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25 Years of Democratic Rule: Are LGBTQI+ Persons Included in Nigeria’s Democracy?

As Nigeria celebrates the 25th anniversary of its return to democratic rule, it’s an opportune moment to reflect on the progress made, and the challenges that remain, particularly concerning LGBTQI+ rights. While democracy promises inclusivity and equal participation, LGBTQI+ Nigerians continue to face significant barriers in civic, political, and social spheres.

Despite the lush promise of democracy, LGBTQI+ Nigerians are often excluded from the very democratic processes that should protect and empower all citizens. The criminalization of LGBTQI+ activities, under laws such as the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act of 2014, not only perpetuates discrimination but also stifles political and civic engagement. This legal framework creates an environment of fear and repression, deterring LGBTQI+ individuals from participating openly in public life.

The barriers faced by LGBTQI+ Nigerians are manifold, ranging from discrimination and violence, both institutional and societal, creating formidable obstacles to their engagement in the political and civic process, an example being the recent nationwide #EndSARS protest, where many queer people were attacked and shut down for daring to join other citizens in protest against police brutality to which they bear the brunt of. Many queer individuals are wary of registering to vote, running for office or joining civic protests due to potential backlash, including harassment, ostracism, or even violence.

In collaboration with ReportOUT, CHEVS is soon to release a comprehensive research report on the involvement of queer Nigerians in democratic, civic  and political spaces. This report sheds light on the lived experiences of LGBTQI+ individuals and highlights the systemic barriers they face. It aims to provide a foundation for advocacy and policy recommendations to foster a more inclusive democracy. The exclusion of LGBTQI+ persons not only undermines their rights but also weakens the democratic fabric of the nation, as our voices and perspectives are essential for a truly inclusive society.

Speaking on this, our Policy and Advocacy Lead, Marline Oluchi, eloquently captures this sentiment: “The pervasive voter/civic apathy among queer Nigerians stems from a deep-seated fear of visibility and the potential repercussions. True democracy cannot thrive where a segment of the population is systematically silenced and marginalized.”

In this soon to be released report, some of the most outstanding barriers to queer people’s participation in political, civic and democratic processes are as follows; 

Legal Discrimination:

The Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act (SSMPA) of 2014 is one of the most significant legal obstacles. This law not only criminalizes same-sex relationships but also punishes any form of advocacy or support for LGBTQI rights. This has had a chilling effect on the community’s ability to organize, advocate, and participate openly in the democratic process.

Legal Gender Recognition for Trans and Intersex persons

Legal gender recognition is pivotal for the participation of trans and intersex individuals in democratic, civic, and political spheres in Nigeria. Without legal acknowledgment of their gender identity, trans and intersex people face numerous obstacles that significantly hinder their engagement. This often translates to difficulties in obtaining identification documents like; voters card, party ID, especially one  that accurately reflects their gender, which are essential for voting, running for office, and participating in other civic activities. As a result, many trans and intersex individuals are effectively disenfranchised.

Political Exclusion


LGBTQI individuals are largely excluded from political processes. There are no openly LGBTQI politicians, and those who might be sympathetic to LGBTQI rights often remain silent due to fear of backlash. This lack of representation means that the concerns and rights of LGBTQI Nigerians are not adequately addressed in policy-making.

Democracy and Criminalization:

The juxtaposition of democracy and the criminalization of LGBTQI activities presents a paradox. On one hand, democracy is supposed to empower all citizens; on the other, laws like the SSMPA actively disenfranchise a segment of the population.

This contradiction raises fundamental questions about the nature of Nigeria’s democracy. Can a society truly be democratic if it excludes and criminalizes certain identities? How can the principles of freedom and equality be upheld in a context where LGBTQI individuals are denied basic human rights?

Moving Foward; A Call for Inclusivity

For Nigeria to fully realize the promise of democracy, it must address these discrepancies. This involves:

  • Legal Reforms: Repealing the SSMPA and other discriminatory laws is essential. Legal recognition and protection of LGBTQI rights would be a significant step towards ensuring equal participation.
  • Public Awareness and Education: Changing societal attitudes through education and awareness campaigns can reduce stigma and promote acceptance of LGBTQI individuals.
  • Inclusive Political Processes: Encouraging the participation of LGBTQI individuals in political and civic life, and ensuring their voices are heard in policy-making, is crucial.

Conclusion

As Nigeria marks 25 years of democratic governance, it is a time for both celebration and reflection. The journey towards true democracy is ongoing, and for it to be meaningful, it must be inclusive of all Nigerians. Recognizing and addressing the barriers faced by LGBTQI individuals is not just a matter of justice but a necessary step in the evolution of Nigeria’s democracy. 

The road ahead requires courage, commitment, and a collective effort to ensure that every Nigerian, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can participate fully and equally in the democratic process. Only then can Nigeria truly embody the democratic ideals it strives to uphold.

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