Nigeria 1758969 1280

Nigeria Country Context

LAGOS: A Desk Review on the Context of LGBTQ Rights

February 2020

This rapid desk review was prepared to explore the context of LGBTQ rights and advocacy in  Lagos for future work in Nigeria. Specifically, the desk review looks at the following areas: 

  • Legal, political, and economic context 
  • Movement context  
  • Public discourse and media 
  • Research capacity 
  • Security considerations

1.1 Legal, political, and economic context

Over the past decade, several African countries across the continent have witnessed legal regression on sexual rights. Nigeria is key among the countries where such regression has taken place through the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) of 2014. There exists a harsh and discriminatory legal policy environment for LGBTIQ people living in Nigeria. While Article 42 of the Constitution of Nigeria makes provisions for equality and non-discrimination, no reference is made to sexual orientation or gender identity. Nigeria’s Penal Code is noted to apply to both federal and state law which implies that sexuality falls under the ambit of state law and is subject to prosecution by the relevant state[1], in the Northern states of Nigeria, Sharia penal law is used in place of the Penal Code and covers all aspects regarding sexuality.  Section 214 of the Penal Code states, “Any person who 1) has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; or 2) has carnal knowledge of an animal; or 3)permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature; is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.” Yet despite the existence of this British imposed discriminatory law, the SSMPA was passed in 2014 passing further restrictive legislation. This push has been noted to have stemmed from an anxiety that liberal societal values would spread, an anxiety which in the case of Nigeria was fueled by thy the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) which actively lobbied for the SSMPA to be passed.[2]

In Nigeria’s 6th periodic country report 2015 – 2016 submitted by the Nigerian government on the Implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the government stated its commitment to the realisation of basic rights and freedoms of individuals and groups as enshrined in the Charter. Despite this as well as being party to several regional and international human rights treaties, the government’s commitment is not extended to LGBTIQ people. Women Action for Gender Equality (WAGE) reported in their stakeholder report submission to the Universal Periodic Review that following the enactment of the SSMPA in 2014, the level of violence against LGBTIQ people has increased and the discriminatory laws are continuously used to violate the rights of LGTBIQ people by invading their privacy which often leads to assault and battery, extortion, bodily harm, arbitrary arrest, denial of access to social amenities including education and health. A Hivos report indicates that several LGBTIQ-friendly spaces have significantly reduced due to being raided by law enforcement agencies or homophobic residents[3]. This is among the push factors leading to LGBTIQ people becoming fugitives because they do not feel safe in their country, a move which is unfortunately inaccessible to those who cannot afford the related costs[4].

1.2 Movement context

Among the most prominent if not the most prominent LGBTIQ organizations in Nigeria is The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) which works to protect and promote the rights of sexual minorities both regionally and nationally through education, empowerment and advocacy.  Other organizations include the International Center for Advocacy on Rights to Health (ICARH), International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights (INCRESE), Women’s Health and Equal Rights, Initiative for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Awareness (ISRHRA) Improved Youth Health Initiative and Women Action for Gender Equality among others. In a report by Mariam Armisen[5], it is indicated that several new groups have emerged since the passing of the SSMPA which makes it difficult to estimate the number of groups and organizations working on LGBTIQ and SOGIE rights and freedoms. However other reports indicate that there are approximately 10 LGBT+ organisations in Nigeria[6] with strong synergies[7] between them, in particular through the Coalition for the defense of Sexual Rights in Nigeria.  Comprising the coalition include: Lawyers Alert, The Independent Project for Equal Rights, House of Rainbow Metropolitan Community Church, Global Right Nigeria, Youths Together Network, Nigerian Humanist Movement, and others.[8]

1.3 Public discourse/media environment

Nigerian Police use arrests and the threat of imprisonment to extort money from LGBTQ people, as was seen in July 2017 when 70 men and boys were arrested in Lagos.[9]  Extortion is possible because LGBTIQ people seek to avoid court cases which would inevitably out them. The public atmosphere is intolerant of sexual minorities and exposure in any way increases their vulnerability to attacks and violence. Violence is often accompanied by, extortion and blackmail which has increased due to the far reaching and privacy invading capabilities of social media.  Such arrests and other and LGBTIQ issues are reported and debated in media outlets such as Vanguard Nigeria and Mambo Online, among others[10]. Violent reprisals, however, remain a reality of LGBT life in Nigeria, as seen in the violent attack on the founder of the social media platform “A Nasty Boy Magazine” in 2018 who asserted that LGBT life in Nigeria “is a matter of life and death”[11]. Social media has also provided a new means, a virtual safe space for LGBTIQ Nigerians to mobilize, socialize and have conversations.

Laws such as the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act are passed under the aegis of culture and religion.  Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati said, in 2014, that such laws are reflections of the beliefs of Nigerian people, who are said to be pleased when they are enacted[12]. It is reported that 90%[13] of Nigerians support enforcement of anti-gay laws and believe homosexuality is unacceptable in society[14]. Lesbian women in Nigeria have suffered internalised homophobia.  This in addition to enforced gender roles means that lesbian relationships are rare despite what women may feel for each other. (The Guardian, 2018)   The public atmosphere is one where  life as a LGBTIQ person is seen to have no future in Nigeria (ibid.).

Both Christian and Islamic religious leaders are often vocal in their opposition to homosexuality[15]. Evangelical Christian movements spread intolerance towards LGBT persons and the Islamic Hisbah police prosecute alleged LGBT persons. (UK Home Office, 2019).

1.4 Research capacity

National level NGOs include The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS), Women’s Health and Equal Rights Initiative (WHER), Queer Alliance, The Equality Hub, The Bisi Alimi Foundation, Perfect Africa, The Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights (CDSR) provide grassroots engagement and research for LGBT+ advocacy.  TIERS publishes annual reports and surveys on social perception of the LGBT+ community, human rights violations, discrimination, and lived experiences of LGBT+ persons.

NoStrings is an online platform “to capture, investigate and report LGBT+ issues especially as it concerns the Nigerian LGBT+ Community.”  It provides media advocacy through news, information, podcasts and opinions.

1.5 Security considerations

Violence against LGBT+ persons is a glaring reality with increases in violence occurring in Northern Nigeria according to the UK Home Office in 2010.  Lagos state features the majority of human rights violations against LGBT+ people in Nigeria according to TIERS. Lesbians and gay men note that self-censorship has been necessary to avoid detection or guilt by association[16].  Using the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition act, law enforcement authorities have raided offices of NGOs that provide support for LGBT+ communities (HRW, 2016).  On the other hand, the Queer Alliance has engaged with security forces to ameliorate violence based on alleged or assumed sexual orientation and gender[17].

Because of a lack of legally enforced protection and difficulties in securing respect for human rights for LGBT+ persons, any efforts to engage with community leaders and LGBT+ communities would have to be cognizant of harassment and potential violence by both state and non-state actors.


[1] The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS), ‘Compendium of Laws’ https://theinitiativeforequalrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Compenduim-of-Law-.pdf

[2] The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS), ‘Compendium of Laws’ https://theinitiativeforequalrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Compenduim-of-Law-.pdf

[3] Ifekandu, C. The Fallout of Nigeria’s anti-gay law and opportunities for the future for LGBTI persons and communities https://www.hivos.org/sites/default/files/10._the_fallout_of_nigerias_anti-gay_law_and_opportunities_for_the_future_for_lgbti_persons_and_communities_by_chiedu_chike_ifekandu.pdf

[4] ibid.

[5] Arminsen, M. “We Exist: Mapping LGBTQ Organizing in West Africa” https://static1.squarespace.com/static/54191049e4b0677471aa06c9/t/56eaf7c162cd94f29cf02d19/1458239432760/WeExist_Report.pdf

[6] Bisi Alimi on LGBT rights in Nigeria: ‘It may take 60 years, but we have to start now’. The Guardian. 2016.

[7] LGBT friendly and Human Rights Organisations in Nigeria. Rev. Rowland Jide Macaulay. 2009.

[8] Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights in Nigeria Cotonou Meeting Communique. 76Crimes.org, 2014.

[9] Blackmail, prejudice and persecution: gay rights in Nigeria. The Guardian 2018.

[10] “Police arrest 57 suspected homosexuals in Lagos”, The Pulse Nigeria. 2018.

[11] “Opinion: Nigeria is a cold-blooded country for gay men — I have the scars to prove it”. CNN. 2019.

[12] “Nigeria arrests dozens as anti-gay law comes into force”. The Guardian. 2014.

[13] “Social Perception Survey on LGBT Rights”.  The Initiative for Equal Rights, 2017.

[14]  “The Global Divide on Homosexuality”. PEW Global Research. 2013.

[15] Country Policy and Information Nigeria: Sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. UK Home Office. 2019.

[16] “Tell Me Where I Can Be Safe” The Impact of Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act. Human Rights Watch. 2016.

[17] Queer Alliance in Nigeria. <Menengage.org>.

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