A vote on Nigeria’s proposed anti-gay law is scheduled for next week, according to the group Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora Against Anti Same Sex Laws.
The group has been attending the Nigerian parliament to observe proceedings, despite initial difficulties in gaining admittance and following the hostile reception which LGBT advocates received at a hearing on the laws, held 31 October.
The group held a protest at the Nigerian embassy in London, 15 November, and were snubbed by the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Dr Dalhatu Sarki Tafida , who refused to meet with them. The Embassy also ordered that the protest move over the road – because ‘red carpet’ visitors were due to arrive.
Protest organizer Yemisi Ilesanmi told Behind The Mask that “the behaviour was unethical, discriminatory and shows a lack of respect and contempt by the High Commissioner for the citizens of Nigeria especially the LGBT community.”
The protesters carried placards, banners and slogans with messages such as, “Kiss Homophobia, Bi-phobia and Trans-phobia Goodbye,” “Proudly Gay, Proudly Nigerian,” “Some Nigerians are Gay, Get over it,” “Kiss Anti Same Sex marriage bill and Sodomy laws Goodbye” and “Stop turning us into refugees, Repeal Sodomy laws Now!”.
Speaking on the megaphone, Davis Mac-Iyalla urged Nigerians to repent of their homophobia; he also demanded that the senators should stop peeping into citizens bedrooms and instead take seriously the important task of moving Nigeria’s economy forward.
Tokunbo Oke, a Nigerian human right defender and straight ally urged the Nigerian government to stop its discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals. He said the emphasis of the Nigerian government should be on curbing corruption and not how to further criminalize its vulnerable citizens.
The draconian proposed anti-same-sex marriage bill would punish people of the same sex who live together as a couple with up to three years in prison. Anyone who “witnesses, abet[s] and aids” such a relationship could be imprisoned for up to five years. The bill could even be used against foreign same-sex couples if they enter Nigeria.
Damian Ugwu, a rights activist at the Lagos-based Social Justice Advocacy Initiative, said that the bill could have serious implications even for people who aren’t gay. Migrants in search of work in bigger centers are a vulnerable group.
“It’s going to give the Nigerian police, who are already known for abusing their power, a license to violate the rights of both gay and non-gay people. It’s going to create an avenue where young men and women, who often live together in big cities for financial reasons, will become targets for extortion,” he said.
Analysts see the bill, which has been shelved twice in five years, as a potential boost to the popularity of a government whose approval ratings have stalled since elections in April of this year. Most Nigerians strongly disapprove of homosexuality, with many seeing it as a foreign import at odds with a deeply religious society.
A 2008 survey by the non-profit Nigeria’s Information for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, questioning 6,000 Nigerians on their attitudes to homosexuality, found that only 1.4 percent of respondents said they felt “tolerant” towards sexual minorities.
Ilesanmi has condemned what she has called the “deafening silence” of Nigerian liberals and the left on the bill.
“The rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and Intersex not to be discriminated against are not yet considered human rights by Nigerian Left, Progressives, and human rights defenders. In the course of my advocacy for LGBT rights, I have lost many “comrades” as friends, many called me unpalatable names, many used hate speech to describe gays and lesbians, some said it was not the right time to engage in this debate or fight for sexual minority because there are more important issues to be tackled like unemployment, removal of fuel subsidy, corruption.”
“I wonder how the Right to Life and Right to be free from Discrimination could be termed as unimportant by activists. Also disturbing is the fact that few progressives that supported LGBTI rights and signed the online petition I created against the bill, were bullied by the “elite” leftists, our so called ‘senior comrades’ chastised them and claimed they are losing focus!” she wrote.
Video of the London protest:
Picture courtesy Yemisi Ilesanmi