The Nigerian Senate voted on Tuesday 29 November to criminalise same-sex marriages and civil unions, with penalties of up to 14 years jail for participants and 10 years jail for anyone who helps or witnesses such a marriage or union. The bill also says that same-sex marriages contracted in foreign country shall be void in Nigeria and not enforceable by law.
In addition, the scope of the bill has been widened and now makes it impossible for gay gatherings, groups or clubs to function, makes and it an offence for any organization that brings gay people together and outlaws displays of same-sex affection in public. These newly added offences carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.
The bill has been sent to the House of Representatives for approval. If it is passed there, and if it secures the President’s signature, it will become law.
Uche Sam, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, described television reports of the debate. The senate president, David Mark, said that a threat was sent to senate members that the UK will withdraw all foreign aid from countries which do not accept gay rights. In his response he said that any country who wished to withhold aid to Nigeria for this reason can keep their aid.
He also said no country should interfere in the way Nigeria handles our laws because we don’t interfere with the way they handle their laws and no country has the right to interfere in our affairs.
Other senators described the Bill as being about a foreign culture and said the foreigner cannot bring their culture and enforce it in Nigeria. Another said the foreigner wants to bring their practice of immorality into our country.
A Nigerian gay man commented on Facebook:
“Should we out Nigerian lawmakers that are gay, lesbian or bisexual as some people are demanding? This approach is a particularly complicated one, especially in cases of self or specifically sexual identity. We are agreed that people have a right to self identify and “outing” a closeted gay, lesbian or bisexual person is not ethical, especially in an environment that is hostile and geared towards victimising LGBT persons.
“Most probably, in the absence of statistics, 99% of LGB&T Nigerians do not identify as LGB&T because of the stigma, criminalisation, victimisation , assault and battery that such self-identification would bring. I know that there are many lawmakers in Nigeria who are gay, lesbian and bisexual. It is a pity that they chose to identify with their own oppressors to save their jobs and salaries that they then eager to use to organise private gay and lesbian parties in the privacy of their mansions. I would have been happy to name but not necessarily shame people but the truth is many LGB&T Nigerians already deny their sexuality just to keep their jobs. Unfortunately, the irresponsible actions of the closeted senators have made it more difficult to self identify publicly as a lesbian, gay or bisexual.”
According to Reuters, the bill states:
“Persons who entered into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years in prison….
“Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison.”
The Reuters report can be read here
Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, said:
“This bill violates the equality and non-discrimination guarantees of Article 42 of the Nigerian Constitution and Articles 2 and 3 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which Nigeria has signed and pledged to uphold.
“There is a good chance that this bill, and Nigeria’s long-standing criminalisation of same-sex relations, can be challenged in the courts. This could be a future option for LGBTI campaigners and human rights defenders.
“The law against homosexuality is not an authentic national law that originated in Nigerian jurisprudence. It was imposed on Nigeria by the British colonial administration in the nineteenth century. Despite Nigeria now being an independent country, this British colonial law has never been repealed.
“Our Nigerian colleagues are still hopeful that they can defeat the bill at the next stage. We stand in solidarity with their struggle for LGBTI equality.”