LGBT Rights: God’s Laws, Nigeria’s Laws



In a country where religion and culture overwhelmingly condemn LGBT communities, homophobia has become a way to unite the population.

ABUJA, Nigeria — In a country contentiously split among Muslims and Christians, leaders of Nigeria’s mosques and churches are united in their condemnation of same-sex relationships.

So, too, are lawmakers, who’ve criminalized sodomy, civil unions and gay marriages, with a 14-year prison sentence as punishment. In some northern regions, flogging and the death penalty come into play.

JonathanThe Same-Sex Prohibition Act, signed into law on Jan. 7 by President Goodluck Jonathan, criminalizes public displays of affection between same-sex couples and restricts the work of organizations defending gay people and their rights.

“This law criminalizes the lives of gay and lesbian people, but the damage it would cause extends to every single Nigerian,” LGBT activists said. “It undermines basic universal freedoms that Nigerians have long fought to defend and is a throwback to past decades under military rule when civil rights were treated with contempt.”

This new legislation could lead to imprisonment solely for a person’s actual or imputed sexual orientation.

People could face charges for consensual sexual relations in private; advocacy of LGBT rights, or public expression of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And the terms “same-sex marriage” and “civil union” are so broadly defined in the law that they include virtually any form of same-sex cohabitation.

Some activists worry the law is so vague that it "is likely to lead to the arbitrary arrest of gay people, while facilitating extortion and blackmail of vulnerable groups by members of Nigeria’s notoriously corrupt security services.”

Arrests have already been made in several Nigerian states, like Anambra, Enugu, Imo and Oyo. But gay rights activists are becoming more vocal—there are now even churches formed by the LGBT community.

Britain, the United States and other Western nations have threatened to suspend aid to Nigeria. They consider the laws discriminatory and grounded in bigotry and prejudice.

In November, the European Union’s top court ruled that gays and lesbians in countries that outlaw homosexual relations are eligible for asylum. Days later, the Malta Refugees Appeals Board granted asylum to an 18-year-old Nigerian teen.

“The dominant role of religion is widely seen as the root of the country’s homophobic culture,” the board said, quoting from a border agency report. “Punishing gays is one of the few common themes that politicians can promote with equal zest in the mainly Christian south and the largely Muslim north.”

So what is life like for Nigerians who are attracted to people of the same gender? Can they practice their faith in a country where religion and culture overwhelmingly condemn their sexual identities?

As in all repressively homophobic cultures, LGBT people continue to find ways to express and to live out their authentic selves.

They are part of Nigerian society at all levels. Some hold prominent jobs in government, businesses, the military and even as religious leaders.

But it’s not a leap to suggest that the majority keep their sexuality a secret for fear of losing their families, friends, jobs, freedom or even their lives.

To better understand, I interviewed a range of Nigerians from across the country who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight.

IkoyiIn Ikoyia, an upscale suburb of Lagos in southwest Nigeria, I caught up with a gay man who works in finance. He took me to party, where I observed gay men socializing.

“We informally gather for dinner parties, at restaurants and beaches,” the man said.

Wealthy gays in his suburb are said to live more openly than anywhere else in Nigeria. I asked: Did he consider himself both gay and Christian?

He, like many of the gay Nigerians I interviewed, said they haven’t abandoned their faith because of their sexual identity.

“I am a saved Christian and proud gay,” the man who described himself as a Pentecostal Christian told me. But he only said so after some time talking. At first, he reflexively retorted: “My faith is a personal matter. Besides, many people won’t understand.”

He’s right. Christians account for nearly half of Nigeria’s population and all major denominations denounce same-sex intimacy as sinful, at least in their doctrines.

Nigeria’s Anglican bishops are especially vocal. They’ve long threatened to break away from the worldwide Anglican Communion over the issue, most recently at an October conference in Nairobi that drew 331 conservative bishops from across the globe.

The bishops want the United States, Canadian and European members of the Anglican Communion to denounce stances on homosexuality contrary to their own. Canada’s Anglican Church began blessing same-sex couples in 2002, a few months before the US Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay bishop.

OkohMore recently, the Church of England dropped a ban on gay clergy in civil partnerships from becoming bishops. Nicholas Okoh (pictured, right), primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, says the West is ignoring scripture and insisting on imposing its views on other countries.

“They want to push it down everybody’s throat,” he said in March at an ordination service. “And as far as they are concerned, it is a matter of human right. But God’s right is not discussed.”

In Jos, a city in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, a Baptist pastor by the name of Rev. Rumo James told me that homosexuality is affliction and disease for which no compassion should be extended.

"Homosexualism is a virus that degrades the family and its values, corrupts human cohabitation and offends God,” he said. “It eventually leads to social decline.”

Nigeria’s Christian population is Africa’s largest, with 80 million followers, according to the Pew Research Center in the United States. Clergy cite Bible-passages as the God-given reason for their condemnation of same-sex relationships.

Two of the most frequent verses cited are from Leviticus:

“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination” (18:22).

"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (20:13).

But Christians who support same-sex couples say those Old Testament Bible verses are misinterpreted, made obsolete by the New Testament or simply out of touch with modern life.

They also argue that all people, gay and straight, are made in the image of God. Besides, they point out, Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.

A country divided

The level of openness found in Lagos wasn’t as evident just 154 miles west in Benin and elsewhere in Nigeria. For much of the country, it seems that religion, profession, family, the laws and class status factor into how openly members of the LGBT community choose to live.

An architect in Kano who is heterosexual and attends a Methodist Church told me that he has friends who are gay. He said he’d come to terms with their sexual orientations.

“I don’t see myself better than they are,” he said. “I believe that they can practice their faith, even though the Bible condemns it.”

But, he said, he doesn’t want them showing public displays of affection. Nor does he believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children.

“I'm not saying being a gay is good,” he said. “I'm a Christian and I also have a culture that condemns it.”

In northern Nigeria, many people said they were aware of LGBT communities in Kano and Kaduna, but rarely gave them a thought. A Muslim told me that he grew up with some of them.

“The only thing I do not like is that as Muslims, we don’t allow them to pray with us,” he said. “Some of them want to, but you know we can’t allow that.”

AbujaIn Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, I heard a slightly different view.

“I don’t care if a gay person comes to a church or mosque,” a man said. “However, for me, everything is wrong with a union between gay people being called a marriage.”

Ash-Shiekh Muhammad Sani Yahaya, the national chairman of Ulama’u Council of JIBWIS, said Islam condemns homosexuality.

“It is an abomination, it is a crime,” he said. Lesbian relationships aren’t mentioned in the Quran, but that’s not true of gay men. He cited the following verses:

“Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.”

Despite Nigeria’s strict laws, the debate over LGBT rights and same-sex relationships is nowhere near resolution. Nigeria’s gay culture, though largely silent, isn’t going away.

Might the day come when Nigerians respect the rights of their LGBT community and the LGBT community be respectful to those who uphold heterosexual relationships exclusively?

Prince Charles Dickson is a Nigerian journalist. God’s Laws, Nigeria’s Laws is a reportorial for the ICFJ/Henry Luce Reporting Fellowship


  1. Mike Ryan says

    So why do we keep funding these countries? Write your Congress people and demand they cease and desist until the policies of this country and all other anti-gay countries end their oppression and discrimination against gay people. If Nigeria were persecuting Jewish people or white people they wouldn’t see a dime from America. This has to stop and the fastest way to do that is cutting them off the American teet.

  2. Paul R says

    >> Might the day come when Nigerians respect the rights of their LGBT community and the LGBT community be respectful to those who uphold heterosexual relationships exclusively?

    Sadly, at least in the short- to medium-term, the answer is clearly a resounding NO.

  3. jamal49 says

    Just remember that white, American evangelicals have been funding, promoting, lobbying for these harsh anti-gay laws to be passed, not just in Nigeria but across the breadth of Africa where the evangelical cancer has been allowed to spread.

    It settles it for me. Whether in Nigeria or America or Brasil or Dominican Republic, the only good evangelical is a dead evangelical.

  4. Wesley Noordsij says

    Nigeria also happens to be one of the main sources of new immigrants pouring into the US. Isn’t that great? Just what America needs, more homophobic bigots.

  5. Paul R says

    Between 2012 and 2013 the UK boosted aid to Nigeria from 200 to 270 million pounds despite rumored cuts over antigay laws. The US nearly tripled aid over the same period, from $220 to $600 million, despite concerns about the laws as well as corruption. US aid jumped because of increased efforts to undermine militant Muslims. Aid isn’t going anywhere.

  6. Rowan says

    Exactly Jamal.

    And yes Paul R, it won’t be changing any time soon whatsoever…in fact Africa and many middle eastern countries are regressing-year by year at a crazy rate.

    For those who know little about world politics….Nigeria is RICH in oil. RICH in oil. Shall I repeat it? RICH in oil.

    This president is very western friendly…if you get my meaning…..many Islamic activists won’t this ‘oil relationship to stop’ and be owned completely by the Nigerians. The West do NOT want this…

    So come on…ya’ll got brain cells…aid to Nigeria ain’t gonna stop any time soon!

  7. john patrick says

    What’s with all these antigay people around the world always saying homosexuality is being forced down their throats? Do they not realize what they are saying? And why are they all so threatened?

  8. Onnyjay says

    So let ’em eat (and drink!) their damn oil. And cram it down the throats of the so-called “evangelicals” bankrolling the hate-filled hysteria. Then let’s go back and try that whole “Enlightenment” thing again, maybe we’ll get it right this time.

  9. Bryan L says

    “The dominant role of religion is widely seen as the root of the country’s homophobic culture,”

    This is the most telling sentence in the entire article and it is applicable to almost ALL countries and ALL faiths. As long as there are people who believe that God wants them to hate and persecute us, homophobia will flourish among the willfully, defiantly and proudly ignorant. Someday the evangelicals and their slimy ilk who perpetuate this form of genocide will be held accountable.

  10. Randy says

    Religion, as it often is, is the root problem here. Clean away the religion, and the reasons for hate disappear. Then the residual hate can start to be addressed.

    It’s not just about LGBTs. Religion is destroying all kinds of people’s lives in Africa.

  11. Henry Holland says

    Rowan, do you think Nigeria is RICH in oil? :-)

    I wish I could find the exact quote but it’s something like: Religions survive by currying favor with tyrants.

    Same as it ever was, same as it ever was….

  12. Uche says

    Nigeria do not want to be extinguished from the Planet Earth until Jesus comes. If the gay’s father had married a man like him he wouldn’t have exist in the US or UK to talk of gay’s right. Stop mocking God with your so call aids, it is God that gives power to make wealth, which Nigeria need to look unto and not America or Europe.

  13. Deee! says

    Uche, whoever you are, I’m also Nigerian and I just have to say: you’re ignorant and your English is atrocious. Please stop talking. Stay in your room and pray, and remember to always get on your knees for Jesus, because that’s how he likes it.

  14. FYoung says

    “Might the day come when Nigerians respect the rights of their LGBT community and the LGBT community be respectful to those who uphold heterosexual relationships exclusively?”

    The second part of your question has always been answered positively, in Nigeria and everywhere else.

    The first part is unreal. The real question is, in the coming war between Nigeria’s Christians and Muslims, whether Western powers will come to protect the local religious minority that so loudly and actively supported the slaughter of gay Nigerians, once that minority itself gets hunted down by the majority?

    Once it becomes acceptable to oppress one minority, it is only a question of time before other minorities become targeted too.
    As Rev Niemoeller famously said about the rise of Nazism:

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.