Nigeria becomes the latest African nation to propose anti-gay legislation. The draconian bill proposed in Africa's most populous nation goes beyond merely banning same-sex marriage—which is already illegal—and would ban same sex relationships, ban same sex couples from living together, and prosecute their friends or human rights activists, reports Reuters.
Nigerian legislators started hearings this week on a bill that would criminalise same-sex marriage and could make it punishable by five years in jail. On Monday the senate opened debate on the bill proposed by a national assembly committee. The body is expected to vote on it in the next couple of weeks.
"(A) marriage contract entered between persons of the same gender is hereby prohibited in Nigeria," reads a version of the bill published on the senate website. "Any persons or group that witnesses ... that aids the solemnisation of a same sex marriage contract commits an offence and is liable to a term of 5 years imprisonment"
According to the senate website, one version of the bill would outlaw any "coming together of persons of same sex with the purpose of living together as husband and wife or for other purposes of same sexual relationship".
Under existing federal law, sodomy is punishable by jail. Twelve Islamic states in northern Nigeria have introduced the draconian Sharia law that has sentenced several gays to death. These sentences have never been enforced.
Since 2007, the National Assembly has twice proposed extreme anti-gay legislation, but the bills have stalled under international pressure. Previous versions of the bill banned gays from meeting, living together , reading LGBT websites or even going out to dinner.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission have written a letter to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives, the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission, urging legislators to reject the bill.
The groups warn of "grave human rights issues" raised by the proposed law:
Criminalizing individuals for "leaving together as husband and wife" further expands these punishments. They would no longer be limited to sexual acts between people of the same sex, but would potentially include mere cohabitation or any suspected "intimate relationship" between members of the same sex. Far less evidence would be needed for conviction, and prejudice and suspicion would be a basis for arrests. This threatens all Nigerians’ right to private life, the groups said.
The proposed five-year sentence for anyone who “"witnesses, abet[s] and aids" a same-sex relationship is greater than the punishment stipulated in the bill for those who enter into a "same gender marriage." This provision could be used to punish anyone who gives any help or advice to a suspected “same gender” couple, for example, anyone who tells them their rights or approves of their relationships. Advocates, civil society organizations, and human rights defenders would be ready targets.
Under the bill’s provisions, anyone – whether Nigerian or foreign – who enters into a "same gender marriage" or simply has a "same gender relationship" in another country and wishes to continue it in Nigeria, could be subject to criminal penalties when they set foot on Nigerian soil. This provides the state with even broader powers to invade people’s privacy.
The pre-occupation with gays is a curious strategy for a nation that denies it has any LGBT citizens. In 2009 in Geneva, the Nigerian foreign minister told the United Nations that there are absolutely "no gays or lesbians" in the country of 146 million people.
Some Background ...
Nigerian Village Vows to "Stone Any Homosexual"
EU Considers Suspending Aid to Nigeria
Nigerian Legislators Vote to Ban Gay Marriages
EU: Level of Homophobia in Nigeria "Unacceptable"
Nigerian Mob Attacks Gay Activist
Nigerian Lynch Mob Storms Jail
Nigeria: 18 Gays Face Death Penalty
Nigerian Lesbian In Hiding After Reported Wedding
Nigeria's Homophobia Threatens Bid for Games
Nigeria One Step Closer to Outlawing Gays