New legislation currently being debated by politicians in Nigeria could be the most serious crackdown on the rights of gay and lesbian people since the Iranian revolution.

The proposed laws are presented as a defence of marriage, but gay activist Peter Tatchell argues they seek to remove the few rights sexual minorities have in the troubled African state.

“The Prohibition of Relationships Between Persons of the Same Sex, Celebration of Marriage by Them, and for Other Matters Connected Therewith,” is the title of the bill.

It has been approved by the Nigerian Federal Executive Council and is now before the National Assembly. It is expected to be passed and become law shortly.

Civilian government only returned to the country in 1999.

The president, Olusegun Obasanjo, controls the Executive Council and his Nigerian People’s Party has a majority in the both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Although a centrist party, they derive most of their support from the Christian south of the country, and the Anglican church played an active role in promoting this legislation.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell contacted PinkNews.co.uk to draw attention to the nature of the new legislation, which has the active backing of other Christian churches in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.

“The bill is primarily concerned with banning same-sex marriage, but its sub-clauses go much further,” Mr Tatchell said.

“They will strip lesbian and gay Nigerians of their already limited civil rights.

“The bill outlaws almost every expression, affirmation and celebration of gay identity and sexuality, and prohibits the provision of sympathetic advice and welfare support to lesbians and gay men.”

“This draconian measure will outlaw membership of a gay group, attending a gay meeting or protest, advocating gay equality,” Mr Tatchell claimed.

“Donating money to a gay organisation, hosting or visiting a gay website, the publication or possession of gay safer sex advice, renting or selling a property to a gay couple, expressions of same-sex love in letters or emails, attending a same-sex marriage or blessing ceremony, screening or watching a gay movie, taking or possessing photos of a gay couple, and publishing, selling or loaning a gay book or video.”

In May 2006, British human rights minister Ian Pearson expressed outrage at the legislations and said, “we plan to raise our concerns with the Nigerian authorities.”

Despite the protests of governments and human rights activists, the Nigerian government have pressed ahead with the new laws, which are in contravention of various international treaties.

Homosexuality is already illegal in the country. Nigeria’s criminal code penalises consensual homosexual conduct between adults with 14 years imprisonment.

This law was originally introduced by the British colonial administration in the nineteenth century.

In addition, Sharia law, which was introduced in northern Nigeria in 1999, outlaws “sodomy,” which could be interpreted to mean any sexual contact between men.

The Anglican Church, who have a huge powerbase in Nigeria, have been key in promoting this bill.

The church has been increasingly vocal about its disapproval of the position of women and gay men in the English and American churches.

The Nigerian Church has already deleted all references to Canterbury from its constitution in defiance of Archbishop Rowan Williams.

The new law carries an automatic five year jail sentence for those who break it.

“The bill currently being debated in the Nigerian parliament, is the most comprehensively homophobic legislation ever proposed in any country in the world,” said Mr Tatchell.

“We appeal to gay and human rights groups worldwide to take urgent action to press the Nigerian government to uphold international human rights law and to drop this draconian legislation.”

For more information on the OutRage protest against Nigeria’s homophobic law please visit www.outrage.org.uk