POLITICS Nigeria: New Low.
Ratcheting up the hate to make gay expression a crime with prison time, Nigeria’s new laws are so severe they put Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia to shame.
In a secret decision made without public announcement, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria signed into law one of the world’s most draconian anti-gay statutes. He did not want foreign aid donors and investors – or human rights organisations – to know that the long planned legal crackdown on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community had finally become law. Was this because he felt shame at giving his approval to such a harsh measure? Or because he feared international condemnation?
Whatever the motive for the hush-up, it didn’t hold. The world now knows, thanks to reports in the Nigerian and international media. Cynics suggest that Jonathan was driven by realpolitik. The President has an election in 2015 that he wants to win and, as several African leaders have discovered, scapegoating and demonising LGBTI people is an effective, popular tactic. It deflects attention from unresolved big issues (poverty, terrorism, corruption and ethnic tension) and wins the support of influential religious leaders and a large mass of illinformed or homophobic voters.
Prior to the President’s signature, the SameSex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill had previously been passed by both houses of the Nigerian parliament with huge majorities. Contrary to its title and the way it has been reported by some media, this legislation is about much more than banning same-sex marriages and civil unions. It also outlaws public same-sex affection and LGBTI organisations, events and equality advocacy. There was, in fact, no public demand in Nigeria for equal marriage. This part of the legislation was concocted without necessity, let alone morality.
The new legislation states, “Persons who enter into a same-sex marriage or civil union contract commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years in prison.” Bad though this is, much more worrying is the rest of Section Five, which states, “Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations or directly or indirectly makes public show of a same-sex amorous relationship shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison. Any person who administers, witnesses, abets or aids the solemnization of a same-sex marriage or supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organisations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.”
In others words, participation in, or support of, LGBTI counselling, entertainment, social or campaign groups and events is banned, with a 10 year jail term. Public representations of same-sex relationships in leaflets, books, plays or films carry the same penalty, as does witnessing or assisting a same-sex marriage or civil union. Kissing or holding hands in any public place, and even the mere fact of being openly gay, is now a serious crime for same-sex couples in Nigeria.
This is truly draconian legislation. Even severely repressive homophobic states like Iran and Saudi Arabia don’t have such punitive laws.
The new Nigerian statute deprives the LGBTI community in Nigeria of basic human rights. By so doing, it violates the equality and non-discrimination clause of the Nigerian constitution (Article 42), the Commonwealth Charter and Articles Two and Three of the African Charter On Human And People’s Rights, which Nigeria has signed and pledged to uphold.
Yemisi Ilesanmi, founder of the campaign group, Nigerian LGBTIs In The Diaspora Against Anti-Same-Sex Laws, said, “The criminalising of an oppressed minority because of their sexual orientation is indeed an outrage, a gross violation of human rights. Nigeria is sliding fast into a despotic state.” A despotic state indeed. The legislation is symptomatic of wider attacks on human rights and the rule of law in Nigeria. It symbolises the many abuses that prevail in Nigeria and which all Nigerians have a common interest in overturning.