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Fear & Loathing in Nigeria

A Shocking First Hand Account of Being Gay in Africa's Most Populous Country

Clicking the images will show the full version. Whilst not explicit, they depict sexual acts


The video shows a mob surrounding two naked men in a derelict building. One naked man tugs the penis of the other while the clothed mob hurls abuse at them. The eyes of the naked men flicker through the crowd with fear. A member of the crowd punches the man whose penis is being tugged and shouts at him to become erect. Once erect, he enters the other. One of the clothed men asks, “Has it entered?” Everyone in the crowd is recording this moment on their phones. This is Port Harcourt, Nigeria, in 2014; the watchers are, apparently, 'normal' people terrorising two men suspected of homosexuality.


Nigeria has recently passed an anti-gay bill, the 39th African country to do so, and homosexuals are being hunted by frustrated Nigerians. There’s poverty, poor education and a high unemployment rate, but the government chooses to focus on homosexuality. Poverty and lack of proper education lure groups of men to visit houses in search of homosexuals to torture. The media publishes the stories, at least some of them: arrests, murders and humiliation all over Nigeria. The consensus from the media is that homosexuals deserve it, and that the country needs to be cleansed.


This is a country where people die from Boko Haram bomb explosions, car accidents due to bad roads, a high crime rate and poor healthcare, yet the majority of people support the government's claims that homosexuality is the main issue in Nigeria. You can only argue against this anonymously and online and anyone who does so is bombarded with abuse and accused of being gay.

Homosexuals in Africa are under attack from early childhood. It’s bad enough realizing you’re different from other boys in school and even worse when you learn that others who share similar traits to you are being attacked. People with light voices are mocked; you are attacked for any sign of being feminine or weak. Lack interest in sports? You must be gay.


This is how Nigerian society as a whole treats its most vulnerable members, and in doing so defines itself against them. The moment you realize you’re sexually attracted towards men, you begin to realize the dangers of being in a minority; fear and repression are the usual result. To protect themselves from persecution, many homosexual men in Nigeria blend into the crowd and ‘become’ bisexual. Some even go as far as dating or marrying women while sleeping with other men; others are forced into a life without sex due to the danger.


Life is difficult in a country where the majority condemns the unfamiliar rather than trying to understand it. Most of us have spent years learning about Adam and Eve and Noah filling the ark with animals of opposite genders. We’ve been raised to believe that only opposite sexes should attract, therefore homosexuality is viewed as filthy, abominable and unnatural, and linked to incest, paedophilia and bestiality.


Like everything unknown, people here make up stories about homosexuals and create popular fictions based around stereotypes. I’ve heard stories of gay people with leaking anuses: due to poor knowledge and communication about homosexuality, people assume that even if a man has ‘bottomed’ just once, he has to wear diapers as he releases faeces without control. The truth is that gay prostitutes who bottom frequently without having enough time to heal can end up with permanent damage. If they were to visit a hospital for anal reconstruction, they may be attacked, arrested or even expelled from the country. There is also the popularly held belief that gay people rape men but there have also been cases where heterosexual homophobic men rape gay men as a form of degradation or humiliation. Heterosexual men consequently fear that they will become a victim of rape, conveniently forgetting the more prevalent cases of men raping women.


Sadly, the majority of women in Nigeria have been molested at some point in life and there are also many cases of child molestation. In September 2008, The Women of Compassion Worldwide, an NGO, reported that it recorded 1,128 cases of rape in Delta State between January and July alone. The Lagos State Police Command claimed that between March 2012 and March 2013, 673 cases of rape were recorded, and many rape cases go unreported. We read media reports of young girls, some as young as three months, being sexually violated.


This is a country where public university lecturers are famed for blackmailing girls into sex to pass their course. Then there are 'employers' who put up job adverts requesting female workers just for an opportunity to have their way with them when they come over for interview. It’s even worse that our society barely considers rape a serious offence and usually blames the woman. Women everywhere deal with sexual advances by strange men each time they leave their houses. Male employers frequently offer sex to their female employees.


Such everyday constant harassment is especially difficult for lesbian women. They experience the same fears of pretence and expectation, largely centred around the same subject as gay men: being trapped in a socially acceptable marriage. Being a single female in Nigeria is a major problem, especially after the age of twenty when people casually ask your hand in marriage. Lesbian women fear the shame of their parents eventually realizing why they haven’t settled with a man and the risk of being rejected by their families, in a culture where family is at the centre of social interaction.


Unlike men in Nigeria, women can touch each other affectionately in public without glares being tossed their way; minor lesbian acts are seen as playful. This is characteristic of the lack of equality in Nigerian society.


There’s something deeply wrong here; our culture has become overtly masculine and internally feminine, and it's a balance that’s trying to right itself in every citizen, regardless of gender or sexuality. Most homosexuals in Nigeria would much rather repress their sexuality, as our society has always had a fear of the unknown. 'Unknown' internal aspects are often politically and psychologically externalised, like the crowd forcing the two men to have sex and collectively recording it. 'We' hate it because 'they' love it; not because it’s a part of us. As Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”


Eventually, after many years of being threatened by the future, some homosexuals take their own lives; of course, no-one will ever know they are gay because they have never told anyone. Moreover, in Nigeria depression isn’t widely recognized as a condition. Although some Nigerians have battled depression and committed suicide, depression and suicide are linked to westerners. People assume it’s only the westerners who have the mind to kill themselves because Nigerians struggle to survive. Poor people throw parties on the street, blasting music, like all is well, but not everyone can face each day with a spurious grin on their face. Aside from suicide and depression, Nigerians - and other Africans - also often link homosexuality to westerners. Some claim the westerners brought homosexuality to Nigeria as it isn’t ''part of our culture''.


The colonial introduction of Christianity demonised homosexual behaviour here and 'religion' still plays a large role; it’s become a strong justification for the persecution of homosexuals, which some seeing hatred and hateful acts as Godly. There are also still widespread beliefs, due to the lack of proper education, that every little thing is connected to demons and witchcraft, and a prevalence of churches around Nigeria spreading hate.


The second most important commandment is, however, to love one's neighbour. The religion of fear and the culture of loathing demonises homosexuals in Nigeria and is symptomatic of a general lack of understanding that’s tearing my beloved country to shreds. One can only hope that we’re at a nadir of ignorance and hatred and life for sexual minorities will improve before long too long.

Ethan Regal

About the Writer

Ethan is a freelance writer and fashion designer from Abia, Nigeria. While studying Economics with Politics at the University of Buckingham, he began writing short stories on inequality, injustice and the unlimited desires of humans. His creative works have appeared in World City Stories, Fiction on the Web and his blog.


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