The politics behind Nigeria's anti-gay law must be understood before Cameron reconsiders UK aid

Homophobia is not the only motive behind these unsavoury measures

Share
Related Topics

Even before last week, the lot of Nigeria's homosexuals was not to be envied. But, on January 7, embattled President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill into law that made their situation even worse. Now, in Nigeria, homosexual acts are punishable by a 14-year jail sentence; while aiding gay activism and gay groups is banned.

Homophobia is not the only motive behind these unsavoury measures. The bill is a calculated move to change the focus of the Nigerian political debate at a time when President Jonathan's luck appears to be running out.

In his 2011 presidential campaign, Jonathan promised to transform Nigeria's corrupt, oil-dependent and unequal economy into the powerhouse it could be. He had many of the tools to do it: some impressive ministers, enormous majorities in the National Assembly and the Senate, control over most state governments, and a stable multi-ethnic, multi-confessional party. Three years on, and the government is paralysed by multiple crises – not least, an era-defining split in the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and increased ethnic, religious, and regional tensions. The President even asked his celebrated central bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, to resign over a leaked letter concerning elite corruption. Now, as his position weakens, Jonathan is scrambling for a populist measure that will give him the domestic support he so desperately needs. Goodluck Jonathan, who is from the Christian south, could face a rebellion as he campaigns for a second term President Jonathan in 2010

In a socially conservative society, an anti-gay position might prove enough of a distraction to relieve some pressure. But the debate over homosexuality in Nigeria, as in some other African countries, is about more than what happens in the bedroom. This bill is designed to stir up anger at an idea of imposed Western values, helping create solidarity at home by directing anger outwards. Why else would the law be presented as an “anti-gay marriage” bill, when few if any local activists were calling for gay marriage?

The inevitable reproach from the international community serves as an excellent positive feedback mechanism for the Nigerian President's strategy, giving ground to fears of outside interference in African affairs. This, despite the fact that Nigeria inherited its laws criminalising homosexuality from British colonial rule.

And, though Western media tends only to pick up on these stories when something awful happens, this bill itself is not new: several versions have already passed through the National Assembly. It has, in effect, been sitting in Jonathan's in-tray for the past two years, ready to be deployed when the beleaguered President's need is greatest.

With faith and community groups coming out in support of the bill, and a broadly favourable social media buzz, Jonathan can be satisfied with a good response. The editors of Nigeria's newspapers are still focusing on Jonathan's political difficulties, but growing opprobrium from Western leaders could soon knock the more damaging stories off the front pages.

Unfortunately, homophobia in Nigeria isn't a problem that Western strong-arming can fix. Indeed, a de-contextualized response is likely only to strengthen Jonathan's hand. Worse, it could incentivize other leaders to follow the example of Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni and Nigeria's Jonathan and drag out anti-gay legislation and sentiment as an easy fix for bad press.

John Kerry's censure of Nigeria over this bill or David Cameron's proposals to tie aid to gay rights sound progressive if you're sitting in London or New York. But that's precisely the point. These statements mostly serve to satisfy a domestic audience, rather than engage with LGBTQ activists struggling on the ground in Nigeria for equality.

The director of Nigeria's Queer Alliance rights group, Rashidi Williams. Williams condemned a bill passed in May 2013 which criminalized public displays of affection between same-sex couples. The director of Nigeria's Queer Alliance rights group, Rashidi Williams. Williams condemned a bill passed in May 2013 which criminalized public displays of affection between same-sex couples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is doubtless important that Western politicians are seen to support gay rights in Nigeria. But some of the ways in which they profess their solidarity betrays a lack of understanding of the lived reality of LGBTQ people in oppressive societies. We shouldn't let homosexuals, for whom life is already dangerous, become scapegoats if the West punishes all Nigerians for Jonathan's choice to use hate as a distraction from incompetence. Rather than withdrawing aid from countries which enact vicious anti-gay laws - a policy gaining currency in the west - we should instead consider more cautious routes. Peter Tatchell, for example, suggests that governments should look to deliver aid via grassroots organisations that won't discriminate.

This most recent abuse of gay rights is even more perverse because it has been done for grubby political reasons. I suggest that we on the outside undercut Jonathan's feint by highlighting not only the abhorrent content of the bill, but also the motivations behind its passing. Then, perhaps, it wouldn't be so easy for failing leaders to cover up their incompetence with hatred.

James Schneider is the Editor-in-Chief of Think Africa Press. He is also a frequent commentator on African affairs on radio and TV.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee