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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
June 8, 2007

Anti-gay campaign is a power grab, says Nigerian activist


Cleveland--An anti-gay campaign in Nigeria is part of the national church’s efforts to grab power and oil wealth in the west African nation, says a gay activist who is touring the U.S.

Davis Mac-Iyalla, the founder of Changing Attitude Nigeria, visited four Ohio cities in May with a plea for action from the LGBT community in America.

He says his refusal to deny his sexual orientation has put him at odds with this campaign.

Because he refuses to back down, he says the Nigerian church, led by Archbishop Peter Akinola, has threatened his life.

Akinola leads the effort in the world Anglican Communion to make the U.S. Episcopal Church back away from its pro-gay positions or be thrown out of the worldwide church.

Akinola fomented the worldwide controversy around the election of the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Robinson is openly gay and non-celibate.

“Once gays and lesbians get a voice,” said Mac-Iyalla, “it will be harder for the church to control the population [of Nigeria],” which he says is the real danger his public declarations pose.

It is that control, according to Mac-Iyalla, which allows the Nigerian Anglican Church, the government, and the oil companies doing business there to do “back door deals” from which they all benefit at the expense of the people.

The Nigerian church calls Mac-Iyalla a “fraudster” and in a December 28, 2005 release, says he is not a member of any parish and accuses him of theft. The release goes on to denounce homosexuality and says American and U.K. churches are misguided for accepting it.

Mac-Iyalla embarked on a 20-city, 52-stop tour of the United States which will culminate in his addressing the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church in Columbus this month. Both the Nigerian church and the Episcopal one are part of the Anglican Communion.

His stops include four Ohio cities, Athens, Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. The purpose of the trips is to bear witness to what the church is doing to gays and lesbians in Nigeria.

He spoke at Cleveland’s Trinity Cathedral on May 23, two days after an appearance at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Columbus.

Mac-Iyalla, 35, is traveling with former Columbus resident Josh Thomas, who published Gaybeat newspaper in Ohio during the 1980s and 1990s. The two met through a British website called Thinking Anglicans, where Mac-Iyalla has chronicled much of his struggle, including death threats from the church.

On January 5, Mac-Iyalla returned home to find a handwritten note attached to his doorpost.

It says: “Davis Mac-Iyalla, We told you we see you but you don’t see us. We greet you but you don’t know us. It has come as our notice that you don’t want [to] pay heed [to] our numerous warnings and threat and now we think it is about time [to] carry on with our action [to] redeem the image of Christian and moral values--because your existence impose great danger [to] our youths.

“Accuse who you want, or suspect who you like we don’t really care what you think or do. All we demand of you is total repentance and confession.

“You who come from a reputable and decent family background has now become a wanderer in the wilderness because of your stubbornness.

“We also know for a fact that your European friends are brainwashing and using you [to] achieve their mission in Nigeria and Africa.

“This letter serves as the final warning for you [to] repent and be free or continue and be bathed with acid.”

The letter is signed, “Save Africa Against Same-Sex Relationship.”

Thomas said, “After that, it was time to get him out of Nigeria.”

Thomas and users of his Episcopal website got Mac-Iyalla the necessary papers to move to another west African location. The group Changing Attitudes England, a group working for LGBT equality and affirmation throughout the Anglican Communion, is also supporting Mac-Iyalla.

Mac-Iyalla heads Changing Attitudes Nigeria, which he says has 2005 members throughout the nine dioceses of Nigeria.

At the program at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, Mac-Iyalla told his audience of about 60, “I offend the bishop.”

He talked about being arrested and beaten, and detained for three days without food or water in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.

“Akinola has declared that we don’t exist,” said Mac-Iyalla. “When we stand up, we prove him a liar.”

“What Akinola is doing has nothing to do with faith,” said Mac-Iyalla. “It is about power, money, and control.”

Mac-Iyalla explained that while there are other churches operating in Nigeria, the Anglican church collaborates with the government. As the leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the bishop is influential in governmental affairs, and in return, the church gets money from the government, which gets it from companies operating in the oil-rich Niger River delta.

Mac-Iyalla further explained that unlike in the United States where the bishops are elected, Nigerian bishops are chosen by top church leaders--many of whom are also government officials--who select them for their willingness to be part of the power structure of the country.

Nigeria was once a British colony, and is the most populous nation in Africa. It is known for its political corruption. AIDS is also rampant there.

Mac-Iyalla said the morals issues allow the population to be kept down and fearful, so they can’t pay attention to things like stolen elections.

“The Anglican church played a part in fixing the April 21 election,” said Mac-Iyalla, “which is why you haven’t heard the bishop say a word of condemnation about it.”

Akinola pushed legislation called the Same Sex Marriage Act for passage before the election. It did not pass, but could come up again.

The measure would outlaw same-sex relationships and weddings and punishes those who witness, aid or abet same-sex unions, including members of the clergy and family members.

It would also criminalize any support of gay and lesbian people. The penalty is five years in prison.

Mac-Iyalla said the real purpose of that law is to punish anyone who criticizes the bishop, under the pretext of “supporting homosexuality.”

“Everybody knows gay people in Nigeria,” said Mac-Iyalla, though the society now practices “don’t ask don’t tell.”

Mac-Iyalla says he wants the American LGBT community to know that they can do things to help people in Nigeria.

“First, know that oil money is behind it,” said Mac-Iyalla. Oil companies operating in Nigeria include Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, and Texaco Chevron.

“Contact them,” said Mac-Iyalla, “and contact American officials, and get informed.”



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