When Sex Threatened the State: Illicit sexuality, nationalism, and politics in colonial Nigeria, 1900–1958 by Saheed Aderinto (review)
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When Sex Threatened the State: Illicit sexuality, nationalism, and politics in colonial Nigeria, 1900–1958
By Saheed Aderinto. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2015.

In his 241-page book, Saheed Aderinto looks at the historical significance of illicit sexuality and the structures put in place by the British colonial administration in Lagos, Nigeria to control the obnoxious practice. This book is an important contribution to Sexuality Studies and the colonial history of Nigeria. This work, the first full book dedicated to researching sexuality in colonial Nigeria, is centred on sex, sexuality, sexual politics, class conflicts, urbanisation, and gender. When Sex Threatened the State analyses Nigerian responses to British sexuality laws and the contradictory ways in which the British and African reformers advocated for the regulation and/or prohibition of prostitution. Aderinto builds on earlier works of scholars like Luise White's The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in colonial Nairobi, George Mosse's pioneering study on Nationalism and Sexuality: Middle-class morality and sexual norms in modern Europe and Phillipa Levine's Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing venereal disease in the British Empire. The book is divided into seven chapters and an epilogue.

In the introduction, the author incisively engages with the issues of prostitution and corruption. The introduction examines sexual politics, the criminal justice system as it affects prostitution, and girl trafficking. Aderinto carefully details the historical evolution of Lagos—the environment under which prostitution flourished. The author asserts that corruption was devised by officers of the Nigeria Police force, officers of the Colony Welfare Office (CWO) and sex workers as an escape route from the severity of criminal justice system, thus affirming the notion that corruption is a postcolonial problem is ahistorical "given the spate of corruption during the 1940s." (3).

In the second chapter, he "unveils" the gendered narrative of prostitution that elicited concerns from the colonial government and the nationalists. Aderinto provides compelling arguments that established the link between prostitution and juvenile delinquency, exemplified by the boma and jaguda boys, as a "mutually constitutive and symbiotic" relation (69). The author emphasizes the relevance of newspaper articles as a veritable source for the writing of colonial history while citing the story of the Lagos prostitute Segilola: Eleyinju ege, whose story was published as a novel and serialised in Akede Eko (Lagos Herald) in 1930 and which provided the author with a vivid image of the social life in colonial Lagos (53). This novel has recently been edited, translated and introduced by Karin Barber.1 Most important in this chapter is his emphasis on "adult prostitution" as distinct from "child prostitution" (72). It is interesting to note that the colonial experiences in Lagos are replicated elsewhere on the continent. Whilst Aderinto documents the incidence of child prostitution in colonial Lagos (120–21), Luise White also highlights the prevalence of juvenile prostitution in colonial Nairobi.2

The third chapter of the book illustrates the "moral degeneration" of society as "criminally minded adults" introduced underage girls to prostitution. This development drove new interventionist initiatives from the colonial state, with the establishment of the Colonial Welfare Office (CWO) (74) and child prostitution laws. However, the claim by the author that "the age of consent in Nigeria was thirteen, meaning that an individual legally ceased to be a child at this age" (75) needs further clarification because there is no reference to any document to corroborate this assertion. The questions this raises are: Given the fact that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society, is this age of consent applicable to all ethnic groups? In what areas of life is this age of consent employed? Also, is this age of consent gendered?

Chapter Four deals with the concomitant of "illicit sexuality": the "sexual scourge," that is, venereal diseases, and how they permeated society and the measures proffered to stem the tide of the menace. This issue was salient in the age (before the late 1940s) when the army, a strong colonial institution, discouraged marriage and expected soldiers not to have strong family ties or responsibilities that could militate against their productivity and mobility (98). The prohibition of prostitution became the primary official measure for the reduction...


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