On the 21st of March, the hashtag #RepealSSMPA began to trend on Nigerian Twitter. Started by Nigerian YouTuber Victor Emmanuel, #RepealSSMPA calls for the abolishment of laws criminalizing queer people living in Nigeria.
The SSMPA which stands for Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act is a bill that was passed in January 2014 by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. This law which criminalizes queer people under the Criminal Code and Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act violates human rights with a prison term of up to 14 years. As a conservative country with religion at the forefront, 92% of Nigerians were in support of the legislation in 2013, before it was passed.
A 2019 survey carried out by The Initiative of Equal Rights (TIERS), shows that 60% of Nigerians will not accept a queer family member, and 75% of Nigerians support the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.
According to research, violence against queer people rose by 214% since the SSMPA was passed; that is between 2014-2019. Few weeks after the former president passed the SSMPA, gay men in Bauchi, a Northern state, were hunted down by the Hisbah (Islamic Police) and were taken to the Sharia court, and 50 people were arrested for planning a gay wedding. These and many more arrests have occurred since 2014-2020.
Other than the arrests, there have been cases where queer people got blackmailed and sometimes humiliating videos of them made it to the media. The incessant attack on queer Nigerians has been going on for a long time without anything happening. Queer Nigerians have been killed, harmed, and abducted by the police.
In Nigeria today, queer Nigerians are not allowed to gather around and have a semblance of community even for a minute. In school, young queer Nigerians are punished and face expulsion if a word on their sexuality gets out. There is an issue of human rights abuse even by the police on queer Nigerians, and a majority of Nigerians do not hesitate to be violent towards queer people because they believe they are backed by the SSMPA.
Even with Victor at the National Assembly, protesting, he faced a backlash from people who were throwing slurs queerphobic slurs at him and vowing that Nigeria is never going to accept queer people.
“I lost my job, my family, and was under attack for days.” a friend of mine, Emmanuel, said, narrating how he lost everything after being outed by two popular Nigerian blogs. “I had to go offline and stay somewhere safe because I couldn’t handle it. I feared for my life”
This is why Victor, in solidarity with queer Nigerians is sending out a message to the government: “Repeal the SSMPA.”
We hope that it starts a conversation, and the conversation doesn’t end anytime soon.