When Love is a Crime: Is the Criminalisation of Same Sex Relations in Nigeria a Protection of Nigerian Culture?

Abstract

Even though studies suggest that people do not have a choice about their sexual orientation since it is innate in them, some African countries including Nigeria continue to criminalise same sex conduct between two consenting adults. Before the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan passed the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2014 into law in Nigeria, there have already been laws in the country criminalising sexual relations between persons of the same sex. It appears that the Act of 2014 was motivated to show a resolve by the Nigerian government to clearly point out to certain sections of the international community, who at that time were lobbying for the decriminalisation of same sex relations in the country, that there was no intention by the Nigerian state to cave into any such demand. This paper re-examines the prohibition of same sex relations in Nigeria with a focus on whether the laws protect the culture of the Nigerian people or the moral ideals introduced by religion.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    AFP (2018).

  2. 2.

    Ibid. See also Buchan (2018).

  3. 3.

    Eyoboka et al. (2018).

  4. 4.

    Ibid.

  5. 5.

    Tshabalala (2015).

  6. 6.

    Mabvurira and Motsi (2012).

  7. 7.

    The Penal Code, modelled after the Criminal Code of Sudan was introduced to address the concerns of the northern part of Nigeria which criticised the Criminal Code which introduced in 1916 for being suitable for a Christian society.

  8. 8.

    Section 407 of the Penal Code.

  9. 9.

    Alimi (2015).

  10. 10.

    Ibid.

  11. 11.

    See Cantu (1999).

  12. 12.

    Anderson (2007).

  13. 13.

    Du Plessis (2014).

  14. 14.

    Alozie et al. (2017).

  15. 15.

    Smith (2014).

  16. 16.

    Being alien to African culture.

  17. 17.

    Vincent and Howell (2014).

  18. 18.

    Nyanungo (2014).

  19. 19.

    Schwummer (2003).

  20. 20.

    Murray (2000).

  21. 21.

    Sexual Minorities Uganda (2014).

  22. 22.

    Beyers (2017).

  23. 23.

    Spencer-Otey (2012).

  24. 24.

    Geertz (1973) at 89.

  25. 25.

    Bonney (2004) at 25.

  26. 26.

    Ibid.

  27. 27.

    Jacob Beyes, op cit (note 22) at 8.

  28. 28.

    Richard Bonney, op cit (note 25) at 27.

  29. 29.

    Ibid at 30.

  30. 30.

    Vaughan (2016)

  31. 31.

    See Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which prohibits the adoption of state religion by any government in the country.

  32. 32.

    van Klinken (2016).

  33. 33.

    Ibid.

  34. 34.

    Ibid.

  35. 35.

    Saalih al-Munajjid (2018).

  36. 36.

    Huda (2018).

  37. 37.

    Ibid.

  38. 38.

    Ibid.

  39. 39.

    These are Zamfara, Bauchi, Kebbi, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kaduna, Kano, Niger, Borno, Gombe, Katsina and Yobe.

  40. 40.

    Human Dignity Trust (2015).

  41. 41.

    Dickson (2014).

  42. 42.

    The law criminalises same sex marriages and civil unions of persons of the same sex. It also proscribes the free association of any persons through so-called gay organisations (Section 6).

  43. 43.

    Gander (2017).

  44. 44.

    Ibid.

  45. 45.

    Beresford (2017).

  46. 46.

    Zweynert (2017)

  47. 47.

    Ibid.

  48. 48.

    Human Dignity Trust op cit (note 29).

  49. 49.

    Alturi (2016).

  50. 50.

    Silas Obinna Okuefuna, ‘LGBT and the Law: Protecting the Rights of Minorities in Nigeria’ (2016) Unpublished Masters Dissertation, University of Eastern Finland at 1.

  51. 51.

    Akogun (2011) at 1.

  52. 52.

    The notion that homosexuality is un-African and against African or Nigerian culture has been debunked earlier.

  53. 53.

    See Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

  54. 54.

    Section 33 (as above).

  55. 55.

    Section 34 (as above).

  56. 56.

    Section 37 (as above).

  57. 57.

    Section 40 (as above). It is pertinent to note that the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2014 which outlaws the formation or membership of a gay club is a direct violation of this right.

  58. 58.

    Section 42 (as above).

  59. 59.

    Signed on 31 August 1982 and ratified on 22 June 1983.

  60. 60.

    Deposited on 29 July 1993.

  61. 61.

    Deposited on 29 July 1993.

  62. 62.

    Signed on 28 July 1988 ratified on 28 June 2001 by the federal government of Nigeria.

  63. 63.

    There is currently no law in Nigeria that is anti-transgender. However, it is possible that the Nigerian state may prosecute a transgender person if they had sexual intercourse with a person of their original gender.

  64. 64.

    See Rights of Sexual and Gender Minorities available at https://www.hrc.co.nz/files/1914/2388/0525/HRNZ_10_rights_of_sexual_and_gender_minorities.pdf accessed 26 April 2018.

  65. 65.

    Robert Mugabe quoted in Maguire (2004).

  66. 66.

    Quoted in Hepple (2012).

  67. 67.

    Article 3 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 6 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

  68. 68.

    United Nations (2012)

  69. 69.

    Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution.

  70. 70.

    Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution.

  71. 71.

    Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution.

  72. 72.

    Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution.

  73. 73.

    Article 2 ACHPR.

  74. 74.

    Aribisala (2014).

  75. 75.

    Ibid.

References

  1. AFP. 2018, April 17. Anti-gay laws are ‘wrong’, British PM tells ex-colonies | Daily Mail Online [Video file]. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-5627101/Anti-gay-laws-wrong-British-PM-tells-ex-colonies.html. Accessed 21 April 2018.

  2. Akogun, K. 2011. Senate criminalises same sex marriage. Thisday, p. 1.

  3. Alimi, B. 2015, September 9. If you say being gay is not African, you don’t know your history | Bisi Alimi | Opinion | The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/09/being-gay-african-history-homosexuality-christianity. Accessed 21 April 2018.

  4. Alozie, N.O., K. Thomas, and P. Akpan-Obong. 2017. Global liberalization on homosexuality: Explaining the African gap. The Social Science Journal 54(2): 120–131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soscij.2016.09.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Alturi. 2016. Nigeria: Swiss ambassador victim of homophobia—Alturi.org. http://www.alturi.org/nigeria_swiss_ambassador_victim_of_homophobia. Accessed 23 April 2018.

  6. Anderson, B. 2007. The politics of homosexuality in Africa. Africana, 1, 126.

  7. Aribisala, F. 2014. Criminalising same-sex relationships in Nigeria. http://www.financialnigeria.com/criminalising-same-sex-relationships-in-nigeria-blog-32.html. Accessed 27 April 2018.

  8. Beresford, M. 2017, July 31. 42 arrested in Nigeria for ‘homosexual acts’ · PinkNews. https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/07/31/42-arrested-in-nigeria-for-homosexual-acts. Accessed 23 April 2018.

  9. Bonney, R. 2004. Reflections on the differences between religion and culture. Clinical Cornerstone 25–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Buchan, L. 2018, April 17. Theresa May urges Commonwealth countries to reform ‘outdated’ homosexuality laws | The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-commonwealth-homosexuality-laws-lgbt-rights-africa-caribbean-a8308256.html. Accessed 21 April 2018.

  11. Beyers, J. 2017. Religion and culture: Revisiting a close relative. HTS Teologiese Studies at 1–9.

  12. Cantu, L., S.O. Murray, and W. Roscoe. 1999. Boy-wives and female husbands: Studies of African homosexualities. Contemporary Sociology 28 (5): 554. https://doi.org/10.2307/2655003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Dickson, P.C. 2014, February 13. Homophobia unites muslims and christians in Nigeria | Public Radio International. https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-02-13/homophobia-unites-muslims-and-christians-nigeria. Accessed 23 April 2018.

  14. Du Plessis, G. 2014. What Mugabe Said: Homosexuality in Africa and the Problem of Context (Unpublished master’s thesis). Masaryk University.

  15. Eyoboka, S., Agbakwuru, J., and Jannamike, L. 2018, April 18. Nigerian Muhammadu Buhari president insisted that “sodomy” is “abhorrent” during his US visit—Quartz. https://qz.com/460923/nigerias-president-was-asked-about-gay-marriage-in-the-us-his-reply-sodomy-is-abhorrent/. Accessed 21 April 2018.

  16. Gander, K. 2017, May 23. Gay in Nigeria: The stark reality for LGBT people in the West African country | The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/love-sex/gay-nigeria-lgbt-reality-life-violence-west-africa-flee-micheal-ighodaro-us-abuse-homophobia-a7741161.html. Accessed 23 April 2018.

  17. Geertz, C. 1973. The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Huda. 2018. What does Islam say about homosexuality? https://www.thoughtco.com/homosexuality-in-islam-2004396. Accessed 21 April 2018.

  19. Human Dignity Trust. 2015. Criminalisation of homosexuality. http://www.humandignitytrust.org/uploaded/Map/Country_Reports/Nigeria.pdf. Accessed 21 April 2018.

  20. Mabvurira, V., and P. Motsi. 2012. The politics of sexual identities in Zimbabwe: A social work perspective. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science 2: 219.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Robert Mugabe quoted in Maguire, Sebastine. 2004.The Human Rights of Sexual Minorities in Africa. California Western International Law Journal 35: 1.

  22. Murray, S. O. 2000. Homosexuality in “traditional” sub-Saharan Africa and contemporary South Africa. http://semgai.free.fr/doc_et_pdf/africa_A4.pdf. Accessed 22 April 2018.

  23. Nyanungo, H. 2014. Female husbands without male wives: Women, culture and marriage in Africa | The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA). http://www.osisa.org/buwa/regional/female-husbands-without-male-wives-women-culture-and-marriage-africa. Accessed 21 April 2018.

  24. Quoted in Hepple, Joshua. 2012. Will sexual minorities ever be equal? The repercussions of british colonial ‘sodomy’ laws. Equal Rights Review 8: 58.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Saalih al-Munajjid, M. 2018. Why does Islam forbid lesbianism and homosexuality?—islamqa.info. https://islamqa.info/en/10050. Accessed 21 April 2018.

  26. https://www.hrc.co.nz/files/1914/2388/0525/HRNZ_10_rights_of_sexual_and_gender_minorities.pdf. Accessed 26 April 2018.

  27. Schwummer, B. 2003. Igbo marriage. https://umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/anthropology/tutor/case_studies/igbo/igbo_marriage.html. Accessed 21 April 2018.

  28. Sexual Minorities Uganda. 2014. Expanded criminalisation of homosexuality in Uganda: A flawed narrative/Empirical evidence and strategic alternatives from an African perspective. https://76crimes.com/2014/01/30/21-varieties-of-traditional-african-homosexuality/. Accessed 21 April 2018.

  29. Smith, D. 2014, February 22. Why Africa is the most homophobic continent. The Guardian.

  30. Spencer-Otey, H. 2012. What is Culture? <https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/al/globalpad/openhouse/interculturalskills/global_pad_-_what_is_culture.pdf>. Accessed 5 September 2018.

  31. Tshabalala, S. 2015. Nigerian Muhammadu Buhari president insisted that “sodomy” is “abhorrent” during his US visit—Quartz. https://qz.com/460923/nigerias-president-was-asked-about-gay-marriage-in-the-us-his-reply-sodomy-is-abhorrent/. Accessed 21 April 2018.

  32. United Nations. 2012. Born Free, 14. New York: United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Van Klinken, A. 2016. Beyond African religious homophobia: How Christianity is a source of African LGBT activism | Religion and global society. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/religionglobalsociety/2017/06/beyond-african-religious-homophobia-how-christianity-is-a-source-of-african-lgbt-activism/. Accessed 21 April 2018.

  34. Vaughan, Olufemi. 2016. Religion and the Making of Nigeria, 1. Durham: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Vincent, L., and S. Howell. 2014. ‘Unnatural’, ‘un-African’ and ‘ungodly’: homophobic discourse in democratic South Africa. Sexualities 17 (4): 472–483. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460714524766.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Zweynert, A. 2017, January 13. How Nigeria’s laws, hatred are thwarting the fight for LGBTQ equality|HuffPost. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/nigeria-lgbtq-equality-laws_us_58790736e4b09281d0ea8986. Accessed 23 April 2018.

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Augustine Edobor Arimoro.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Arimoro, A.E. When Love is a Crime: Is the Criminalisation of Same Sex Relations in Nigeria a Protection of Nigerian Culture?. Liverpool Law Rev 39, 221–238 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10991-018-9217-y

Download citation

Keywords

  • LGBT
  • Sexual minorities
  • Gender minorities
  • Same sex
  • Homophobia