded to be gay friendly, is fighting, as Bumgardner puts it, "to put a different face on religion and say fundamentalists don’t represent people of all faith. It is possible to be Christian and gay and believe that is good."
MCC works mostly in the capital, the sprawling city of Lagos. Its House of Rainbow is a community of very young gay men, for whom MCC offers a spiritual home and a safe space to be themselves "in a country where just to exist is a criminal act and punishable in some very extreme ways." House of Rainbow also serves as a hiding place where LGBT Nigerians receive counseling and support from others who are gay.
Those attempting to live openly face hostile society and laws. They’ve become political footballs for various forces, especially Peter Akinola, the Anglican archbishop of Nigeria. Akinola recently served as president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the umbrella group for most of the churches of Nigeria.
Now, Akinola is aligning himself with anti-gay Episcopalians in the U.S. and is starting a breakaway denomination. Mike Hersee of Changing Attitude Nigeria, believes Akinola is using the issue of homosexuality: "It’s power dressed up as morality." Hersee notes that Akinola’s power grab is happening in a place where "religion holds much greater sway than it does in more developed countries. This influences all levels of society, including politics."
Christians & Muslims United in Hate
Homosexuality also serves as a rare source of agreement between Islam and Christianity. Hersee describes both religions, as practiced in Nigeria, as being "particularly hard on homosexuality as a convenient way of bonding between Nigerians across the whole country, and also as a way of maintaining the appearance of being vigilant against destructive forces."
A Sept. 7, 2007, report from the German journal Gay Republic Daily, recounted how the newly appointed Bishop Orama of Uyo described gay people as "insane, satanic and not fit to live." He only claimed it to be a misreporting of what was actually said several days after the Archbishop of Canterbury stepped in to condemn the comments. Mac-Iyalla believes Uyo only refuted his comments because of the unexpected furor they created outside Nigeria.