Yesterday the public hearing of the same gender marriage bill was held at the National assembly in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. The bill’s objective is to ban same sex marriage in Nigeria.
Uche Sam, the Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria was present at the hearing together with other members forming the Coalition group headed by Dorothy Aken’Ova of INCRESE, the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights.
The ultimate goal of CAN is to see the existing law that criminalises homosexuality repealed. Their immediate goal is to persuade the senators to withdraw the same sex marriage prohibition bill.
Other organizations who were represented at the hearing included Omigie Samuel of Queer Alliance, Mike from Mind Builders, Ojemhen Colette of Women’s Health and Equal Right Initiative, Luther Wilson of Initiative for Improved Male Health, Zarahadeen of the Heartland Alliance, Edward Omaga of Lawyers Alert, John Downing of International Center on Advocacy for the Right to Health, Mac Davis for Pure Professional Right Advocate, Otibho, a member of the Coalition group and many others.
On arrival at the National Assembly we were told to wait outside the gate for clearance. While waiting, we noticed the presence of other religious groups praying and singing to God outside the gate to redeem the nation from homosexuality. It took us over 45 minutes before we got into the Assembly, only to discover that the hearing had already started. We placed our statement papers and waited to be called to read them.
A priest from the Catholic Church was speaking when we came in. He said their stand on the Bill is that it should be passed because homosexuality reduces our values and culture and is against the Christian faith and God frowns at it. It is against nature because God created both male and female and not male and male or female and female. He also said it is a foreign and imported way of life.
The Catholic Woman’s Association then made deeply unpleasant statement that the bill should be passed into law and if there is any other way to increase the punishment, it would be welcomed. She said gays are mentally ill, our fight is hopeless and that is why our presence is not visible and if we are here we should show our faces.
Immediately we came out and told her that we are very much around here and in their midst. She concluded that our fight is hopeless even if we are present.
Now it was time for Coalition members to read our statements and Otibho of the Coalition group read the statement of Nigerians in Diaspora. While we were moving forward, the people present made horrible statements like, ‘you don’t have to touch me’, ‘stay far from me’, ‘God forbid’. Someone said if we get closer he will beat us. But the LGBT representatives remained peaceful in the face of such provocation.
Otibho made her statement with much emotion after much booing from the crowd. She broke into tears but recovered her composure, becoming brave and speaking from her heart. When she finished she was asked serious questions by the senate panel such as Why did you cry? Why did you say that lesbians have been in existence in the Calabar area? Would she have kids? How will she bear children in the natural way? What will she tell her children? Itibho was strong and stand her ground that being gay is natural and inborn just like the colour of our skin.
A chance was given to one of our male representatives to read a statement and John read on behalf of the coalition in which he talked more about the health issue and the implications the bill has for health. It was very unfair that none of the other Coalition groups were given the opportunity to read our statements.
Further statements were taken from the Association of Lawyers and Christian Lawyer even Daughter of Sarah who all stood their ground that the bill should be passed and that all homosexuals suffer from mental disorder and are bringing western culture and wayz of life into our country, thereby corrupting young people and the next generation.
The senate was totally biased. They give full time and attention to those who are in favour of the bill and only two people opposed to the bill were allowed to read their statements. They asked personal questions like who are the homosexuals here, and are you a lesbian? Those are questions I don’t expect to be asked by our law makers.
I was very happy, however, when they asked if our presence was visible in the chamber and we all stood up to confirm that we were present. That really shocked them!
The Coalition group refused to grant interviews to members of the press who were present. Newspaper bill boards had headlines saying that the destiny of gays is doomed, it is not a choice, but an instinct, save your Destiny, etc. The people supporting the bill displayed a hatred for the lives of LGB&T people.
Uche thought that the senators had already made up their mind to pass the bill and the public hearing was held just to impress the public. It was not fair or balanced. The senators are toeing the direction of the church. As a Christian Uche was ashamed of the behaviour of the church leaders who had spend money organizing T shirts, posters and were using every resource to campaign that LGB&T people are banned and punished.
In contrast, Uche and the other Coalition members attended the hearing with no placards, posters, T shirts or visual material to demonstrate or protest. Despite that, the Coalition achieved their goal of presenting their argument and have shown the Nigerian public that they exist.