In 2004, Bisi Alimi did an extraordinary thing. He went on national television and told his fellow Nigerians that he was gay. Alimi lived in a country not only where open discussion of sex
and sexuality is considered déclassé, but where 98% of his fellow citizens now say they do not approve of homosexuality.
“There were so many things we don’t talk about,” Alimi told CNN’s Christiane
Amanpour on Thursday. “My career was on the line, I was going to be outed by the media.” It was better, he decided, to come out of the closet on his own terms.
“I have a responsibility to stand up for the community, to give a face to the community, to demystify the old arguments that there are no homosexuals in Nigeria,” he said. He became the first Nigerian to declare his homosexuality on television.
The world learned this week that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has signed a new law, the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. So strict
is the law that CNN’s Vladimir Duthiers, reporting from Lagos, told Amanpour that he could even face
imprisonment just for interviewing a gay activist.
“I could be thrown in jail for 10
years under this new law,” Duthiers said, as could someone caught distributing condoms for use by homosexuals – that in a country where
more than three million people are living with HIV, according to UNAIDS. The law “makes it illegal for anybody to associate, to aide, to abet, to comingle with anybody who is perceived to be
homosexual, to be part of a gay group, to be part of a gay society,” Duthiers said. A Nigerian man in Lagos told
Reuters he was “very glad” Jonathan signed the anti-gay bill. “It’s un-African,” he said. “We don’t want such a thing in our country.” After Alimi so publicly told Nigeria that he was gay,
he said, “the conversation got mainstreamed.” But not necessarily as he would have liked. The discussion “was more of victimization rather than having an intelligent, adult conversation around these issues,” he
said. “People were not ready to educate themselves. And this
created a lot of problems for the LGBT
community in Nigeria.” “I couldn’t get a job, I left university, nobody was going to employ me, my life was constantly In danger, I was always
beaten, arrested by the police, discharged.” He would eventually seek asylum in the UK, where he now lives. Parliament passed the bill last year,
so why did the president sign it now?
“He has been boxed to a corner,” Alimi said, who believes President Jonathan is increasingly politically
alienated. “I know, like so many other Nigerians know, that this is a distraction.” As for those fellow countrymen, Alimi believes that for
many, their intolerant views are bolstered by religion.
“How many Nigerians know…what this law means? Or how many Nigerians have an understanding outside of religion what exactly we talk about when we talk about sexuality?”
“Why then should religion be the basis of putting a law in place in a secular state?”