NGender 22nd January 2013

Emilomo Ogbe (Institute of Development Studies) ‘The Construction of The Nigerian Identity’: The Intersections of Enforced Heteronormativity and Colonialism

In the last two years, many West African countries have tightened their laws and passed homophobic bills to prosecute homosexual acts.  These laws are often passed under the guise of preserving ‘national identities’ and cultural customs, and preventing them from being influenced by ‘western ideas’ of sexuality. However, increasingly research has shown how these national identities have been discursively constructed and are often used to marginalise individuals or communities that do not fit within this hegemonic frame.

This paper attempts to explore the social construction of a heterosexual Nigerian identity and its intersections with colonialism. It explores the historical evolution of heterosexuality and discusses the influence of science, colonialism and religion in the creation of a heterosexual African Identity. It begins by discussing how our present understandings of sex, gender and heterosexual relations have evolved. It then explores how ‘hegemonic heterosexuality’ can serve as a means to exclude and marginalise individuals who do not fall within this matrix (Richardson 1996). In the second part, it looks at the effect colonialism has had on the construction of an acceptable ‘sexual identity’ in different ‘post colonies’. It then presents case studies of different subversive expressions of sexuality in Nigeria that do not fit within the heteronormative definitions of the Nigerian identity.

The findings from this paper draw attention to the fact that sexuality serves as a ‘dense transfer point for relations of power’;’ a symbolic interaction (that) has the power to redefine ethnically and sexually whole groups of people, often for social, economic, and political purposes’ (Foucault 1978; Rich 1980; Nagel 2003). In recognising this, we can begin to challenge ‘the monolithic naturalised’ institution of heteronormativity (Richardson 1996). We can also begin to deconstruct nationalist notions and identities of heterosexuality; and the part they play in institutionalising heteronormativity.


Dr. Emilomo Ogbe is a recent graduate from the Masters in Gender and Development at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex (2012). Her dissertation on Pelvic Inflammatory Disease explored the political and moral economy around the prioritisation and management of sexually transmitted diseases. Prior to pursuing a Master’s degree, she obtained a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery from the College of Medicine at the University of Lagos, and worked in clinical medicine. She also worked on gender analysis and mainstreaming of health policies and programmes with the Department of Gender, Women and Health at the World Health Organisation in Geneva and with the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights in Manila. Her research interests include exploring the influence of colonialism and biopolitics in constructing ‘hetronormative sexual identities’. As well as how these factors influence access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual minorities.


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