Nigerian LGBT people opposed to a new anti-gay law in the country have spoken about their experiences in a report for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).
Voices from Nigeria details homophobic attacks, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and increased levels of homophobia that have already begun as a result of the introduction of the legislation, referred to as the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.
Introduced to the Nigerian National Assembly in January 2006, the Act launches a vigorous attack on freedom of expression, assembly, and association in Africa’s most populous nation.
If passed, the law would create criminal penalties for engaging in same-sex marriages or relationships and for advocating for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
Simply taking part in a gay or lesbian club or support group would be illegal.
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, would also be penalised.
Public hearings on the bill were held last week by a committee of Nigeria’s National Assembly and it could be voted into law as early as next month.
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 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.
“Ultimately, it is the lives of LGBT Nigerians that will be affected by this law,” said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s Senior Specialist for Africa.
“The report is meant to turn up the volume of those voices.”
One of those interviewed for the IGLHRC report is an HIV outreach worker named Chuma, who was arrested and detained by the police in Lagos in 2006 while carrying out research for a study on the prevalence and risk factors of HIV/AIDS among men that have sex with men.
According to Chuma: “A team of policemen in Lagos came to my apartment and took me away to an unknown place for two days.
“I was beaten beyond recognition, and I am still receiving treatment for the head injury I received.
“I was dehumanised and paraded naked to the press… My only offence was that I am gay.”
Chuma was eventually released without being charged or tried.
Sarah, a Nigerian sexual rights activist, believes that many Nigerians are acting as if the legislation has already been passed.
She cites attacks on gay men in Abuja, the capital city, and the expulsion of cadets from a national military academy.
During the hearings, officials in the Nigerian president’s office claimed that passage of the bill would help to fight HIV.
Aishat, a gay Nigerian man interviewed for the report argues however that:
“The Bill will force to people having sex in secret rather than stopping gays having sex.
“Condoms will be used less and less often because there will be no time to develop relationships because of fear of being caught.”
In releasing the report, IGLHRC has called on the Nigerian authorities to remember their commitments to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that guarantees freedom from unfair discrimination and the right to privacy.
Provisions of the Act are also inconsistent with the principle of non- discrimination found in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Nigerian Constitution.
The report is available on line at http://www.iglhrc.org/files/iglhrc/reports/Voic es_Nigeria.pdf.