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Fears for Nigeria's 'jail the gays' plan

UNMOVED: The Nigerian President says that his anti-gay laws have the public’s support

SINCE THE Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was signed by Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan earlier this month (Jan 7) more than 30 arrests have been made in the West African country.

It has prompted reactions from gay rights activists and supporters worldwide who express fears over the implications of Nigeria’s new anti-gay laws. The new laws – dubbed the ‘Jail the gays’ bill – makes same-sex marriage illegal with a prison term of 14 years if convicted.

It also means that “any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations or, directly or indirectly, makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence…shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison.”

Penalties will also be handed out for those who try to assist gay men and women avoid detection or even those who offer them sexual health services.

Author and diversity consultant, Vernal Scott, 52, says Nigeria had taken a “step into the abyss”. He told The Voice: “Being gay is not a choice. You don’t choose your height, race or gender. You don’t choose your sexuality.

DISCRIMINATION

“You shouldn’t be treating your people as criminals for something they didn’t choose. It’s not like they are baby killers or burglars.” He added: “This discrimination is like Hitler’s genocide of the Jews.”

The activist, from east London, also believes the new law will also have a damaging effect on the country’s economy. He said: “There’s big money in having a gay-friendly environment. Are gay tourists going to visit Jamaica or Nigeria? No – of course not!

“Nigeria needs to get its nose out of people’s bedroom habits and concentrate on their national debts.”

Well-known gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell called the laws “truly draconian”. He added: “Even severely repressive homophobic states like Iran and Saudi Arabia don’t have such punitive laws.”

Last year, David Cameron warned that the UK would review its aid programme if Nigeria pressed ahead with the legislation. But this week, the Daily Mail reported that the UK is on course to increase aid to Nigeria – from £200million last year to £270m this year – despite its harsh anti-gay laws.


CRITICS: Diversity consultant Vernal Scott with longstanding gay activist Peter Tatchell

Foreign secretary William Hague has since expressed his displeasure over the law. In a statement, Hague said: “We are disappointed that President Jonathan has given his assent to a bill which will further criminalise same sex relationships in Nigeria.”

He added: “The UK opposes any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We are concerned by the prospect this raises of further action against an already marginalised section of society.”

Despite disapproval from other nations, a spokesperson for President Goodluck Jonathan said the law is a “reflection of the beliefs and orientation of Nigerian people”. He added: “More than 90 per cent of Nigerians are opposed to same-sex marriage. So, the law is in line with our cultural and religious beliefs as a people.”

However, the new law is contradictory to the country’s own constitution, where Article 42 of the Nigerian Fundamental Rights details the ‘right to freedom from discrimination’.

UK-based organisation Justice For Gay Africans (JFGA) is working to end discrimination on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression against Africans and people of African descent.

CAMPAIGNS

Obinna Obidike, of JFGA, believes that there is more to the new law than meets the eye. He told The Voice: “This is politically motivated. There are elections coming up next year and these leaders want to tell the nation that they have their interests at heart. The timing of this is perfect for their campaigns.”

Obidike said the laws would have a significant impact on physical and mental health. “The sexual health implications are phenomenal,” he said. “We’re looking at a rise in HIV cases and mental health issues. If a confused teenager has no one talk to, it can be detrimental to his state of mind.”

He added: “As a Nigerian, I know some men try and live a double life. They may get married to a woman but still have sex with men. This [can lead to the] spread of STIs and HIV to heterosexuals as well as homosexuals. It’s a rippling effect.”

The poor treatment of homosexuals has also been reflected in a national soap. Channel 4’s Hollyoaks is currently running a storyline which sees medical student Vincent Elegba battle with his sexuality after fleeing Nigeria for fear of his life. In one episode, Elegba, played by actor John Omole, attended a course which claimed it would ‘cure’ him of his homosexual urges.

JFGA’s Obidike believes this storyline is positive as it “helps people understand what it’s like to be gay in Africa and the struggles that homosexuals face daily”.

In the midst of this life-changing law, one of Africa’s leading authors, Binyavanga Wainaina, has ‘come out’ making him one of the most high-profile Africans to do so.

Like Nigeria, Kenya is another African country where homosexual acts are illegal. The internationally acclaimed writer has strongly criticised Nigeria’s anti-gay law, saying it ‘shames us all’.

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