The reign of Nigeria's antigay president, Goodluck Jonathan, and his People's Democratic Party has come to its end. But whether that means any change for LGBT oppression is yet to be seen.
Challenger Muhammadu Buhari, a former general who once took the reigns of power in Nigeria and ruled with brutal severity, has beaten the incumbent in an historic election by about 2 million votes, reports CNN. Analysts say the change may mark the beginning of a genuinely democratic, two-party system.
Just as Egypt is often described as a bellwether nation for gauging societal changes among Arab nations, Nigeria, Africa's largest country in terms of population, is seen as the best forecaster of African trends more broadly on the continent.
Nigeria has long been a hostile place for LGBTs under President Jonathan. Just last year, Jonathan signed into law a measure that provides up to 14 years in prison for people who enter into a same-sex marriage. The relatively new law also criminalizes other declarations of gay relationships, advocacy for LGBT rights, and gatherings in LGBT clubs.
When confronted about the harsh antigay law by noted Nigerian expatriate, Michael Ighodaro, at a Chamber of Commerce dinner held in Washington during last year's U.S.-Africa Summit, President Jonathan was at best cool to LGBT human rights in his response: “The situation of homosexuals in Nigeria is delicate, but during this week the topic has come up a lot, and it is something we will continue to look into, especially the attacks. If you think the law is unconstitutional, you have the right to go to court and fight [to strike] it down,” Jonathan told BuzzFeed's Lester Feder.
Ighodaro was appointed to a fellowship at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in New York after he fled Nigeria because he was beaten in what he said was a homophobic attack. Such attacks became commonplace under Jonathan's rule.
A year ago this month in northern Nigeria, four men were publicly whipped and forced to admit to having had gay sex. Additionally, there have been many arrests of Nigerians under the antigay law passed in January, 2014, while several homes were raided by police using the antigay law as a means of "cleansing" neighborhoods of gay influences.
Meanwhile, there have been mixed messages in the Nigerian media regarding Buhari and his All Progressives Party regarding intentions toward LGBT Nigerians. Abuja-based newspaper The Premium Times reported in a March 11 article that Jonathan's campaign had claimed that "four western countries extracted a commitment from Mr. Buhari" to bring same-sex marriage to Nigeria, repealing a 2014 law that outlaws same-sex marriage. As 76 Crimes reported the next day, Buhari's campaign said it wouldn't dignify the accusation.
Sharia Law might play a larger role in Nigerian life if, as reported in a January 23 article in The New York Times, the All Progressives Party delivers on a promise it made in a newspaper ad. Such a development would not bode well for gender and sexual minorities.
Nigeria's population is approximately equal in Christians and Muslims, who dominate in the south and north, respectively. Muhammadu Buhari's running mate, Prof. Yemi Osibajo, is Christian, hailing from the south. Buhari, who is Muslim, is from the north.
However, it's unlikely that ISIS-like interpretations or enforcement of Sharia (Islamic Law) will come to Nigeria, given that the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram and its murderous pillaging of the country, has terrorized Nigerians for years, leaving a bad taste for extremism in the mouths of Nigerians.