Homosexuality is generally viewed as unacceptable in Nigeria, and in recent years laws criminalising it and its adjacent communities have been put in place, with more proposed. A new bill was recently presented to outlaw cross-dressing, amending the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act (SSMPA) which was signed into law in 2014. This new law defines cross-dressing as the "practice of wearing clothes usually worn by a person of the opposite sex." The punishment for those found guilty is a six-month prison sentence or a fine of $1,200.
The History of Nigeria's LGBTQI+ Laws
The Nigerian Cabinet approved the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006 in January 2007 and forwarded it to the National Assembly for urgent action. However, the bill was not passed. Four years later, the Senate of Nigeria passed the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, 2011, passed in May 2013 by the House of Representatives of Nigeria. In 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan signed the prohibition act into law which meant various 'acts' of homosexuality or proximity to it are illegal. Some of the regulations included:
- The prohibition of persons of the same sex from entering a marriage contract or civil union making it "invalid and illegal and/not recognized as entitled to the benefits of a valid marriage"; contravention of this law is liable for 14 years imprisonment
- Make void and unenforceable in Nigeria a marriage contract or civil union between persons of the same sex under a certificate issued by a foreign country.
- The prohibition of the solemnization of any marriage or civil union entered between persons of the same sex "in any place of worship either Church or Mosque or any other place or whatsoever called in Nigeria."
- The prohibition against registering "gay clubs, societies and organisations, their sustenance, processions and meetings"; contravention of this law is liable to ten years imprisonment
- Prohibit the "public show of same-sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly"; contravention of this law is liable to 10 years imprisonment.
While Nigeria's constitution does assure that all citizens are guaranteed equal rights, it does not protect LGBTQI+ rights. No legislation has been passed to protect against discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Disdain for the community is normalised both socially and politically. For example, some of the biggest political parties in the National Assembly openly express their hostility towards the queer community and speak out against their rights.
Nigerian lawmakers strongly believe that homosexuality is unnatural and that cross-dressing encourages it. "We are protecting humanity and family values. In fact, we are protecting civilisation in its entirety," said Senator Ahmed Lawan when the Same-Sex Prohibition Act was passed.
In April, the Sabi Law organisation published an article by lawyer Manfred Ekpe expressing his support for the amendment. titled 'Bill against Cross Dressing is Lawful, Good for Nigeria.' "It is my opinion that it is within the competence of the National Assembly to make laws regulating good conduct and standards necessary for a morally upright society," he wrote. "Government also has the duty to regulate conduct in society that will not reduce children and youths to a heap of immorality."
Reactions From Members of The Community
High-profile personalities have made their thoughts public regarding how they feel about the bill, such as one of Nigeria's well-known crossdressers, Brobisky. Drag queen James Brown took to Instagram to post a reel where she said, "Point of correction, I am NOT a cross dresser. I am a DRAG Queen. Do your research before you come for me. My job is to entertain using my personality and my beauty. This bill has nothing on me. Don't underestimate the power that I carry."
Non-binary designer Emerie Udiahgebi expressed their concern stating, "There's going to be a lot of extortions, there's going to be a lot of arrests. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't see a possibility of my disregarding all the stress it took to come into full acceptance of who I am."