The Nigerian legislature has approved a long-discussed proposal nicknamed the “Jail the Gays” bill, sending it to President Goodluck Jonathan for his signature.
Jonathan has not announced how he intends to act. If he signs it into law, Nigeria will impose prison sentences of up to 14 years for any Nigerian who enters into a same-sex marriage and up to 10 years to anyone attending a same-sex wedding in Nigeria.
Discussion of the bill in Nigeria has focused on same-sex marriage, which is almost no one in the country has advocated, but does not mention the harsh treatment it would impose on LGBT people and LGBT rights advocates. There was some uncertainty about the exact language that the Senate passed, but the bill apparently would provide prison sentences of up to 10 years for anyone who supports:
- LGBT-friendly organizations or meetings
- Gay Pride marches
- Gay clubs
According to the IDAHO Portal, the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill’s specific language is:
“Any persons or group of persons that administers, witnesses, screens, abet and aids the solemnization of a same sex marriage contract or civil union or supports the registration, operation of gay clubs, societies and organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offense and liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.”
The Nigerian Senate and House had previously passed such a bill in 2011 and earlier this year, but with minor differences that had to be worked out by a conference committee.
The Senate approved a version late on Dec. 18. News accounts did not mention similar action by the House, but nevertheless said the Senate’s unanimous vote was the last step needed before the bill goes to the president. If he does not sign it, the bill can still be enacted without his approval, if the House and Senate vote for it again.
Nigerian law already provides for up to 14 years in prison for homosexual activity. In the northern part of the country, sharia law is in effect, which calls for up to the death penalty for male-male sex.
Senate President David Mark urged the president to sign the bill quickly, the Nigerian newspaper Punch reported. Mark’s rhetoric was in the familiar anti-gay tradition of denying equality to LGBT people in the guise of defending society from attack. He said:
“We have been under series of attack from different quarters. I think we believe in this Bill. The earlier we sign it into law, the better. We (Nigeria) have many shortcomings, we don’t want to add this one (same-sex marriage) to it.”
Nigerian gay rights activist Davis Mac-lyalla, who currently lives in England, told Gay Star News that if Jonathan signs the bill, he will be known as “one of the worst human rights abusers in Africa.” He added:
Homosexuality is already illegal [in Nigeria] and now the Senate is trying to promote their hate and homophobia.
There’s no need for this bill. No one in Nigeria has asked for marriage. This bill is just to please the religious leaders.
In June, human rights activists said the bill had serious flaws and, if enacted, could:
- Send any same-sex roommates and their families to prison.
- Prohibit homosexuals from hiring legal representation.
- Violate nine human rights guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.
After the House voted for its version of the bill earlier this year, the LGBT rights group Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora Against Anti-Same-Sex Laws urged Jonathan not to sign it into law. They wrote:
Dear President Goodluck Jonathan, do not assent a bill that infringes on the human rights of Nigerian lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals. The bill is against the spirit of the Nigerian constitution which you swore to uphold. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals are citizens, not criminals. Do not criminalize our sexual orientation.
Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora against Anti Same Sex Laws affirms that LGBT RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS and every Nigerian deserves the same right every other Nigerian enjoys irrespective of class, sex, gender or sexual orientation.
We call on all progressive Nigerians to oppose the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition bill. This bill erodes our hard-fought-for constitutional human rights including Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association.
Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora Against Anti Same-Sex Laws urge the international community to stand in solidarity and support the human rights of Nigerian lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.
They asked supporters to sign a Change.org petition to the president, urging him not to sign the bill. As of Dec. 19, the petition had 1,459 signatures.
Nigeria ‘Jail All The Gays’ set to be law any day (Gay Star News, Dec. 19, 2013)
Nigeria ‘Jail the Gays’ Bill Passed by Senate (IDAHO portal, Dec. 19, 2013)
- More loony church pressure for Nigerian gay crackdown (76crimes.com, October 2013)
- Press Statement on the Passing of Nigeria’s ‘Jail the Gays’ Bill (nigerianlgbtindiaspora.wordpress.com, May 2013)
- Nigeria: Ban gays’ lawyers, convict same-sex roommates? (76crimes.com, June 2013)