Chimamanda Adichie writes on recently established anti-gay law in Nigeria

chimamanda adichie

‘Why can’t he just be like everyone else?’  written by award winning writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I will call him Sochukwuma. A thin,  smiling boy who liked to play with us girls at the university primary  school in Nsukka. We were young. We knew he was different, we said,  ‘he’s not like the other boys.’ But his was a benign and unquestioned  difference; it was simply what it was. We did not have a name for him.  We did not know the word ‘gay.’ He was Sochukwuma and he was friendly  and he played oga so well that his side always won.
In secondary school, some boys in his  class tried to throw Sochukwuma off a second floor balcony. They were  strapping teenagers who had learned to notice, and fear, difference.  They had a name for him. Homo. They mocked him because his hips swayed  when he walked and his hands fluttered when he spoke. He brushed away  their taunts, silently, sometimes grinning an uncomfortable grin. He  must have wished that he could be what they wanted him to be. I imagine  now how helplessly lonely he must have felt. The boys often asked, “Why  can’t he just be like everyone else?”
Possible answers to that question  include ‘because he is abnormal,’ ‘because he is a sinner, ‘because he  chose the lifestyle.’ But the truest answer is ‘We don’t know.’ There is humility and humanity in accepting that there are things we simply  don’t know. At the age of 8, Sochukwuma was obviously different.  It was not about sex, because it could not possibly have been – his hormones  were of course not yet fully formed – but it was an awareness of  himself, and other children’s awareness of him, as different. He could  not have ‘chosen the lifestyle’ because he was too young to do so. And  why would he – or anybody – choose to be homosexual in a world that  makes life so difficult for homosexuals?
The new law that criminalizes  homosexuality is popular among Nigerians. But it shows a failure of our  democracy, because the mark of a true democracy is not in the rule of  its majority but in the protection of its minority – otherwise mob  justice would be considered democratic. The law is also  unconstitutional, ambiguous, and a strange priority in a country with so many real problems. Above all else, however, it is unjust. Even if this was not a country of abysmal electricity supply where university  graduates are barely literate and people die of easily-treatable causes  and Boko Haram commits casual mass murders, this law would still be  unjust.  We cannot be a just society unless we are able to accommodate  benign difference, accept benign difference, live and let live. We may  not understand homosexuality, we may find it personally abhorrent but  our response cannot be to criminalize it.
A crime is a crime for a reason. A crime has victims. A crime harms society. On what basis is homosexuality a  crime? Adults do no harm to society in how they love and whom they love. This is a law that will not prevent crime, but will, instead, lead to  crimes of violence: there are already, in different parts of Nigeria,  attacks on people ‘suspected’ of being gay. Ours is a society where men  are openly affectionate with one another. Men hold hands. Men hug each  other. Shall we now arrest friends who share a hotel room, or who walk  side by side? How do we determine the clunky expressions in the law –  ‘mutually beneficial,’ ‘directly or indirectly?’
Many Nigerians support the law because  they believe the Bible condemns homosexuality. The Bible can be a basis  for how we choose to live our personal lives, but it cannot be a basis  for the laws we pass, not only because the holy books of different  religions do not have equal significance for all Nigerians but also  because the holy books are read differently by different people. The  Bible, for example, also condemns fornication and adultery and divorce,  but they are not crimes.
For supporters of the law, there seems  to be something about homosexuality that sets it apart. A sense that it  is not ‘normal.’ If we are part of a majority group, we tend to think  others in minority groups are abnormal, not because they have done  anything wrong, but because we have defined normal to be what we are and since they are not like us, then they are abnormal. Supporters of the  law want a certain semblance of human homogeneity. But we cannot  legislate into existence a world that does not exist: the truth of our  human condition is that we are a diverse, multi-faceted species. The  measure of our humanity lies, in part, in how we think of those  different from us. We cannot – should not – have empathy only for people who are like us.
Some supporters of the law have asked –  what is next, a marriage between a man and a dog?’ Or ‘have you seen  animals being gay?’ (Actually, studies show that there is homosexual  behavior in many species of animals.) But, quite simply, people are not  dogs, and to accept the premise – that a homosexual is comparable to an  animal – is inhumane. We cannot reduce the humanity of our fellow men  and women because of how and who they love. Some animals eat their own  kind, others desert their young. Shall we follow those examples, too?
Other supporters suggest that gay men  sexually abuse little boys. But pedophilia and homosexuality are two  very different things. There are men who abuse little girls, and women  who abuse little boys, and we do not presume that they do it because  they are heterosexuals. Child molestation is an ugly crime that is  committed by both straight and gay adults (this is why it is a crime:  children, by virtue of being non-adults, require protection and are  unable to give sexual consent).
There has also been some nationalist  posturing among supporters of the law. Homosexuality is ‘unafrican,’  they say, and we will not become like the west. The west is not exactly a homosexual haven; acts of discrimination against homosexuals are not  uncommon in the US and Europe. But it is the idea of ‘unafricanness’  that is truly insidious. Sochukwuma was born of Igbo parents and had  Igbo grandparents and Igbo great-grandparents. He was born a person who  would romantically love other men. Many Nigerians know somebody like  him. The boy who behaved like a girl. The girl who behaved like a boy.  The effeminate man. The unusual woman. These were people we knew, people like us, born and raised on African soil. How then are they  ‘unafrican?’

If anything, it is the passage of the  law itself that is ‘unafrican.’ It goes against the values of tolerance  and ‘live and let live’ that are part of many African cultures. (In  1970s Igboland, Area Scatter was a popular musician, a man who dressed  like a woman, wore makeup, plaited his hair. We don’t know if he was gay  – I think he was – but if he performed today, he could conceivably be  sentenced to fourteen years in prison. For being who he is.) And it is  informed not by a home-grown debate but by a cynically borrowed one: we  turned on CNN and heard western countries debating ‘same sex marriage’  and we decided that we, too, would pass a law banning same sex marriage. Where, in Nigeria, whose constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, has any homosexual asked for same-sex marriage?
This is an unjust law. It should be  repealed. Throughout history, many inhumane laws have been passed, and  have subsequently been repealed. Barack Obama, for example, would not be here today had his parents obeyed American laws that criminalized  marriage between blacks and whites.
An acquaintance recently asked me, ‘if  you support gays, how would you have been born?’ Of course, there were  gay Nigerians when I was conceived. Gay people have existed as long as  humans have existed. They have always been a small percentage of the  human population. We don’t know why. What matters is this: Sochukwuma is a Nigerian and his existence is not a crime.


  1. No body made Sochukwuma existence a crime… I’m not against being born gay but that still doesn’t change the fact that there’s always been debates about homosexuality all over the world… In every debate every one has to choose a side… That ur side wins doesn’t make the other people wrong… The Americans have debated nd choose their side…Nigerians have debated and choose their side…
    My only problem with homosexuals is who they are attracted to!!! They are attracted to same sex not just homosexuals. I’d find it really weird if I live a society where a guy can walk up to me and start telling me BS( I’m male and my ass isn’t flat). A society where I’d have to be saying “I’m not gay”…It’s jst weird.. I knw homosexuals exist but I dunt think they should be acknowledge by d law based on their sexuality.

  2. I almost feel like there’s no point commenting here cause I often feel like Nigerians hav shown they lack the intellect to see things through an open mind and will often work on sentimental basis. I agree 100% with what she writes, I say most of this all the time. I don’t agree with legalization of same sex marriages but i don’t see why u should jail 2consenting adults who decide to be together and who are causing no harm to anyone else. It is a sin YES but don’t you think God should be the judge of that? Are we now passing judgement on earth? Meanwhile @omor up there anyone can approach anyone, who told you the girls u approach want u? But if you say no i’m not gay and move on what happens? If they pester it’s sexual harassment and that applies to straight and gay relationships. Making homosexuality a crime is a very archaic mentality and it shows the mental state of our lawmakers (no wonder we are where we are) and sadly we are leading by example and i see other African countries ff us. We should’ve banned same sex marriages as non-african not criminalize homosexuality.

  3. Thank you Ma for this awesome article… In a country and with a government of misplaced priorities, soon things will turn sour when mob action becomes a lifestyle.

  4. I wonder what people mean when they talk about being open minded. @Chino thinks the Americans are being open-minded by allowing same sex marriage! Same goes to the well-read Chimamanda (whom I’ve so much respect for).
    From @Omor’s comment Nigeria is also open -minded by kicking against same-sex marriage! So the Americans should leave us alone!
    If the Americans are cool with such lifestyle, as to making it legal; so also is Nigeria uncool with it, and as such made it illegal and criminal.
    And for those of “YOU” who feel you are well-read and are as open-minded as the Americans, will you smile and be happy and embrace it, when you find out that your daughter, son, brother, sister, etc is possessed by such spirit? There is a spirit that controls them, because that is obviously not God’s arrangement for humanity!! And please feel free to think I’m not open-minded!! But I know who I’m.

  5. Many of you guys against this law keeps on using the excuse of leaving judgment to God,what about the judgment of other crimes,should they also be left for God and then go back to the realm of survival of the fittest (before civilization)…weigh ur words before u make comments dat u can’t defend properly. We all know what is wrong and should not be allowed to exist,why then try to sugar coat it. Left for me sef 14 years is too small,some asian countries has death sentences for such evil… And for Chimamanda asking why haven’t adultery and fornication been made criminal despite the bible being against it? And I say this…the. Evil nature of this abnormality is so much that the bible mentioned it in not so many places for you not start developing funny ideas,but finally u people did. Dint tell me there shouldn’t be a law against it “if you are not for it then u are against it” no sitting on the wall,that’s for just humpty dumpty and Nigeria aint no humpty dumpty.

  6. I always knew there was a reason I loved Chimamanda so much. I mean, this is all my thoughts put together in a beautiful piece of writing.
    Who has asked for the legalising of same sex marriage in Nigeria? I mean, wouldn’t it be better to just turn a blind eye to it instead of making it a criminal offense? A crime? Really? Who has died because two homosexuals were making love? Don’t we have bigger problems to worry about? Don’t we have real criminals to throw in jail?
    We speak so boldly about how sinful an act it is, yet we forget that we are all still alive because God is overly kind to us. We sin every single day of our lives. Have we forgotten that fornication is a sin? Adultery? Who punishes those offenders? Who are we to determine that one sin is greater than the other?
    “The Bible can be a basis  for how we choose to live our personal lives, but it cannot be a basis  for the laws we pass”.
    We really need to educate ourselves instead of hiding behind ‘religion’ to justify our acts of wickedness and illiteracy.

  7. After this law was passed and I saw the reactions of many Nigerians, and their logic behind their reasons, I knew then, that we deserve the leadership we have. We are exactly where we are as a country not because of our bad leaders but because of ourselves.

    Very sad.

    Very well written by Chimamanda Adichie! Kudos!

  8. Yah is another moment wit u guys out there doing ur day Activities like I do ma at home right now Let me take u 2 another clip were guys ask of ma sound anytime I come around

  9. The height of intellectual and psychological illiteracy in Africa is alarming! Everyday a new set of illiterate literates are graduated with absolutely nothing in their minds.
    There are more important issues that Nigeria would rather face but no, she would rather pass senseless laws than sit down and figure out a way to move forward; create jobs for unemployed youths and fight the level of insecurity instead of sinking money into useless tourist spots that ONLY come alive once in a year and yield absolute peanuts to what is being spent on these spots.
    Gay rights….Gay laws….yada….yada…
    Whats wrong with being gay?
    Growing up, my parents and elder ones ALWAYS thought me to think from other peoples perspective and look at things from a different angle before talking or arguing.
    A 14 year sentence for being something you have no control over and when asked to defend yourselves, you rush to the Bible. When about to cheat on your spouses, fornicate, bribe officials, divert public funds into your private accounts, lie to the people in the name of manifestos to get votes into an office you will never use in the right way and rape or molest peoples children do you remember the Holy book?
    Stop acting like a bunch of hypocrites.
    We have other important issues to work on.
    Let the gays be.
    They are the least of our issues.
    They are already bothered by their difference to come out of their closet.
    Let them be.
    Let us focus on our way to becoming a better nation than stopping at every mob on every junction to include ourselves in things that don’t concern us at the moment.

  10. Am commenting again cos dis article is so anoying……..dont u all know gays n lesbians threaten most of de forced victims dat der will hurt dem if dey stop…..yes we hav other presing issues but dis solved is a great step forward ..

  11. @Binyelum and @Blackchild…we can’t turn a blind eye to something that’s right in front of us…It was high time we attended to the matter.
    @Aribaba My Oga!!! Na wah o…Even in America their homosexual law was not welcomed by all. Some people still kick against it.
    I know we have bad(Corrupt)leaders but Majority members of the Upper and lower house(Lawmakers) can’t be stupid. “No be by to dey Yankee na im person dey get sense o”.There is due process for a bill to become law. Our Lawmakers are not stupid. Nigerians are not stupid.

  12. This is to Chimamanda and everyone that has lost their values. if you can answer this question, ill keep quiet and accept homosexuality. If Gays are born this way, I think it’s only logical for anyone supporting homosexuality to also support Child Marriage and Pedophiles, After all its their sexual preference. What goes for the goose goes for the gander. Why should one be normal and others aren’t. After all we can’t choose who we love, Besides they are also born that way

    • Do I hav to explain/solve all these puzzles? Its making me feel like an oversabi sounding chap. But i’ll answer this one, a one year old doesn’t hav the sense to make decisions, they r under the protection of thiee parents till an age that society has adjudged they can decide for themselves, thus till dt age they must be protected, pedophilia and child marriage is to protect the children. For something to be a crime there must be a victim. The child is the victim, in homosexuality there is no victim, it is 2 consenting adults. I know u won’t change ur view but this is just for clarity

  13. Its amazes me each time I see grown up people who should be contributing positively to the society work hard to destroy the society they claim to be building. Must we be like America?
    If there was nothing really wrong with gay activities (like most of you claim in your comments) why do most gay people hide their sexuality? Why is a gay status considered a stigmer? Why don’t they come out open like normal people do about their sexual lives? Truth is, being gay is abnormal and shameful. I understand some of them may have been born gay but remaining gay is a choice, a very wrong choice at that! There are a lot of men who at some point in their lives developed some gayish tendencies, and today are living very normal lives. Whatever happened to those men can happen to anybody! What I expected to hear was how to help these men become normal and not encouraging them to remain abnormal.
    To you Chimamanda Adichie are you lesbian? Tell us so we can all know that you too deserve a right of self expression and that you deserve to be like every other person. What is the meaning of your article, did you really mean what you said or were you just trying to stir up public comments? I just read your personal profile online and I was shocked to see that you are married, not to a woman but a man, how come?
    How come you are on the right lane and yet encourage another man to stay on the wrong lane (that you would not choose for yourself), are you being fair to the people you claim to be ‘protecting’ by your article? I don’t think so.
    Finally to you and your supporters, Nigeria is a sovereign state and has the right to run its society the way she likes. Nigerians have made their choice, we have taken our stand against same sex marriage anybody or group of persons who don’t like that should deal with it!

  14. chimamanda I bet u av lost it. wen I was in sec sch, I was molested by a homosexual, I caught d guy many times inserting his stupid gay penis into other students anus while they slept.. I rily felt sori for d guy, buh dat doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong… yes, am a medical student and studies av shown dat being gay can be genetical, spiritual, or psychological buh on no grounds can it b justified…

  15. Passing the law has nt change any thing at all.sending gays to 14years in prison is lyk punishing an innocent person.let our so call president face d issues at hand nw nt wasting time wit 2 adults who va decieded 2 love who day want.if sending them to prison wil change them then dat is an other issue here bt it wil neva.@AMEH JOSHAU,if u found ur child been gay will you send him to jail for 14years?

  16. All that this gorgeous and astonishing lady, Miss Chimamanda Adichie, a lady who is a paragon of beauty with high intellectuals has posted is absolutely perfect & splendid… The Act of Same Sex Marriage in Nigeria,if you ask me should be legalised. These are my reasons:
    First, i strongly uphold her view about the failure of Democracy in Nigeria… Abraham Lincoln,the 16th president of the United States of America defined ‘Democracy’ as the government OF the people, FOR the people and BY the people… In other words,Democracy is a form of government whereby the people rule.That is to say,the government is submissive to the majority group although, protects the minority interest… If the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan should be honest to himself and to the country, he would understand that homosexuals mean no harm in how they love and whom they love.If the mass demands for it(freedom of homosexuals), Nigeria, being a democratic country, it should be granted unto them…
    Secondly, the mentality of Africans especially Nigeria, that claims to be the Giant of Africa retards rapidly.Its Hypocrites who claim Gayism a sin all in the name of the Bible at the book of Genesis… Sodom and Gomorrah was actually destroyed not because of the love between same sex, but because, the men i suppose that wanted to sleep with the strangers that Lot accomodated unknown to them that they were angels. That same Bible also says,’Brethren, greet yourselves with a holy kiss’ that is, i as a brethren could greet a fellow brethren with a kiss. So, me kissing a fellow brethren not only in the church but any where, is HOLY! Do not question me, Question the Bible!
    Finally, the last but not the least reason, i see homosexuality not to be a big deal. For instance, we can view the lifestyle of the current U.S President, Barack Obama, the Black man in the White House, legalised same sex marriage. With that, the idea of imprisonment is totally wiped off! If one could spend 14years of his life span in the prison just for expressing Agape-Love to the same sex in Nigeria, in the United States, one could make use of those years to invent technologies or perharps be an actor/actoress and push the country to greater heights. GOD BLESS AMERICA AND NO PLACE ELSE…
    I leave you with these questions;
    1)Why can’t Goodluck Jonathan sign it into law that any Boko Haram that fires a bomb to any part of Nigeria will be sentenced to 14years imprisonment!
    2)Why wasn’t Goodluck Jonathan praised for the removal of the fuel subsidy just as he was praised for refusing the idea of Same Sex Marriage?

  17. All praise to Adichie for logging her informed opinion in the public record. I just read that the law passed against homosexuality is more draconian than that implemented by Hitler in Nazi Germany. It is absolutely despicable and a shameful not only that it was passed but also that it is supported by the majority of our people. Here we sit scratching our heads over menaces like Boko Haram, and yet people are blind to the irrational fanaticism in their own heads. How can people say that homosexuality is ‘Western’ when at the time that Westerners came to our continent homosexuality was a gross crime in their own societies? At the beginning of the 20th century, less than 5% of the population of now-Nigeria was even Christian; in conversations about what is un-African, let us be honest. At the turn of the previous millennium, no one in now-Nigeria was a Muslim. Are the Quran and Bible so sacrosanct? Was it not people who wrote them? Did not God, did not Allah give each and every one of us a brain to analyze, critique and create our own opinions? Sometimes I throw my head back and scream, so disgusted am I with the nonsense that passes for religious zeal and public discourse in this country.

    And let us be frank. The very same sexual acts that men do with men, men do with women. What two individuals do in their bedroom is their business, not the business of the state and not the business of any body! And, homosexuality delineates an orientation. It does not necessary entail sex. What is the harm in a man loving another man, or a woman another woman? I have seen grown men essentially kiss their dogs. Is it that a crime? I cannot walk from my house to the local market without almost dislocating my knee, falling into a sewer or getting hit by okada – and yet people are up in arms over homosexuality? I barely have enough money to survive let alone invest in my future. And two men kissing is a crime? If I could but gain audience with those vultures in Abuja who passed and signed this bill, then they would know what crime is. People blame the West and, yet, in everything so many people would give their souls to emulate so many aspects of Western culture. So afraid are we of what other people might think, that we have lost our own sense of self in this country. A heavy cloud of fear, loss and frustration hangs over our heads. We breathe and we forget to cough.

    To all the movers and shakers in Lagos and Abuja; we are happy you are doing well. We are happy that you are middle class. We do not begrudge you your cars or your functioning airports or the small pockets of employment you have available. But the vast majority of us in this country, we suffer and we suffer greatly. It is the voices on the fringes of our society that will change it. We should not be criminalizing difference but attempting to understand and accept it. How can we advocate for fundamental changes in our society, political and otherwise, when we attempt to squash or demonize anything we don’t understand. Have some of you of the South stopped to consider how disparagingly you speak about your Muslim brethrens in the North? I’ve no more energy to say any more! Every day I see cesspool upon cesspool upon cesspool of intolerance and hate among some of what must be the most religious people in the world. What is that? If we suffer in this country, much more of it comes back to our blindness than we would comfortably admit. We are up in arms over Boko Haram kidnapping and bombing and yet we would whip or stone a man in the law court because he has kissed another man. Who then are we to preach to Boko Haram about human rights? In supporting a law that criminalized homosexuality, do you not realize that you tacitly support the beatings, lynching and killings of homosexuals, sexually active and not?

    Who knows the number of people like the boy Adichie speaks about are suffering, alone, abused or dead because of their God-given attributes? I witnessed from a distance 7 years ago a man attacked by a mob of young men, pushed into the bush on the side of the road, confined in a tower of old tires and then horrifically set alight all the while screaming with abandon. So charred were the remains that only bits of bone stuck out the blackened pile. I, a grown man, wept when I thought of the pain that young man must have experienced. They say being burned alive is the most painful way to die because every single nerve ending in the body is triggered. What kind of society is this? Come to later find out he was found having sex in the back of a car nearby. The other man escaped. The other paid with his life. Where is God or Allah in that? That event reminds me that we walk a fine a line between intolerance and inhumanity. I shiver when I hear people like Adichie speak publicly, so rare is it to hear lucidity and fair-mindedness expressed so openly. The reasonable people in this society need to speak up and stop hiding in the shadows.

    A poll stated that 98% of Nigerians did not support homosexuality. Surely more than 2% of our own citizens are homosexuals. So oppressed must they feel that surely some could not even be honest answering a poll? Everything we have from the clothes on our backs to the air we breathe come from God. Leave other people alone! And be thankful to God for every speck of pleasure or joy in your life, in the fact that you have a life at all. Do to others what you want done to you.