Last edited: December 30, 2004

Gays of Nation Unite!

The News (Lagos, Nigeria), April 22, 2002

Early this year, Eric Beauchemin of Radio Netherland interviewed the president of Alliance Rights, a new gay group in Nigeria. The story is republished here "Homosexuality is often regarded in Africa as a Western import. Several southern African leaders have made statements in recent years designed to reinforce this image. Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, for instance, has described homosexuals as worse than dogs or pigs.

But according to the president of Alliance Rights Nigeria, a gay organisation, homosexuality has always existed in Africa. "In some cultures in the northern part of Nigeria", says Erilou—who like most other Alliance Rights’ members uses a pseudonym—"there are people called dan daudu which is a typical Hausa term.

It means ‘men who are wives of men’. In olden days, to show your immense wealth, it was easy to have a harem of wives. But to show that you were truly rich, you had to keep a stable of men. You had to take care of your dan daudu and their families—if they had them—and be like a mentor to them. These wealthy men would have sexual relationships with these dan daudu.

What else is homosexuality?" Nigeria, like many former British colonies, has laws dating back to the Victorian era that make sodomy punishable by up to 14 years in prison. While these laws are rarely applied, they contribute to the climate of intolerance towards homosexuals. The situation in the north of the country has deteriorated in recent years because of the introduction of Islamic or sharia law. In the state of Zamfara, a man was flogged 36 times for having had sex with another man. There are no laws regarding same sex relations between women, but lesbians have also suffered persecution. In 1994, four lesbians who had sought refuge at a feminist centre were attacked and raped at gunpoint by an unknown number of men.

A few days earlier, one of the victims had published an article on lesbians in Nigeria.

Erilou, who comes from a village about 40 kilometres from Lagos, recalls speaking to his grandmother about the subject. She told him that when she was young, there were men who used to behave effeminately like he does. "She told me those men were called gbowo. Those people, she said, were very good orators. They were musicians and poets and did the finer things in society. They were not the hunters or warriors, the macho-type of people. But they did the finer things, the things that made people enjoy themselves." Alliance Rights is trying to fight the general public’s hostility towards homosexuality. Gay bashing and verbal abuse are not common. Recently, a mob burned down a bar frequented by gays on the Lagos beachfront. Other bars have since emerged, but generally gays and lesbians in Nigeria meet at parties and friends’ houses. Young people who discover that they are attracted to the same sex tend to hide the fact from their friends and family because they are often ostracised or even thrown out of the family home.

Alliance Rights

Since its inception, Alliance Rights has focused its efforts on making gays and lesbians aware of the organisation’s existence. It has organised various seminars and its members have taken part in international conferences to network with gays and lesbians elsewhere in the continent and the rest of the world. Alliance Rights has also carried out seminars in a few secondary schools in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, on AIDS/HIV. It hopes to set up a sports club and attend the next Gay Games.

The organisation is discretely lobbying members of Nigeria’s National Assembly to decriminalise sodomy.

According to Erilou, the President of Alliance Rights, "people in government know that there is homosexuality in Nigerian society and even in high levels of the government. But because of political considerations, they have to tread softly. We respect that and are willing to be patient. It will take us a long time to reach the same level as South Africa (where homosexuality has been legalised), but we will get there. Nigerians are bold. In the end, we are certain we will win."

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