A gay Nigerian activist who sought asylum in the United States confronted President Goodluck Jonathan over the country’s recently passed anti-LGBT law at a dinner in the president’s honor hosted by business groups in Washington on Wednesday.
Michael Ighodaro left Nigeria in 2012 after his ribs and hand were broken in an attack in the capital of Abuja and is now a fellow at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in New York. He approached Jonathan during a $200-per-plate dinner hosted by the Corporate Council on Africa and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, held on the sidelines of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit organized by the White House this week.
Ighodaro challenged the president about the Anti-Same-Sex Marriage Act, signed into law in January, which also criminalizes advocating LGBT rights and displays of affection between people of the same-sex. Since its passage, there have been several reports of mob attacks targeting people alleged to be homosexual.
Ighodaro told BuzzFeed that Jonathan replied, “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,” which Ighodaro interpreted as a reference to similar Ugandan legislation struck down by the country’s Constitutional Court on Friday.
Jonathan’s speech to the dinner was devoted almost entirely to economic issues, but he seemed to make a vague reference to the anti-LGBT law at the very end of his remarks, as well as to the issue that has dominated U.S. coverage of Nigeria in recent months — the abduction of more than 300 school girls by Islamist militants in the northeastern part of the country. Jonathan said:
‘I cannot end my remarks without making reference to two issues that my ambassador here is spending much of his time explaining to you…. about the issue of sexuality in the country. Let me reassure you that, well, of course we have challenges. The issue of terror [is] very, very negative for us, come to torment so many countries, and … we are receiving our fair share of terror in the local [group] called Boko Haram, that’s recently has been taking some school girls. But we are working very hard to bring it under control, and surely we’ll bring it under control.’
The president then closed his speech and was presented with a gift by leaders of the Corporate Council on Africa and the Chamber of Commerce before leaving the hall.