Femi, Habibah and Somadina, have to be anonymous before they can feel safe enough to share their stories with us.
Once, when Femi forgot this, he approached a Police Officer for help—he’d feared for his life, after constant harassments and threats by colleagues and neighbours. The Officer said he would help, only if Femi agreed to have sex with him.
When a trusted friend snitched on Habibah to her husband, she was beaten up and driven out of her home at an ungodly hour. She knew reporting to the authorities was futile.
Somadina knew too, that the law in Nigeria had put a target on his head and on the heads of everybody like him. The law had prejudiced rather than protect him, it emboldened people to do jungle justice.
An act as simple as walking on the streets, was complex. ‘‘I try to be careful when walking. I give myself caution when walking. Nobody can predict the unseen”, Somadina wrote anonymously, in a survey conducted by the Bisi Alimi Foundation (BAF).
Femi, Habibah and Somadina, are gay Nigerians. They are among the 446 respondents who anonymously, filled the questionnaires designed by BAF with an aim ‘‘to collect information about current life experiences of LGBT [Lesbians Gay Bisexuals Transgender] Nigerians’’.
The criteria for inclusion in the survey was, ‘‘people aged 18 and over who identified as LGBT+; who were born in Nigeria and currently living there, or Nigerians who had been living in the diaspora for under 10 years; and could complete an online survey in English’’.
In January 2014, the Nigerian government enacted the Same Sex Prohibition Act (SSPA) which made it criminal to be homosexual or to befriend a homosexual. Femi, Habibah and Somadina are pseudonyms of necessity.
These pseudonyms are also sections in ‘Not dancing to their music’: Femi’s Story, Habibah’s Story, and Somadina’s Story. Necessary for several reasons: the obvious, to protect them from us; the not so obvious, the use of familiar first names, one for each major ethnic group in Nigeria, to remind us that these are actual, everyday people no different from us.
‘We not just a statistic’, is what we say to push back at narratives that depersonalise us. For the 446 respondents however, numbers is where they seek refuge. Asides the three aforementioned pseudonyms, the rest are described by their nominal, ordinal, interval or ratio scale. For example, Gay Man living in Nigeria aged 35-44; Bisexual Woman living outside Nigeria aged 25-34; or Queer Man living in Nigeria aged 25-34.
It is common to assign blame for homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia to others. So former President Goodluck Jonathan who signed the SSPA, the Buggery Act bequeathed to Nigeria by British Colonialism, and something else, called African culture, are often mentioned. Blaming somebody rather than nobody has its usefulness. Yet, it is often exculpatory, handy excuses for the rest of us who would rather see no evil, and do nothing.
Some will argue, quite rightly, that we are not all responsible for the lynching of gay men, or for the harassment they suffer. Granted that it is the case, this question still needs answering, what have you done to create a safe place for sexual minorities who constitute no harm anyone?
‘Not dancing to their music’ has some suggestions tucked in a section subtitled, What You can do to help?. For example, ‘‘Create safe spaces on or offline for LGBT people to connect, network, and feel stronger together. While also letting activists, charities, NGOs, journalists and health providers find each other to share good practice’’.
Simply put, we must ensure we stop playing the music of hate.