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The trouble with Nigeria

Mon 25 Jan 2010 In: Comment View at NDHA

While Uganda has been the subject of international LGBT opprobrium over its proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Nigeria also has an ignominious LGBT rights record... as well as human rights, in general. Recently, BBC News reported that there were further Christian/Muslim sectarian religious clashes in Central Nigeria's Jos. Given recent incidents of attempted possible al Qaeda radical Islamist terrorism from that nation, what is the context of that unrest? Again, the BBC offers a useful concise timetable which provides valuable historical context about the overall history of ethnic and religious animosities in that country. LGBT rights aren't its only human rights shortcoming. For over a century, "Nigeria" consisted of several British colonial administrative regions, which were then amalgamated into the diverse and populous nation-state that we know today as "Nigeria." Unsurprisingly, this meant there was ethnic and sectarian religious unrest and instability after Nigeria became independent in 1960. In 1966, its first Prime Minister, Sir Abubukar Tafara Balwa was assassinated, leading to its first military dictatorship, under a succession of generals, which lasted for thirteen years (1966-79). In 1967-71, three Eastern Nigerian states seceded, forming the short-lived independent Republic of Biafra and igniting its first civil war. In 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari became the first democratically elected Nigerian head of state in over thirteen years, but his tenure only lasted four years. After that, sixteen further years of military dictatorship followed (1983-1999). In 1995, renowned author and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed after speaking out on behalf of his Ogoni community, against Nigerian collusion with western petrochemical companies against their human rights and civil liberties. In response, the European Union declared sanctions and the Commonwealth suspended it from membership. Since 1999, Nigeria has been a theoretically democratic and republican state. However, President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) was a former military dictator. Furthermore, as noted beforehand, sectarian religious violence has been escalating. Christian/Muslim sectarian clashes have flared after the adoption of Islamic sharia law in several Muslim majority states (2000, 2003, 2004). There are also secessionist and tribalist movements in Benue state (2001), as well as Niger Delta secessionists (2003- Present), and recurrent gang violence problems in Port Harcourt (2004). Despite attempting to install himself for life, Obasanjo was forced to resign in 2007. President Umaru Yar'Adua is Muslim, but has been unable to stop the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency (2009) and ongoing Christian/Muslim sectarian animosities in Jos (2008- Present). One would think that given the above summary of religious, ethnic and political turmoil, it would be the task of civil society to vigorously defend human rights and civil liberties. Nevertheless, fundamentalist "Anglican" Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola has been breathtakingly reticent when it comes to criticising the current Nigerian federal government. He seems obsessed with opposition to LGBT Anglican ordination and opposition to same-sex marriage. He was also former head of the Christian Association of Nigeria, but was forced to step down as its president in 2007 after growing criticism of his failure to condemn the aforementioned human rights and civil liberties abuses under President Obasanjo. Nor has he been particularly constructive on other matters of concern. In 2006, he inflamed already serious ethnic and religious tensions in response to Northern Nigerian Muslim sectarian violence, encouraging Christian sectarian violence elsewhere in Nigeria. Speaking of Nigerian LGBT rights, the situation is currently as follows. Sections 214 and 217 of the Nigerian Penal Code criminalise male homosexuality, with potential fourteen year prison sentences. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act 2007 imposes criminal sanctions against those who undertake same-sex marriage, as well as anyone who 'aids, abets, performs or witnesses' same-sex marriages. In Northern Nigeria, Borno, Bouchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbe, Jigawa, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe and Samfra states have enacted sharia law. Theoretically, this would lead toone hundred lashes for unmarried Muslim men caught having gay sex, with the death penalty for similar married and divorced Muslim men, although the law applies only to Muslims. Sharia law also prohibits transgender freedom of expression. However, it encourages polygamous civil marriage, recognising it as a customary right in several Northern Nigerian states, much to the anger of Archbishop Akinola, who has nevertheless been unable to stop it. Other Nigerian Christians do undertake polygamous marriages, however. In 2002, single mother Amina Lawal was sentenced to death for 'adultery' after shariah law 'conviction,' subsequently overturned in 2004 after an international feminist outcry against it. Muslims and LGBT Nigerians aren't the Nigerian fundamentalist Christian community's only targets. In the Niger Delta, home fundamentalist Pentecostalministers have accused children of 'witchcraft,' then tortured and killed them. Akinola has also remained silent about this shameful practice amongst Nigeria's fellow fundamentalists. Even the US State Department has slammed Nigeria's dire human rights and civil liberties record. Despite the formal end of military dictatorship ten years ago, the armed forces and police are still engaged in arbitrary violence, detention without trial, extra-judicial killings and prisoner abuse and rape. Judicial and government corruption, vigilante violence, child labour and prostitution, spousal violence and the absence of basic democratic rights such as freedom of assembly, speech, movement, press and religion. Privacy rights are non-existent and democratic institutions are seriously impaired. Last year, prominent Nigerian intellectal Ogaga Ifowado expressed deep skepticism about the prospects of his country's ultimate survival when he debated whether or not Nigeria was a failed state. He slammed its corrupt central government, lack of a comprehensive welfare state and lack of protection of its general public from arbitrary violence, as well as noting ongoing secessionist pressures in the Niger Delta. The US Brookings Institute and American Fund for Peace share his scepticism. Ifowado concludes that the current ethnic and religious pressures that face his country may well end up destroying it. Recommended: E.Ike Udogu (ed) Nigeria in the Twenty First Century: Trenton: Africa World Press: 2005. Nigeria Timetable: "Is Nigeria A Failed State?" BBC News: 07.07.09: Stepping Stones Nigeria: Campaigns against child 'witchcraft' hysteria and abuse: Craig Young - 25th January 2010    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Monday, 25th January 2010 - 3:53pm

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