Human rights activists are saying they felt bullied at the recent public hearing conducted by the Nigerian Senate on the bill to prohibit same-sex marriages in Nigeria.
The House Committee on Human Rights and Judicial Matters alongside the committees on Health, Culture and Tourism, organized the public hearing on Monday, October 31.
Human rights activists at the public hearing were coordinated in a consortium of organizations, called the Coalition for the Defence of Sexual Rights. The consortium included organizations like ICARH, TIER, INCRESE, Queer Alliance and Changing Attitude Nigeria.
In a report by TIER, it was found that the public hearing was not fair on the human rights activists. Not only were they delayed from making their entrance at the National Assembly, they were only allowed to present two statements. The statements presented were those of LGBT Nigerians in the Diaspora and ICARH’s.
Responding to this feeling of discrimination, Olumide Makanjuola of TIER said, “Considering the position of the Committees which constitutes the Senators, one would have thought that a fair hearing will be given to parties for and against the same sex marriage Bill.”
He added, “Very short time was given to Civil Society Organizations for presentation unlike the religious leaders and groups who had enough time to present their papers.”
ICARH also reported, “The proceeding went on with presentations from the religious organizations and other institutions. Presenting in support of the bill were; the Catholic secretariat, FOMWAN (an Islamic movement), the Catholic Women Organisation of Nigeria (CWON), the Christian Lawyers, Daughters of Sara and other institutions.”
According to ICARH’s report, “The different committees of the Senate gave their critiques on the bill. In his response, the representative of the judicial committee recommended that the bill should be passed into law stressing that the provision available in the other statute books are not strong enough.”
After the public hearing, the discussion about the same-sex marriage bill increased dramatically in the public domain. The media, both print and electronic published stories on the hearing and tagged most of the human rights activists as homosexuals.
There have been increasing invitations from the media to engage gay people in the debate but there is too much fear of being ostracized or worse from society within the gay community to engage in this.
Explaining the fear, one gay person speaking on condition of anonymity said, “This can be dangerous, considering the possible backlash.” She said, “I would not back down from such challenge, but Nigeria journalism is crazy. It’s all about fame and not fact and it is obvious they want public scapegoats.”
She added, “If one is to do that [engage with the media in a public debate], a very tight contract has to be made and the questions given to the persons involved are not offensive or outside the question sheet but Nigerians, we do not keep to contracts.”
If the bill is passed in the Senate, it will be sent to the House of Representatives who will read the bill three times. If passed by them, they will send to the President for assent. This is a long process but the politicians have until April 2015 to pass the bill and make it law.