A version of this post originally appeared on the Africa in Transition blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
Nigerians across religious, ethnic, and regional divisions are strongly supportive of the anti-gay measure recently signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan.The legislation criminalizes virtually all aspects of gay life, not just gay marriage.
There has been support from spokesmen for the Christian Association of Nigeria (the principal Christian umbrella group), the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the sultan of Sokoto (the premier Muslim traditional ruler), and Jama’atu Nasril Islam, perhaps the most important Islamic group with a national membership, as well as an outpouring of support from much of the population.
Some Nigerians appear to be rediscovering a sense of nationalism. As one said to CAJ News Africa, “For the first time in life, I am so happy to be a Nigerian!”
Others expressed pride that Christians, Muslims, and adherents to traditional religion are united in their opposition to homosexuality.
President Jonathan is benefitting from a popularity boost. As Premium Times wrote on January 13, “for many Nigerians, accustomed to attacking Mr. Jonathan over his failure to address many of the nation’s ills and its stinking corruption, the bill’s signing, largely a popular decision, came as one of the commendable steps taken by his administration.”
In the face of criticism of US Secretary of State John Kerry and US. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, some Nigerians are using the anti-gay legislation as a push back against alleged “western cultural imperialism.” As a Roman Catholic spokesman said, opposition from the American government should be no surprise because “…the West which had done everything to sell their cultures to Africa will stop at nothing to want to impose such beliefs on the African continent which is always going to the West for financial aids and loans.”
Indeed, many Nigerians see the anti-gay legislation as a reaffirmation of core African -- and Nigerian -- values.
Nigeria is challenged by an Islamist insurrection in the north. There is ethnic and religious conflict in Nigeria's "Middle Belt." There is a prospect of renewed insurgency in the Delta, along with poverty, and corruption in many disparate places. The ruling party is fragmenting. In absolute numbers, Nigeria has the second largest number of HIV/AIDS victims in the world. (The new legislation will set-back efforts to fight the disease.) And the country faces national elections in 2015 in which it is widely expected that President Jonathan will seek re-election.
Under such circumstances, Nigeria is not the only country in history where politicians have sought to rally national unity by attacking a despised minority.
Yet we outsiders should guard against excessive cynicism in ascribing the anti-gay legislation to the search for short-term political advantage. Homosexuality and a gay lifestyle is seen by many Nigerians as a challenge and threat to core African values. Resentment of alleged Western cultural imperialism is deep seated.
The Vanguard, a large daily with a national readership, on January 15 summed up the widespread Nigerian view: “Nigerians yesterday reacted angrily to US criticisms of the country over the anti-same sex bill signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan Monday, saying that Nigeria will not become the modern day Sodom and Gomorrah in the name of human rights.”