Nigeria is a country that may be evenly divided between Christians and Muslims but is nearly universally opposed to homosexuality. In the areas in Nigeria’s north where Islamic Shariah law is enforced, gays and lesbians can face death by stoning.
When a gang of men ambushed Rashidi Williams and a male friend earlier this year, the 25-year-old gay Nigerian was too afraid to report the attack to police or even to his family.
Doing so would only create more problems, he says, in this country where legislators are about to criminalise homosexuality.
Here in the megacity of Africa’s most populous nation, Williams says that gay marriage is, however, the last thing on the minds of many gay and lesbian Nigerians who fear physical danger in this conservative country.
“I took myself to the hospital but couldn’t say why I had been beaten up because that would have started another set of discrimination for me,” said Williams, who hurt his shoulder blade in the attack. “These things are so underreported in Nigeria. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist … People are getting killed.”
Under the proposed law, couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years behind bars. That’s an increase over the bill’s initial penalties, which lawmakers proposed during a debate Tuesday televised live from the National Assembly in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.
Other additions to the bill include making it illegal to register gay clubs or organizations, as well as criminalizing the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly.” Those who violate those laws would face 10 years imprisonment as well.
The bill also could target human rights and HIV-prevention programs run by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Nigeria, which has the world’s third-largest population of people living with HIV and AIDS.
Activists fear that discrimination and violence will only increase now that the bill has been passed in the Nigerian senate.
“If this bill passes into law, the Nigerian government will be sanctioning even greater discrimination and violence against an already vulnerable group,” said Graeme Reid one month earlier. He is the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights director at New York-based Human Rights watch, and will soon be considered a criminal if he sets foot in Nigeria.
The bill, now much more wide-ranging than its initial draft, must be passed by Nigeria’s House of Representatives and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan before becoming law. Public opinion betrays the widespread support for the law in this deeply religious nation.
Meanwhile, Democratic nations find the Nigerian mindset appalling and disturbing in the 21st century. The EU is now granting asylum to gay and lesbian Nigerians while Great Britain threatened to cut aid to countries that violate the rights of gay and lesbian citizens.
“Such elements in society should be killed!” said Senator Baba-Ahmed Yusuf Datti of the opposition party Congress for Progressive Change, drawing some murmurs of support from the gallery.
Sadly, things are about to get a lot more hostile for people like Rashidi Williams and all Nigerian residents who have joined activist/protest group www.allout.org/nigeria.
While it’s a long-shot, we urge as many of you as possible to stand on the side of human rights by heading over to allout.org/nigeria and signing the petition which is to be brought to President Goodluck Jonathan’s attention at the signing of at least 70,000 names.
Senate President David Mark acknowledged the nation would face criticism, however, would not bow to international pressure.
“Anybody can write to us, but our values are our values. If there is any country that does not want to give us aid or assistance, just because we hold on very firmly to our values, that country can (keep) their assistance. No country has a right to interfere in the way we make our own laws.”