A committee of the Nigerian parliament met today to conduct a public hearing into the proposed new legislation that will imprison people for being gay or having gay or lesbian sex.

With elections for the Presidency, Senate and House of Representatives in April, gay rights activists fear that politicians will put populism above human rights.

At the House committee hearing today it emerged that over 100 petitions had been received objecting to the proposed new law, which would be one of the most draconian ever considered anywhere in the world.

Not only would gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals be targeted not for specific acts but for existing, heterosexual people who “promote” their lifestyle, for example by selling them a house or supporting their human rights, would also be penalised.

“The bill is going to seriously violate the rights of people. This bill is evil and should not be allowed to see the light of the day,” Alimi Ademola of Independent Project Nigeria, a gay rights organisation, told the BBC.

Nigerian society is divided along Christian/Muslim lines, yet this issue unites them.

The Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella body for Nigerian Christians, is agitating for the new law. They said same sex unions are “barbaric and shameful”.

Muslims also think that Nigerian culture is incompatible with homosexuality.

The BBC’s correspondent in the capital, Abuja, reports that Parliamentary insiders say the bill is likely to be passed by both chambers of the Nigerian National Assembly by the end of March.

However, some senior MPs are protesting that religious considerations are being given too much attention.

“We should not be hypocritical here. I think we should deal with this subject dispassionately. While we are trying to protect morals and values, we must also remember to protect people’s rights even if they are a minority,” deputy chairman of the house committee on Human Rights Abdul Oroh said at the public hearing.