April 3, 2015 at 4:08 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Anti-gay Nigerian president loses re-election bid

Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria, gay news, Washington Blade

Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari (Photo by Chatham House; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A former military dictator this week defeated anti-gay Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in the country’s presidential election.

The Associated Press reported Nigerian election officials said former Gen. Muhammadu Buhari defeated Jonathan in the March 28 poll by a margin of more than 2.5 million votes.

Jonathan — who signed a draconian bill into law last year that, among other things, bans membership in an LGBT advocacy group and punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison — highlighted the anti-gay statute while on the campaign trail.

Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress, supports the law.

The former dictator who has pledged to support democracy in Africa’s most populous country did not speak about the issue during the campaign. A Jonathan spokesperson less than a month before the election claimed Buhari had promised four unnamed Western countries that he would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the country if Nigerians were to elect him as their next president.

Media reports indicate Femi Fani-Kayode told reporters that Buhari “had talks with the representatives of at least four Western countries” while he was in the U.K.

“The leaders of those countries made an offer to General Muhammadu Buhari and we are reliably informed that he has put the offer under consideration,” said Fani-Kayode, according to the Premium Times, an online newspaper in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. “The proposition and offer was that if he was prepared to support legislation in Nigeria to allow same-sex marriage and if he was prepared to repeal the anti-gay laws in Nigeria they will, in return, endorse, support and fund him, initially covertly and eventually publicly, at the right time.”

Buhari enters office with ‘blank sheet’

Rev. Rowland Jide Macaulay, founder of the House of Rainbow Fellowship, a London-based organization that works with Nigerian LGBT and human rights groups, is among the advocates with whom the Washington Blade spoke this week who said they are cautiously optimistic about Buhari’s presidency.

“The sentiment of many gays and lesbians in Nigeria is to flee to safer grounds,” Macaulay told the Blade on Friday in an email. “The situation for LGBT people in Nigeria will not change rapidly, but with a promise of change by the president-elect, I am optimistic that the conversation for gay right may begin sooner.”

Davis Mac-Iyalla, a gay Nigerian who sought asylum in the U.K. in 2008, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I am not very sure that Buhari will pursue discrimination of the Jonathan anti-gay law,” he told the Blade earlier this week. “But I am optimistic that his government will not make Nigeria unsafe for LGBT people.”

Bisi Alimi, who in 2004 became the first openly gay man to appear on Nigerian television, received asylum in the U.K. in 2008.

The prominent advocate told the Blade on Wednesday during a Skype interview from his London home that he feels Buhari “has a blank sheet when it comes to” the country’s draconian anti-gay law.

Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands of people in the northeastern part of the country since launching a violent insurgency in 2009.

Members of the Islamic extremist group last April kidnapped 276 girls from a boarding school in Chibok in Borno State. Fears of Boko Haram disrupting the election factored into the Nigerian government’s decision to postpone it from Feb. 14 to March 28.

Alimi noted to the Blade that Jonathan continued to highlight his decision to sign the draconian anti-gay law in spite of the growing domestic and international outrage over the kidnappings that sparked the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign. The LGBT rights activist further stressed security, employment and other issues were among the top concerns of Nigerian voters going into the presidential election.

“The law was not even in the top five (issues,)” said Alimi. “That says a lot about how much of a misplacement of priorities was when it was signed.”

Mac-Iyalla made a similar point.

“This election has demonstrated what Nigerians truly want; which is good governance, education, equality and human rights,” he told the Blade.

President Obama on Wednesday spoke with Buhari and Jonathan, but a readout of the telephone calls the White House released indicates the men did not discuss Nigeria’s LGBT rights record.

The U.S. Embassy in Abuja has yet to respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

“We continue to promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people in cooperation with Nigerian civil society groups,” a State Department official told the Blade in January in response to the reported arrest of a dozen “suspected homosexuals” during a same-sex wedding outside the northern Nigerian city of Kano.

Homosexuality remains punishable by death in areas of the country that are under Shari’a law.

LGBT rights advocates last August criticized Obama for inviting Jonathan to the White House during a summit that drew dozens of African heads of state to D.C.

Washington Blade, State Department, African Leaders Summit

Advocates last August criticized the Obama administration for inviting outgoing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to the White House. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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