Gays of Nation Unite!
The News (Lagos, Nigeria), April 22,
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
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.
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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