Sexualized nationalism : Lagos and the politics of illicit sexuality in colonial Nigeria, 1918-1958
Aderinto, Saheed Adeniyi
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In my dissertation, I argue that historians of Africa have overlooked the intersection between nationalism and sexuality, despite the fact that these two themes are related. In addition, instead of focusing on the now stale paradigm which emphasizes the importance of race and class in the discourse of sexuality, I offer a revisionist idea that stresses the importance of age. Hence, I contend that the contrast between underage and adult sexuality largely informed the pattern of reformist condemnation of casual sex work in colonial Lagos. A clash between tradition (crudely defined as African traditional customs, values and ethos) and modernity (the so-called ideals of “modernization” and “civilization” imported by the British colonialists) was inevitable as the reformists vied to establish favorable legislation and combated laws that threatened their belief system and practices. What is more, debates around prostitution went beyond casual sex work to involve more complex matters such as the protection of soldiers, marriage, and cultural nationalism; the place and role of women and children in African society; and African or colonialist conception of morality/immorality. Because of the complex nature of the politics of sex in colonial Nigeria, it was effectively impossible to reach common ground on dealing with the alleged medical and social nuisance caused by prostitutes. Indeed, while the ostensible subject of the popular debate was “prostitution,” the issues contested concurred with cultural nationalism and the protection of individual and group interests. Prostitution became a camouflage for negotiating issues that threatened the social, political, and sexual ideologies and orientation of a wide range of people—Africans and Europeans alike.