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Tuesday 13 October 2015

Bad Luck, Nigeria...

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 3rd April 2014

Nigeria's Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill is attracting international condemnation, but it's not the only problem facing the oil-rich but deeply repressive oil-rich West African nation.

For over a century, "Nigeria" consisted of several British colonial administrative regions, which were then amalgamated into the diverse and populous nation-state that we know today as "Nigeria." Unsurprisingly, this meant there was ethnic and sectarian religious unrest and instability after Nigeria became independent in 1960. In 1966, its first Prime Minister, Sir Abubukar Tafara Balwa was assassinated, leading to its first military dictatorship, under a succession of generals, which lasted for thirteen years (1966-79). In 1967-71, three Eastern Nigerian states seceded, forming the short-lived independent Republic of Biafra and igniting its first civil war.
In 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari became the first democratically elected Nigerian head of state in over thirteen years, but his tenure only lasted four years. After that, sixteen further years of military dictatorship followed (1983-1999). In 1995, renowned author and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed after speaking out on behalf of his Ogoni community, against Nigerian collusion with western petrochemical companies against their human rights and civil liberties. In response, the European Union declared sanctions and the Commonwealth suspended it from membership.
Since 1999, Nigeria has been a theoretically democratic and republican state. However, former President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) was a former military dictator. Furthermore, as noted beforehand, sectarian religious violence has been escalating. Christian/Muslim sectarian clashes have flared after the adoption of Islamic sharia law in several Muslim majority states (2000, 2003, 2004). There are also secessionist and tribalist movements in Benue state (2001), as well as Niger Delta secessionists (2003- Present), and recurrent gang violence problems in Port Harcourt (2004). Despite attempting to install himself for life, Obasanjo was forced to resign in 2007. Late Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua (2007-2008) was Muslim, was also unable to stop the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency (2009-Present ) and ongoing Christian/Muslim sectarian animosities in Jos (2008- Present).

(Boko Haram deserves a paragraph's mention, for it is a legitimate security concern. This Sunni Islamist fundamentalist insurgent group was established in 2002 by one Mohammed Yusuf. It is based in Northeastern Nigeria, but is also active in neighbouring Northern Cameroon and Niger. It is particularly active in the Northern Nigerian states of Borno, Adamawe, Kaduna, Bauchi, Yobe and Kano. It is a diffuse, cellular organisation and could more accurately be described as a loose aggregate movement of allied Sunni Islamist fundamentalist guerillas, as it lacks a command hierarchy. Alleged al Qaeda affiliations have been thus far unsubstantiated. Boko Haram has charged that successive Nigerian regimes and some regional governors have undertaken "ethnic cleansing" of the Hausa and Fulani tribal communities. Amnesty International has stated that nine hundred and fifty Boko Haram insurgents perished in a Nigerian Joint Military Task Force operation in 2013. It opposes any interaction with the western world, rejects the Earth's spherical status and meteorological theory, as well as Darwinian evolutionary theory. It is sectarian, attacking any Muslim critics, and many Nigerian and international Muslim associations condemn the group's activities. Since 2010, it has regularly engaged in repeated terrorist bombings and assassinations of Muslim clerical critics, government officials, military personnel and western corporate and humanitarian figures.)

Nigeria's national security matters didn't improve when current Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan took over after President Yar'Adua's sudden death in 2008, either. He has touted his energy reform, strategic planning and youth outreach initiatives, but there are questions about how exactly he won the 2011 Nigerian presidential election. Formerly governor of Bayalsea state, Jonathan's wife was indicted for possible corruption charges under Nigeria's financial regulatory watchdog, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, related to money laundering. The ethnic separatist Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta's leadership has accused Jonathan and cronies of being the real culprit behind a 2010 terrorist incident, in order to cause an electoral backlash and return Jonathan and his parliamentary allies to government. An additional subject of intensive Nigerian domestic debate was the abrupt removal of a Nigerian fuel subsidy in Nigeria's 2012 national budget. Nigerian government officials and military spokespeople have criticised the move, stating that it would hurt Nigerian businesses and the general public and fuel inflation. In addition, Boko Haram Northern Nigerian terrorism has been an almost complete failure for his regime- he had to declare a state of emergency inBorno, Yobe, and Adamawa states to tackle the activities of the hardline Sunni Islamist fundamentalist insurgents. He has also had to sack his senior military personnel for alleged incompetence in tackling the deadly and effective insurgents.
One would think that given the above summary of religious, ethnic and political turmoil, it would be the task of civil society to vigorously defend human rights and civil liberties. Nevertheless, fundamentalist "Anglican" Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola has been breathtakingly reticent when it comes to criticising the current Nigerian federal government. He seems obsessed with opposition to LGBT Anglican ordination and opposition to same-sex marriage. He was also former head of the Christian Association of Nigeria, but was forced to step down as its president in 2007 after growing criticism of his failure to condemn the aforementioned human rights and civil liberties abuses under President Obasanjo. Nor has he been particularly constructive on other matters of concern. In 2006, he inflamed already serious ethnic and religious tensions in response to Northern Nigerian Muslim sectarian violence, encouraging Christian sectarian violence elsewhere in Nigeria.
Speaking of Nigerian LGBT rights, the situation is currently as follows. Sections 214 and 217 of the Nigerian Penal Code criminalise male homosexuality, with potential fourteen year prison sentences. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act 2007 imposes criminal sanctions against those who undertake same-sex marriage, as well as anyone who 'aids, abets, performs or witnesses' same-sex marriages.
In Northern Nigeria, Borno, Bouchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbe, Jigawa, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe and Samfra states have enacted sharia law. Theoretically, this would lead to one hundred lashes for unmarried Muslim men caught having gay sex, with the death penalty for similar married and divorced Muslim men, although the law applies only to Muslims. Sharia law also prohibits transgender freedom of expression. However, it encourages polygamous civil marriage, recognising it as a customary right in several Northern Nigerian states, much to the anger of Archbishop Akinola, who has nevertheless been unable to stop it. Other Nigerian Christians do undertake polygamous marriages, however. In 2002, single mother Amina Lawal was sentenced to death for 'adultery' after shariah law 'conviction,' subsequently overturned in 2004 after an international feminist outcry against it.Muslims and LGBT Nigerians aren't the Nigerian fundamentalist Christian community's only targets. In the Niger Delta, some fundamentalist Pentecostalministers have accused children of 'witchcraft,' then tortured and killed them. An estimated 1000 children perished due to these monstrous accusations.

Womens property rights are also a headache in Nigerian society, particularly if widowed. Once this happens, women are effectively devoid of property ownership rights and many face destitution, food poverty, homelessness and other hardships when this happens. Often, if childless, women are forced to themselves refund their initial bride dowry price and return to their pre-bridal homes. There are supposed to be gender equality provisions within the Nigerian constitution, but these are almost worthless. As for children, Sections 21 and 23 of the Child Rights Act 2003 make it a criminal offence to marry a girl or young woman under eighteen. However, this legislation is not applicable to thirteen out of Nigeria's thirty six states, so these girls have no protection if a pedophile "marries" them.

And thus, finally, we come to the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act. As one can see from the list of ongoing domestic headaches cited above, Nigeria is not short of substantive political issues, so it is no wonder that the unscrupulous President Goodluck Jonathan and his Cabinet, parliamentary and military cronies are capitalising on West African social conservatism, religiosity and homophobia. Not only does the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill increase penalties for participating, witnessing or facilitating an LGBT marriage, but it also imposes repressive penalties against any LGBT advocacy, whether for marriage equality or any other LGBT rights, in a society which still retains British colonial era criminalisation of gay male sexuality. Basic LGBT rights and civil liberties are under attack.

Which is all very well, but how does this ameliorate Nigeria's existing religious sectarian turmoil, ethnic and tribal tensions, and governmental corruption and repression? It doesn't. However, it does divert public attention from these sorry spectacles in a wretched country.


E.Ike Udogu (ed) Nigeria in the Twenty First Century: Trenton: Africa World Press: 2005.
"Is Nigeria A Failed State?" BBC News: 07.07.09:
Stepping Stones Nigeria: Campaigns against child 'witchcraft' hysteria and abuse:

Analysis of Boko Haram:

Timeline of Boko Haram and Related Violence in Nigeria:

Country Report:

Sabine Carey: Protest, Repression and Political Regimes: An Empirical Analysis of Latin America and Subsaharan Africa: Milton Keynes: Routledge: 2009.

Babatunde Olugboji and Adedeji Adeleye: At What Cost? A Report on Political Corruption in Nigeria: Lagos: Independent Advocacy Project: 2009.

John Campbell: Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink: Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield: 2011

Said Adejombi: State, Economy and Society in Post-Military Nigeria: New York: Palgrave Macmillan: 2011.

M.N.Amutabi and Shadrack Wanjala Nasong'o: Regime change and Succession Politics in Africa: Five Decades of Misrule: New York: Routledge: 2013

John Ayoade and Adeoye Akinsanya: Nigeria's Critical Election: 2011: Lanham: Lexington Books: 2013

Craig Young - 3rd April 2014

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