Opinion: Can LGBTQ be Publicly Embraced in Nigeria?

Let's look at the possibility of LGBTQ community surviving in a country like Nigeria.

by Maryann Opatola

Many have wondered why LGBTQ in Nigeria is illegal. To many, it is a law written on a piece of paper to justify culture and religion. However, over the past few years, Nigeria has witnessed some of its citizens becoming transgender openly. Although these people weren’t punished by law per se(maybe because of their influence), they faced many social criticisms and challenges. Before now, the LGBTQ community faced hell and dared not to open up publicly.

From the way Nigerians’ have been brought up to value culture and religion, it is difficult for Nigeria to legalize LGBTQ. And It will take a lot of change in belief to yield in accepting the LGBTQ community. In this article, you will learn the history of LGBTQ in Nigeria, when It was legalized in other countries, and why Nigerians cannot embrace it.

What is the Full Meaning of LGBTQ?

LGBTQ is quite a familiar term regarding the issue of discrimination and the fight for freedom\right in our world today. Yet, not everyone is familiar with the term ‘LGBTQ.’ The initialism stands for Lesbianism, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. This is the term used to identify the community of people who are attracted to or are in a relationship with people of the same gender. The LGBTQ community is becoming robust as more nouns are being added to the umbrella. 

Some refer to the community as LGBT, LGBT+, or LGBTQ+. The ‘+’ sign addresses that other forms of homosexual identity or relationships are also inclusive to the community. Although some people regard the others as ‘extras.’ 

LGBTQ Legislation in Other Countries

Many people ask the question: when was LGBTQ legalized in other countries? Or what countries legalizes LGBTQ?

Many countries around the world have legalized LGBTQ. Growing up in Nigeria made me think LGBTQ was illegal in every country. Sooner, I found out I was wrong. I believe many people’s assumptions are like mine; because LGBTQ in Nigeria or their counties is illegal, they ignorantly assume the same to the rest of the world.

Starting in 2000, the Netherlands was the first to legalize same-sex marriage allowing gay couples to get married legally and adopt children. Belgium followed suit to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003, and since then, same-sex marriage and relationships have become legalized in twenty-nine countries. These countries include; Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, United States, and a few other countries.

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Is LGBTQ Legalized in Nigeria?

Although some countries have not legalized same-sex marriage, there are still gays living in disguise and others living openly. For example, Nigeria strictly opposes the LGBTQ community. According to civil law, the punishment for anyone caught practising any homosexual relationship is 14 years imprisonment. Under Sharia law, the punishment is death by stoning.

The History Of LGBTQ in Nigeria

LGBTQ is believed to be for the western culture. People say it is taboo in Africa’s culture to be homosexual, but this is not entirely true. Some countries in Africa have legalized LGBTQ, while many others haven’t. Nigeria is one country in Africa that forbids the LGBTQ community. Apart from the punishment of the law, you would also face a lot of indifference from friends and families.

The law against LGBTQ started in 2014. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the former president of Nigeria, passed a bill of law against any form of gayness. It was then LGBTQ became an ‘issue’ for Nigerian queers. Formerly, those who were gay hid undercover and had relationships with the same gender some even got married secretly with no suspects. 

There were underground gay clubs then even now. These clubs were places where homosexuals could freely attend with their partners or come in search of one, with no fear of being caught. But since 2014, Nigerian gays and queers have been living their lives in fear and silence to avoid the ‘hungry suspects’ eye.’ Some of them even flew away from the country for their lives.

The law passed against every form of LGBTQ+ in 2014 is referred to as SSMPA, which stands for Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Under this law, anyone who attends gay clubs participates in Gay organizations or society, or tries to defend a same-sex relationship in any way would be convicted for ten years. So not just living as a queer became dangerous in Nigeria; even knowing one was somewhat dangerous. 

Some neighbours would suspect queer couples and pretend not to know. It was what some people did to get their hands off journeying to jail and returning with or without proof of someone else’s case. So it was better to see and pretend you didn’t.

Documentaries of Some Nigerian LGBTQ Members

There was a 40-year-old gay man named Ade. He lived in Lagos, and he was a businessman before the SSMPA. In his documentary, he started with how he met his partner, who is now late. They met at a gay club, and after a series of hanging out, they began to live together. He said it was better to cohabit with your gay partner before the SSMPA. Although some gay couples got married secretly, cohabiting with your partner was the same as being married. In Ade’s words, he said, “cohabiting does not have as much stigma as it does now. Now that I’m a middle man in my forties, I get more brows than when I was happily living with a man, who was my husband in many ways.” 

LGBTQ in Nigeria wasn’t a new thing. It has existed since before the SSMPA. People knew about it but didn’t pay much attention to it. But since, the SSMPA has kept an open eye on all citizens. Gay weddings could hardly be performed even in secret. In 2017, almost fifty-three people were arrested for attending a gay wedding and were asked to pay #500,000 to bill themselves out. Chike Frankie-Esodie, an Author, reported the phenomenon of secret marriages and home partnerships in his memoir, Lives of Great Men. Chike said, “Many Nigerian queers lived together with their partners but couldn’t be open about their relationships. To the neighbours, they could be housemates or relatives or any matter of folks living together in the big city, all hidden in plain sight.”

Edafe Okporo, a Nigerian Writer and gay man, who was among the first gays to open up in Nigeria, once described how Nigerian queers had to attend clubs without creating suspicion. He explained how in Wuse 2, Abuja, existed an underground gay bar. Everything was underground; kiss and don’t tell, hide your clothes, heels, and wigs in your bag, and change into them once you get to the club, and once the party is over, you can change back into your former clothes and go back home.

The underground gay clubs and bars were safe spaces for Nigerian queers and drag queens too. It was a space where they could wiggle their coloured wigs while dancing to afro beats on high heels. The timings and locations of these clubs were not made public for safety precautions. Even entering the club wasn’t easy; attendees had to find someone to vouch for them.

In the New York Times, activists reported that the law appeared to have given mobs license to act on a widespread antigay sentiment in Nigeria to instil fear in the LGBTQ community. Edafe, one of the activists, said, “immediately the law was executed, mobs entered into queer houses, pulled them out, and started beating them on the streets, and even planned to burn these men.”

Do LGBTQ Clubs Still Exist in Nigeria?

Queer clubs still very much exist. Even after the SSMPA was executed and mobs destroyed a lot of queer clubs and bars, queer associations still found ways to keep the LGBTQ nightlife alive. Like in the 90s, nightlife in Nigeria is still modelled that way, except for the inclusion of technology. For example, using Airbnb made bookings of locations stress-free without contacting property owners or going to the venue, making life safer for both the organizers and attendees.

What Happened After Goodluck Jonathan’s Anti-LGBTQ Law

The 2014 SSMPA law is a history that cannot be forgotten. As Nigerian queers went into the gloom, they relied on TV shows and media supporting the LGBTQ community to help fight for LGBTQ freedom. Even though it was a risk for the media and NGOs like The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS) to do this, they didn’t mind. TIERS documented how Same-Sex marriage life was before the SSMPA and how the law changed it.

Many public debates have been conducted about the Anti-LGBTQ laws, which made homosexuality more visible to Nigerians. After the SSMPA, the police used the law to legitimize human rights violations such as random detentions, sexual violations, torture, and so on against the LGBTQ community. Since the act, too, there has been a lot of mob violence against persons based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to PunchNg, In February 2014, in a village in Abuja, a group of people armed with belts and sticks dragged 14 suspected gays from their homes and mercilessly dealt with them. Three victims out of the 14 told Human Rights Watch that the group of attackers was chanting: “We are doing President Goodluck Jonathan’s work; we’re cleansing the community of gays.” 

One victim also said they kept ranting: “Jungle Justice! No more gays!”

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Gay and Genetic Implications

In 2017, a poll sampling of about 2,000 randomly interviewed respondents from Nigeria was carried out by an LGBT network, revealing that 91% of Nigerians do not believe that people are born homosexual which means Nigerians do not believe in homosexuality genetic explanations. This same poll also revealed that 9 out of 10 Nigerians support the 2014 Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.

People always ask why LGBTQ cannot be legalized in Nigeria and always answer this question by themselves, saying it’s because of the African-Nigerian culture. While this is part, the answer can also be found in Nigerians themselves. The majority of Nigerians are not in support of LGBTQ.

Can LGBT be Embraced in Nigeria?

So to the question we all want an answer to: can LGBT be publicly embraced in Nigeria? 

Truth be told, it would be difficult for LGBTQ in Nigeria to yield a positive result. One of the future Nigerian presidents might decide to legalize LGBTQ in Nigeria and ban Same-Sex Marriage (SSMPA), but can Nigerians publicly embrace it? For the youths, it might be possible to come out as queer openly, but they will still receive societal backlash and hatred. 


One cannot say if Nigerians as a whole would embrace the LGBTQ community. Some Nigerians believe in rights for homosexualities, and some don’t. Some Nigerians are driven by culture and religion _ that is to say, even if SSMPA is banned today, the Sharia law would still never accept LGBTQ. Christians will still frown at it. Some Nigerian parents would still disown any of their kids that is gay. It is still certain that some friends and mates would step back from anyone who opens up as queer. As a country plentiful in culture and beliefs, it might be hard to embrace LGBTQ publicly, or maybe not. So let’s turn the table to you. Do you think Nigerians can publicly embrace LGBTQ?

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