Inside Matthew Blaise’s Òbòdò Nigeria—The Global Social Justice Movement that Sprung Out of Lagos City. A Modaculture February 2023 cover story.
An Insider into the journey, career, family, love life, dreams, and goals of a popular queer Nigerian activist.Modaculture, February, 2023
It’s 2023 and queerness in Nigeria is still treated like a green Reebok left out to gather dust. The social and cultural attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria are still hostile, and discrimination and violence against queer people are still as common as a sneeze out in the cold.
According to Research Gate, violence against LGBTQ+ Nigerians has risen by 214% since the SSMPA. This is relevant because the protection of fundamental human rights in a society abets stability and peace, as well as fosters economic and social development. That said, it’s important to secure a future for queer and non-conforming people in Nigeria, and it is a pressing issue that requires a lot of attention.
Meet Matthew Blaise (they/them), a non-binary LGBTQ+ rights activist based in Lagos, Nigeria, who has been using their platform to advocate for queer rights in Nigeria, and plans to ‘queer everything up’ this 2023. Matthew is also the founder of Òbòdò Nigeria, a youth-led organisation that is focused on advancing LGBTQ+ rights and education in Nigeria.
Matthew’s activism didn’t start now, it can be traced back to when they were young and people would bully them because of their femininity; and as a fem person then, the only language they understood was defence; so they always had to defend themselves in different situations by just finding innovative ways of protecting themselves and shielding the voices and arms of bullies from reaching them.
“So I guess from that age I had learned the act of self-defence and also speaking up for myself. And over time, I got to realise that the issue is bigger than I thought after understanding I was gay, and that gay people are also very much marginalised in this society.”Matthew Blaise, Modaculture, February 2023.
Queering 2023 — Their Journey As a Global Activist
Matthew’s journey as an activist peaked when they were on the streets with chutzpah screaming “queer lives matter” during the now-historical Nigerian #Endsars protest—a period when young Nigerians came out to protest for their lives against police brutality—and has been on the rise since then. They shared a video on Twitter that gained over 3 million views from both Nigerian and international audiences.
Modaculture: You blew up during the #Endsars movement of 2020, especially as one of the few people that championed #Queerlivesmatter out on the streets. Tell us about that.
The #Endsars for me was a very significant moment in my life because it presented a space for me to just voice it all out; years and years of this accumulated pain, anger, and frustration. It just presented me with the space to do it.Matthew Blaise, Modaculture, February 2023.
“And being a victim of police brutality and the then SARS violence was just really the T in all of this; because my own anger, my own frustration, and everything I had experienced inspired what I did during the #Endsars protest. And also the experiences of other people. So I’ve been in spaces where queer people talk about their own encounters with SARS, and after listening to some of these stories, you just don’t know what to do, you just start crying because of how very traumatic they are.
So yes, the #Endsars really was a space for me to just voice out, and I took the opportunity with support from my friends to voice the oppression the LGBTQ+ people face and somehow it went viral. And yeah, it sparked global and local conversations about LGBTQ+ rights and I love to see it. And it just opens space for much more thought and also creativity in approaches to the social justice movement and also queer rights in general.”
Queering 2023 — Their Career
Having to grow up gay in an illiberal and oppressive society like Nigeria, and knowing the kind of person they were—being someone who would like to speak out, and someone who has been marginalised for a very long time because of being fem—Matthew just knew they had to advocate for their rights, and on different levels. And in advocating for their rights, they would be advocating for the rights of other queer people just like them and also providing support and community to other queer people while they fight the good fight.
Modaculture: You had told me earlier that you are the founder of Òbòdò Nigeria, a youth-led organisation that is focused on advancing LGBTQ+ rights and education in Nigeria. Tell us about that, your plans for Òbòdò, and what the end goal is.
My plans with Òbòdò is really to focus on queer youths and explore our full potential, especially when it comes to art. So with Òbòdò, we want to create a system where queer artists can lead queer African conversations with their art and the various mediums of their various artistic practices. We also want to open this space to queer scholars from every part of the world who are interested in documenting and archiving queer history.Matthew Blaise, Modaculture, February 2023.