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Nigeria’s presidential election could spark LGBTQ+ rights by getting the country back on track

Youth attend a political rally in Tafawa Balewa square in Lagos, Nigeria on June 11, 2022
Youth attend a political rally in Tafawa Balewa square in Lagos, Nigeria on June 11, 2022 Photo: Shutterstock

In what Nigerians would describe as the most anticipated event in the country, the Nigerian presidential elections will be held on February 25th. A traumatizing cashless policy that has led to a ban on old currencies and a scarcity of newly-printed money has spawned fuel hikes, an inflated economy, and extreme insecurity.

While this seems to make life unbearable in the country, social media has sparked so many conversations, debates, and battles that this almost seems to be one of the country’s intense revolutions. Despite the blooming hope, LGBTQ+ Nigerians are reimagining what the election could mean for them. 

“As a queer Nigerian, I feel so sad that I can’t live my fullest reality,” journalist Bolaji told LGBTQ Nation. “It’s so depressing; I’m always conscious of my safety because it is really unsafe for me. Each day, I live my life hoping that the situations could change and things could be better than they are.”

Bolaji and queer people in Nigeria are subjected to hateful comments, bias, and prejudice – reinforced by the government’s harmful homophobic laws. 

2014’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act criminalizes same-sex marriage, but it goes way beyond that. The law criminalizes same-sex intercourse, public display of affection, and the cohabitation of queer partners; penalties can be as long as 14 years imprisonment. It also criminalizes civil associations like gay clubs, bars, and organizations supporting same-sex rights. It criminalizes allyship with ten years in prison.

But even the draconian law doesn’t erase “jungle justice” or mob action – one of the most fearful parts for queer people in Nigeria. If caught having sex, queer folks are exposed to mob assault, blackmail, extortion, torture, and possibly killed – even by law enforcement officers. 

For many queer Nigerians, the hope for civil rights protections has dwindled, and political apathy has risen as the hope for freedom shrank. Nonstop homophobia has fuelled a disinterest in political issues for queer Nigerians, but decades of political failure have also played a role.

“Nigeria, since after its independence, has been on a roller coaster of political decay and economic meltdown,” filmmaker Wapah Ezeigwe told LGBTQ Nation. “Many things yet to be resolved are on the table, and one of those things is definitely queer lives. But when we talk of political apathy, for me, it’s something that stems from a long history of constant political failures, of the economic mess, of thoughtless governmental policy that has led to a downtrodden system that has left many citizens traumatized, queer lives included.” 

Homophobia also has a long history of silencing LGBTQ+ citizens. The #endsars protest in 2020 that garnered national and international was sparked by outrage over the decades of police brutality. Queer Nigerians had been one of the primary targets of the since-disbanded SARS group, and on one occasion, they joined the protest with #QueerLivesMatter and #EndHomophobiainNigeria placards. But what started as a clamber for justice became an opportunity for homophobes to attack queer protesters, chasing them out of the protest grounds by force.  The online hatred was the worst; queer activists were cyberbullied and doxxed, giving the public their home addresses. It was one of the most devastating public displays of homophobia in the country. 

In July 2022, a video clip surfaced online featuring Dr. Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, the vice presidential candidate for the Labor party. This major political party has shaped the faith of Nigerians. In the clip, Baba-Ahmed vehemently proposed the death penalty for queer people. While the clip sparked intense outrage among members of the queer community because Baba-Ahmed is running with presidential candidate Peter Obi, they were immediately bullied into silence.

“I don’t think Peter Obi will ever prioritize queer lives,” Wapah says, “as much he can be seen as a reliable person that can change the country’s situation. There was a video that surfaced online in which he was asked a question on queer lives. Though he said he was tolerant of people’s lifestyle, it wasn’t assuring because using such words as ‘lifestyle’ could come off as offensive. It shows he does have background knowledge of universal identity.”

Most questions about whether other political parties’ candidates care about LGBTQ+ rights are left unanswered. However, it’s important to note that a candidate who does not care about the rights of minorities does not care about the rights of the citizens at large. And though Nigerians inherently understand this, they are more focused on getting the country’s situation off of life support. 

“Honestly, I’m manifesting a free and fair election,” says Bolaji. “an election without crisis and vandalism, just a very smooth activity. I really hope that Peter Obi wins because he’s the only candidate that is intentional and capable of saving the country from ruin.” 

For Zainab, an entrepreneur and medical doctor, the election is the only hope to wipe out decades of gerontocracy that have left the country in a bad state.

“I hope people are not going to vote for these old people after all these years of hardship. Anyone who does really have to reevaluate their humanity because they seriously do not have one,” she told LGBTQ Nation. “They have totally ruined us; the systems are not working, no money, no healthcare and the medical association is planning another strike. This isn’t fair. We shouldn’t be in this mess.”

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