When Nigeria’s “yan dandu” (shorthand for “men who act like women” or cross-dressers) population no longer walked freely and publicly in their communities it was a clear and ominous sign to everyone of what was legislatively coming down the pike — a new draconian anti-GLBT law.
For more than a century, the “yan dandu” population was an accepted Hausa subculture in the Muslim north. As a Muslim Bori practice the yan dandu’s religious ritual is traditionally practiced and celebrated among its most marginalized populations, like sex workers, and gay, bisexual and transgender men.
Since January, however, the group that was surprisingly driven underground is now being unearthed and actively pursued for punishment and persecution by murderous marauding gangs of their fellow Muslim brothers.
Earlier this year, on January 7th, Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, enthusiastically signed into law the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act. Nigeria already had in place harsh laws against its GLBT population, but Jonathan’s recent edict eerily hints of “queer-cleansing” with its violent and systematic eradication of any expressions of GLBT people, their livelihood and culture.
The act, which was unanimously passed in Nigeria’s House of Representatives, not only prohibits people from entering into same-sex marriages, but the law also prescribes a 14-year jail sentence to go with it.
And, if you’re straight and think you’re safe you need to know this: it also prescribes a guilty by association 10-year jail sentence to GLBT friends and allies “who administers, witnesses, abets or aids” any form of gender non-conforming and homosexual activities.
The law states, “any person who registers, operates (supports) or participates in gay clubs, societies and organizations directly or indirectly, makes a public show of a same-sex amorous relationship commits an offence and shall be liable to a term of 10 years imprisonment.”
In a religiously conservative country contentiously split between a predominately Muslim north and Christian south, the passing of the country’s recent federal Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act seems sadly to be the one thing both warring sides can agree on as a sign of a unified front of both nationalist pride and religious moral unity.
While clearly Sharia law in the Muslim north dominates and mandates that sex-gender sexual activity punishment is meted out by the cruel and torturous act of death by stoning, in the Christian south sex-gender sexual activity punishment is meted out not only by draconian laws but also by vigilante mobs wielding nail-studded clubs, iron bars, whips, and wires shouting, “we are working for Jonathan” or we are “cleansing the community.”
“The government has given a go-ahead authority to mob jungle justice,” Ifeanyi Orazulike of the International Center for Advocacy on the Right to Health told the International Times. “This is unacceptable. You can’t attack people violently because of whom they choose to love.”
The international community has denounced Nigeria’s recent act and has criticized the country’s democracy. But Nigerian lawmakers have pushed back saying their country’s stance on criminalizing homosexuality is true evidence of a proud and participatory “democracy in action.” And they have the numbers to prove it. According to the Pew Research Center survey conducted in March 2013, 98 percent of the country disapproves of homosexuality.
While the international community continues to denounce Nigeria’s recent act, the country’s traditionalists and religious conservatives — both Muslims and Christians — have made it clear they do not like the world’s interference in their business. They continue to contend that homosexuality is anathema to African identity and cultural and family values, and that it’s one of the many ills that white Europeans brought to the Motherland. (A similar homophobic polemic is still argued among religiously conservative African Americans.) But, truth be told, the criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria and other African countries is a byproduct of European colonialism.
Nonetheless, the debate over what’s “authentically African” and what’s a vestige of Western colonial influence always finds a way to deny the reality of black GLBT existence. And Nigeria is not alone: 36 of 54 countries in the African continent criminalize consensual sexual activity with people of the same gender.
Pressure from the international community has strongly expressed withholding developmental aid to Nigeria. But economic sanctions against Nigeria that were successfully used against Malawi and Uganda would only serve as a slap on the wrist because Nigeria is a major oil producer where the U.S. purchases 70 percent of their oil.
With Nigeria’s passing of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act murderous marauding homophobic gangs in the Christian south will continue to chase GLBT citizens from their homes leaving their signature message, “Homosexuals, pack and leave!” And in the Muslim north the century-old small and marginalized yan daudu subculture will simply over time become extinct.
by Reverend Irene Monroe