Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has often spoke out against gays and lesbians.
Members of the Nigerian LGBT community spoke out against a proposed law in a new report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). The report, “Voices from Nigeria,” provides personal accounts of homophobic attacks, arbitrary arrests and detentions and increased levels of homophobia that have already begun as a result of the introduction of the legislation, referred to as the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.
Introduced to the Nigerian National Assembly in January 2006, the act launches a vigorous attack on freedom of expression, assembly and association in Africa’s most populous nation. If passed, the law would create criminal penalties for engaging in same-sex marriages or relationships and for advocating for LGBT rights. Simply taking part in a gay or lesbian club or support group would be illegal. Public hearings on the bill were held on Feb. 14 by the Women’s Committee of Nigeria’s National Assembly and it could be voted into law as early as this month.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has long been outspokenly homophobic and is seen as the driving force behind the anti-gay measures. “Such tendencies are clearly unbiblical, unnatural, and definitely un-African,” said Obasanjo
“Ultimately, it is the lives of LGBT Nigerians that will be affected by this law,” said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s senior specialist for Africa. “The report is meant to turn up the volume of those voices.”
One of those interviewed for the IGLHRC report is an HIV outreach worker named Chuma who was arrested and detained by the police in Lagos in 2006 while carrying out research for a study on the prevalence and risk factors of HIV/AIDS among men that have sex with men. According to Chuma, “a team of policemen in Lagos came to my apartment and took me away to an unknown place for two days. I was beaten beyond recognition, and I am still receiving treatment for the head injury I received. I was dehumanized and paraded naked to the press. …
My only offense was that I am gay.” Chuma was eventually released without being charged or tried.
Sarah, a Nigerian sexual rights activist, believes that many Nigerians are acting like the bill has already been passed. She cites attacks on gay men in Abuja, the capital city, and the expulsion of cadets from a national military academy.
Patricia, an employee of the Nigerian government, dreads the thought of the bill’s passage.
“I am a lesbian, but because our society does not accept gays and lesbians, I am in hiding. My family would be extremely upset if they found out about it. They see it as a taboo. To them if I should be a lesbian something is wrong with me. I am out of my mind.”
According to Patricia, she is under constant pressure from her family to find a husband. “My family keeps asking me to marry a man. It is hard because in Nigeria people think that a woman’s place is in the husband’s home. If you are not married you are not complete. If the bill is passed it will be terrible. I am with somebody I love. I don’t think anyone can force me to stop living the life I want to live. When you love someone and you can’t have access to that person, life is not worth living. I am too afraid to think about what I will have to do if the bill is passed,”
During the hearings, officials in the Nigerian president’s office claimed that passage of the bill would help to fight HIV. Aishat, a gay Nigerian man interviewed for the report, argues however that “the bill will force people [in] to having sex in secret rather than stopping gays [from] having sex. Condoms will be used less and less often because there will be no time to develop relationships because of fear of being caught.”
In releasing the report, IGLHRC has called on the Nigerian authorities to remember their commitments to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that guarantees freedom from unfair discrimination and the right to privacy. Provisions of the act are also inconsistent with the principle of non-discrimination found in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Nigerian Constitution.
Those interested in expressing their concern about the pending legislation can send politely worded appeals to:
His Excellency Professor George A. Obiozor
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Embassy of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria
3519 International Court, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: 202-362-6552 email@example.com