An advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer persons in Nigeria, Victor Emmanuel, has ended his hunger strike aimed at driving home his message.
The hunger strike lasted two days.
Emmanuel is at the forefront of a campaign to repeal the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act (SSMPA).
In a video shared on his Twitter handle on Saturday, he had said he would be at the National Assembly in his one-man protest on an empty stomach till his request is granted.
Emmanuel told Sahara Reporters on Monday that he had come out with the #RepealSSMPA campaign due to the state-supported homophobia and consequent violence on queer people in the country.
He condemned the law which prescribed 14 years imprisonment for LGBTQ people while the same jail term is what some rapists are sentenced to, for hurting someone.
“What informed this protest is: first, the arrest of about 70 men at a birthday party in Anambra state,” Emmanuel said.
“This is well reported. Indiscriminate arrests like this have been happening and it’s a great injustice. When these arrests take place, charges are not given; rather, the police extort and blackmail these victims.
“Also, I felt that the law had done enough damage. Socio-economically, LGBTQ+ people are affected. We can’t get jobs, especially those of us that it is visible we’re queer (masculine-presenting women and feminine-presenting men) and in cases where we do get employment, we could lose it if our sexual orientation is made public.
“There have been reports in the media where LGBTQ+ people have been expelled from school too. Families kick out their kids because they don’t understand queerness, and they won’t because the law forbids any form of education on the topic. I saw all these happening around me and I thought it was time that law was repealed.”
Emmanuel said his protest so far has earned him some mainstream and social media attention.
He said many Nigerians who didn’t know about the act before now understand its composition.
He said: “They thought it was just about getting married. But any human being with their humanity still intact will see that that law is wicked. LGBTQ+ persons can’t get access to health resources and materials because of that law. What I did, I believe opened the eyes of Nigerians and the international community to the barbaric nature of that law.”
According to him, some members of the LGBTQ+ community suggested he goes through legislative means rather than subject himself to hunger strike, sacrificing himself to a government that hardly listens.
Speaking on his experience identifying as gay in Nigeria, Emmanuel said he came out openly to his family in 2020 and had to leave due to this.
He said his father, had, however, kept mute about this.
He added: “We’ve spoken once this year and it didn’t come up so I don’t know what he thinks but I’m living my life regardless.”
He said it has been hard for him as a gay man living in Nigeria, especially as a student. Emmanuel said he has been harassed several times on the streets and some homophobic people had promised to kill his dog.
He continued: “I’m still in school. I’ve been harassed several times on the streets. I’m a very expressive person with my fashion. Sometimes I wear gender-nonconforming clothes (not cross-dressing), sometimes I wear light makeup, sometimes I fix my nails. These make people call me names and even though I don’t care, it’s still insulting to me as a human being.
“Recently, I heard from someone that some boys in my area are planning to kill my little dog. I don’t talk to anybody, never look for trouble. So yeah, I face homophobia too. Also, in school, I’ve lost friends and have been removed from some groups that were sort of important in my study. But it is what it is.”
When asked if he thinks the pro-LGBTQ+ policies the United States President, Joe Biden is introducing, will prevail on the Nigerian government, Emmanuel said though international support is good, the Nigerian government needs to realise that people of the LGBTQ+ community are citizens whose rights should be protected.
He added: “America can have their policies, but if they pressure the Nigerian government too much, then it begins to look like they’re trying to force LGBTQ+ on Nigerians, meanwhile we’ve always existed here. Most Nigerians think it’s foreign but what is foreign is homophobia, because it was when the white man brought us a religion that we began to hate some certain things, including queerness.”
Emmanuel also stated that considering that previous governments did not recognise the rights of LGBTQ+ persons in Nigeria, there was no hope that the Muhammadu Buhari-led government would change the narrative.
He added: “I keep getting this question and even some people suggested I wait till this administration leaves office. I tell them that what assurance do we have that the next government won’t be the same or worse? My point is, I will not wait till a ‘favourable’ administration before I ask for my right! We voted this government in and they have to listen to the demands of the people that voted them in.”
On January 7, 2014, former President Jonathan Goodluck assented to the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, 2013 (SSMPA).
The law criminalises consensual same-sex sexual activity and stipulates a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment for offenders.
The act also noted that only marriages contracted between a man and a woman is recognised as valid in Nigeria.