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Open To Thinking: Nigeria: Jail the Gays or kill them
A recurring column
by Nick Patricca and Unoma Azuah
2016-06-01

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The Law.

Same Sex Marriage ( Prohibition ) Act:

"A marriage contract or civil union entered into between persons of the same sex: ( a ) is prohibited in Nigeria; and ( b ) shall not be recognised as entitled to the benefits of a valid marriage." Article One, Subsection One.

"A person who enters into a same sex marriage contract or civil union commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 14 years imprisonment." Article Five, Subsection One.

"A person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies or organizations, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offense and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years." Article Five, Subsection Two.

This Bill was passed by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Dec. 30, 2013. It was signed into law by Nigeria's then-president Goodluck Jonathan Jan. 7, 2014 in a closed, unannounced action. The signing became public Jan. 13, 2014 and was quickly dubbed by the international press as the 'JAIL THE GAYS BILL' because its provisions went far beyond the banning of same sex marriage and civil unions. The link below displays a photostat copy of the original bill with the signatures of the Clerk of the National Assembly and Goodluck Jonathan. Please read the entire Bill—it is brief but deadly: goo.gl/YryTVV .

Many documented outbreaks of violence against LGBTQ peoples erupted throughout Nigeria in the wake of the signing of this bill. Strong international condemnation by human-rights organizations and governments only seemed to inflame anti-Gay vigilante pogroms. ( See: Erika Eichelberger, Mother Jones, March 13, 2014. )

Anti-homosexuality laws are not new to Nigeria. Under British rule, the Nigerian criminal codes, borrowing heavily from the British penal codes, carried harsh anti-sodomy laws. After independence in 1960, the various military juntas that ruled Nigeria strictly enforced the anti-sodomy penal code. The democratic governments that took power in 1999 not only expanded the provisions of these draconian codes to cover all sorts of sexual activities considered 'unnatural,' they also increased the punishments. ( See Chapter 21 of the Nigerian Federal Penal Code: goo.gl/dLkZTO . )

Nigeria, the most populous and richest country in Africa, is a federation of 36 individual states, each of which has its own criminal codes, all of which proscribe homosexual behavior as do the federal penal codes. Four of the 12 northern states of the Nigerian federation adopted various forms of Shari'a law. In these states the crime of sodomy—variously defined—can be punished by stoning. ( See: Shari'a Law in Africa p.70 goo.gl/TCjg2F . )

Anti-gay legislation in the states was enforced fitfully and in various ways until the signing of the Same Sex Marriage ( Prohibition ) Act in 2014. This federal law, which applies to the whole country, marked a turning point for Nigeria's LGBTQ communities: its vigorous enforcement has forced hundreds to flee Nigeria and seek asylum.

Religion and Anti-LGBTQ Violence

Religion is of great importance to Nigerians. According to the Pew Research Center, Nigeria is almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Many Nigerians continue to practice local, indigenous religions alongside their professed adherence to Islam or Christianity. Generally speaking, the forms of Islam and of Christianity that are practiced in Nigeria today tend to be fundamentalist and most intolerant of homosexuality. In the Northeast Boko Haram mutilates homosexuals before stoning or crucifying them.

The Nigerian Anglican Church broke with Canterbury and other Anglican churches over the question of ordaining women priests and of accepting homosexuals as ordained ministers. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria voted to support legislation criminalizing same-sex marriage and endorsed the Same Sex Marriage ( Prohibition ) Act

This unholy alliance of fundamentalist religions with state power is the primary cause of the suppression of the rights of LGBTQ peoples in Nigeria and of the violence against them.

The impact of anti-gay laws on LGBTQ persons

The unfortunate reality for not just Nigerian homosexuals but for Nigerians generally who are living under this law is the fact that anyone can be accused of being homosexual, particularly because there are no canons or principles for determining what constitutes 'looking like' or 'acting like' a homosexual or 'encouraging' homosexual activities.

The law states: "The public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly is hereby prohibited." In this context when a man gives a lingering hug to his brother or a woman walks with her arms around the shoulders of her sister, they could end up in jail.

Furthermore, this law, though it has been billed as an anti-gay marriage law, prohibits 'civil unions' as well as forms of homosexual dress and activities. In other words, same-sex relationships that do not involve or include marriage, such as domestic or caring partnerships, are also proscribed and punished. This fact clearly shows the intention of the government to promote a witch hunt against homosexuals rather than its stated objective of protecting traditional 'natural' marriage between a man and a woman.

The Same Sex Marriage ( Prohibition ) Act is fundamentally an attack on the civil and human rights of all Nigerians. This law goes against all provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights of which Nigeria is a signatory: www.achpr.org/instruments/achpr/ . It also contradicts Section 37 of the Constitution of Nigeria which states: "The privacy of citizens … is hereby guaranteed and protected." It is impossible to protect the privacy of Nigerian citizens when their neighbors can condemn them to the police as 'being homosexual,' 'looking homosexual,' 'acting homosexual,' 'supporting homosexuals,' or 'encouraging homosexuals.'

Gimme Shelter

Hundreds of LGBTQ Nigerians have had to flee their native country in order to escape jail or death and in order to live free constructive lives in keeping with their character and identity. Many of these refugees have found shelter in the greater Chicago area.

Dennis Ojiyoma Akpona, John Ademola Adewoye and Bunmi Johnson are some of the Nigerian refugees fleeing anti-gay violence. John and Dennis have successfully achieved U.S. resident status; Bunmi Johnson is still hoping to secure refugee status. John and Dennis are working to provide shelter and resources to gay Nigerians and others through two organizations they co-founded: the Center for Courageous Living and CLASP—www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/clasp/ .

CLASP—Chicago LGBTQ Asylum Support Program: Helping LGBTQ People Seeking Safety in Chicago—assists asylum seekers who come to the United States to escape persecution in their home countries. It is illegal to be LGBTQ in 76 countries around the world, seven of which impose the death penalty

In this month of June, the month of our PRIDE in who we are and what we have achieved not only for our own communities but for all the peoples of our great nation, let us take time to remember the fate of our sisters and brothers throughout the world who still cannot live their lives openly with dignity.

Let us resolve to continue to make Chicago: A City of Refuge for all in need.

Nick Patricca is professor emeritus at Loyola University Chicago, president of Chicago Network and playwright emeritus at Victory Gardens Theater.

Unoma Azuah, a Nigerian gay-rights activist, is an award-winning poet and novelist. She teaches writing at the Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago. Blessed Body: The Secret Lives of LGBT Nigerians, her most recent book is published this spring.


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