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.

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT - With Peter Tatchell

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.

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