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When Sex Threatened the State

When Sex Threatened the State: Illicit Sexuality, Nationalism, and Politics in Colonial Nigeria, 1900-1958

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    When Sex Threatened the State
    Book Description:

    Breaking new ground in the understanding of sexuality's complex relationship to colonialism, When Sex Threatened the State illuminates the attempts at regulating prostitution in colonial Nigeria. As Saheed Aderinto shows, British colonizers saw prostitution as an African form of sexual primitivity and a problem to be solved as part of imperialism's "civilizing mission". He details the Nigerian response to imported sexuality laws and the contradictory ways both African and British reformers advocated for prohibition or regulation of prostitution. Tracing the tensions within diverse groups of colonizers and the colonized, he reveals how wrangling over prostitution camouflaged the negotiating of separate issues that threatened the social, political, and sexual ideologies of Africans and Europeans alike. The first book-length project on sexuality in early twentieth century Nigeria, When Sex Threatened the State combines the study of a colonial demimonde with an urban history of Lagos and a look at government policy to reappraise the history of Nigerian public life.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09684-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Introduction: Sex and Sexuality in African Colonial Encounter
    (pp. 1-23)

    On February 17, 1947, Justice Adetokunbo Ademola of Lagos Santa Anna magistrate court sentenced a female welfare officer, Ayodele Potts-Johnson, to six months in prison (without the option of a fine) for demanding and receiving bribes of £5. 30s. and 25s. 2d. from two prostitutes, Elizabeth Agadagwu and Alice George, respectively, in order not to repatriate them from their brothels located on Idoluwo Street, Lagos.¹ This judgment was witnessed by a “good number of privileged persons,” most of whom were coworkers and relatives of Potts-Johnson, whose look “betrayed the severity of the ordeal through which she [had] been passing” in...

  8. CHAPTER 1 “This Is a City of Bubbles”: Lagos and the Phenomenon of Colonial Urbanism
    (pp. 24-48)

    The title of this chapter is a phrase from Cyprian Ekwensi’sPeople of the City(1954), which was “acclaimed as the first major novel in English by a West African to be widely read throughout the English-speaking world.”¹ Aside from being of immense importance in the development of contemporary African writing,People of the Cityin so many ways affirmed the significant position that Lagos occupied in the 1950s—a bridge between the demise of colonialism and the birth of an independent Nigerian state. What made Lagos a city of bubbles, as Ekwensi rightly emphasizes, was not only the multiple road lanes, electricity,...

  9. CHAPTER 2 “The Vulgar and Obscene Language”: Prostitution, Criminality, and Immorality
    (pp. 49-72)

    The above epigraph summarily captures dominant ideas about one of the major dangers of prostitution: crime. The world over, during the twentieth century, the quest to police prostitution was traditionally informed by its perceived role in promoting public disorder—hence the interrelatedness of sex work and criminality transcended place, ethnicity, race, and power relations.¹ What seems different in the case of Lagos and some colonial sites is that sexual and moral degeneration were normally coded in the rhetoric of the negative impact of colonialism or the failure of imperialism to achieve its widely professed civilizing mission. Unlike most colonial societies...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Childhood Innocence, Adult Criminality: Child Prostitution and Moral Anxiety
    (pp. 73-92)

    The early 1940s remains a significant era in the history of childhood in Nigeria for two main reasons. First, the decade ushered in the establishment of the Colony Welfare Office (CWO)—the first government-sponsored institution for addressing child and juvenile delinquency—and the appointment of Donald Faulkner as its head. Second and more important, the colonial state through Faulkner and his assistant, Alison Izzett, became intimately involved in policing girlhood sexuality as a component of its larger project of modernization. Although Lagosians’ moral indignation from the 1920s criticized the colonialists for falling behind in their paternalistic responsibility toward children of...

  11. CHAPTER 4 The Sexual Scourge of Imperial Order: Race, the Medicalization of Sex, and Colonial Security
    (pp. 93-112)

    The preceding statement is excerpted from correspondence generated by the senior sanitary officer (SSO), a military doctor, about the challenges of controlling venereal disease among the African rank-and-file of the Nigerian colonial army known as the West African Frontier Force (WAFF), later the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF). The well-entrenched idea among British civil and military authorities in Nigeria was that VD was inherently and distinctively an “African-soldier problem.” This notion contradicted established knowledge about soldiery and sexual conduct. Indeed, military prostitution and VD were major noncombatant threats to military institutions the world over during the nineteenth and twentieth...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Sexualized Laws, Criminalized Bodies: Anti-prostitution Law and the Making of a New Socio-Sexual Order
    (pp. 113-134)

    The three preceding chapters have engaged the colonialists’ and Lagosians’ concerns over the medico-moral and security implications of prostitution in relation to the wider issues of colonial progress, modernity, respectability, and civilization. Beginning in 1941, after decades of tolerating prostitution, the colonialists began to take a prohibitory stance toward casual sex work.¹ The fact that prostitution was taken seriously during World War II when budgetary constraints inhibited the colonial administration’s ability to fulfill its budgetary commitment firmly established the cardinal position that casual sex work occupied in the history of the sustenance of imperial rule. In fact, the British were...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Men, Masculinities, and the Politics of Sexual Control
    (pp. 135-155)

    One would expect opposition to anti-prostitution legislation to come from men and women who derived their means of economic survival and social relevance from the business of sexual pleasure. Surprisingly, moralists who initially pressured the government to legislate against sex work would become the most vocal antagonists of anti-prostitution laws. Though directed mainly at the “enemies” of sexual morality (i.e., prostitutes, African male customers, andbomaboys), anti-prostitution legislation had unanticipated impacts on the general public, creating new notions of respectability and honor. Indeed, the laws tended to reconfigure social relations, public conduct, practices of socialization, and people’s everyday interactions...

  14. CHAPTER 7 Lagos Elite Women and the Struggle for Legitimacy
    (pp. 156-169)

    Men in Nigeria (both the colonized and the colonizers) did not monopolize the tenor of sexual politics. Indeed, Lagos elite women, dating back to the early 1920s, were the first to insert illicit sexuality into their long list of projects aimed at improving women’s sociopolitical and economic visibility. Like the male nationalists, they expressed optimism that the 1940s prohibitionist regime would help curb the menace of prostitution, especially the trafficking of girls. For instance, when the Unlicensed Guide (Prohibition) Ordinance (UGPO) was passed in 1941, Charlotte Obasa sent a congratulatory message to the chief secretary to the government for honoring...

  15. Epilogue: Prostitution and Trafficking in the Age of HIV/AIDS
    (pp. 170-182)

    In 2003 the Nigerian National Assembly, the country’s chief lawmaking body, passed the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act (TPPLEAA), and established the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) to enforce it.¹ This law came exactly sixty years after the Children and Young Persons Ordinance (CYPO), the most comprehensive legislation for protecting and rehabilitating children and youth in colonial Nigeria, was enacted. The conditions that galvanized the passage of the TPPLEAA were akin to those underpinning the CYPO. The independent state, like its colonial precursor, believed that the criminal sexual exploitation of children...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 183-216)
    (pp. 217-236)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 237-242)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-244)