Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage Bill is all over the news from blog posts and in the mainstream media in the West. However sensationalism aside, for the Nigerian LGBT community, activists and Human Rights Defenders the proposed Bill has been an ongoing possibility for the past 12 months which has impacted on their lives as the testimonies presented below will show.
News of that the Government was planning introduce the Bill was first reported in January this year and at that time it seemed that the Bill would be passed within months if not weeks. As the present law stands homosexuality is a criminal offence – the penal code carries a sentence of up to 14 years for sodomy and Sharia law has a death penalty by stoning. The law on lesbians and transgender is less clear nonetheless they are still criminalised and subject to violence by the community and police. Recently a transgendered woman was imprisoned for 10 weeks for “cross dressing and transgenderism” which she described as “hell on earth”. What the government has done in introducing the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act is to not only criminalise sexual acts but to criminalise all LGBT people and anyone that supports or advocates on their behalf.
also ban “any form of protest to press for rights or recognition” by homosexuals
It should be also noted that the Bill has been introduced just as the local LGBT community were becomming more outspoken and visible so it is clear that the Bill is intended to silence Nigerian LGBTs and Human Rights Defenders.
In April this year, President Obasanjo wrote to the National Assembly asking them to ban same sex marriage or homosexuality in the country and the speaker of the House urged members to ” give expeditious consideration and passage to the bill”.
Various international human rights organisations and local activists have been approaching the Nigerian government with a view to preventing the passage of the bill and so far it has yet to become law and in fact the debate on the Bill seems to have come to a standstill. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has just published a report “Voices from Nigeria” a series of testimonies from LGBT Nigerians speaking about the stigma and abuse they face and also expressing their feeligns about the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Some excerpts from the report are published below:
The public is very homophobic.When they hear that someone is LGBT they will come around and beat you up.I have been targeted myself because I am gay.Two months ago I was arrested and detained by the police in Lagos.This happened when I was carrying out research for the study on the prevalence and risk factors of HIV/AIDS,STI infections and social risk behavior .among men that have sex with men in Nigeria.A team of policemen in Lagos came to my apartment and took me away to an unknown place for 2 days.I was beaten beyond recognition,and I am still receiving treatment for the head injury I received
The police asked us if we were gay, and my boyfriend They then arrested us. We resisted and they became violent with us. They handcuffed us and took us to the police station. They kept us locked up in a cell. I had one friend only who would come to see us. He tried to find a lawyer to represent us, but no lawyer would represent us because they did not want to be associated with gay men. We were never tried. We were just held in detention indefinitely
The treatment of GLBTs in Nigeria makes it difficult to address issues like HIV because people are too scared to speak of their sexuality. People wont go for treatment or speak to their doctors because they are scared to be I feel that GLBTs no longer have a voice. This new law will wipe out our entire existence. It will force people to be dishonest. All the advocacy about HIV/AIDS will come to nothing ,as the issue will be pushed further underground.
I am a sexual rights activist living in northwest Nigeria.Under Shari ’a Law, same-sex sexual activities are criminalized.This makes it challenging to do my work as many GLBTS are scared to identify themselves for fear of being identifi ed by undercover police. I have also witnessed prejudice,harassment and violence against GLBTs in the community.For example,my organization has provided counseling services and legal aid to GLBTs who have undergone abuse by mainly non-state actors.I have worked on a case of a transgender person who was picked up by police simply for being transgender.Although there are currently no laws dealing with transgender persons in Minna,the police locked her up for two weeks. I also helped a girl who was perceived by the community to be gay.She was beaten,raped and left unconscious.On another occasion,I helped a girl whose family were under the perception that she was in a same sex relationship.The family organized a man for her to marry and she was so
traumatized that she ran away.
If anyone wishes to help the African LGBT community (because apart from South Africa we are criminalised throughout the whole continent) please contact the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) or Amnesty International (AI) direct and they will advise you on how you can help. People should also be aware that the Same Sex Marriage Act being adopted in South Africa, the South African LGBT community are stigmatised and face discrimination and violence from society at large. As much as 90% of lesbians in South Africa have faced hate crimes including rape and murder and as a result there is a high incidence of HIV in the lesbian community. There is still much work to be done throughout the continent.
To end on a postive note, ILGA announced that after hard fought negotiations, three LGBT organisations have finally been given consultative status at the UN which will allow them to participate in their own name on their own work.
On the 11th December, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) granted consultative status to three gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organisations: to ILGA-Europe, to the Danish and German national lesbian and gay association.