LGBT Nigerians today join all national, regional and international human rights organizations working to protect from discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, to call for an end impunity, violence and discrimination on the basis of imputed or real sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
As a community of law abiding Nigerians we wish to raise concerns over the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition (SSMP) Bill which was passed by the Nigerian Senate on November 29, 2011 and passed its second reading in the House of Representatives on November 13, 2012. The bill, infused with homophobia and bigotry would expand existing legislative penalties for people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity amongst other issues cited within the bill. Its broad and sweeping provisions would also endanger the fundamental rights of all Nigerians to privacy, equality, and freedom from discrimination.
Homophobia continues to be pervasive within our respective communities. Nigeria’s stance on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity have eluded the polity that homophobia is dangerous to our nascent democracy. It is an issue that needs be discussed and responded to irrespective of our individual and national position on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.
As lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans citizens of our great nation, we deeply are concerned because:
1. Homophobia Undermines Fundamental Human Rights Protected under the 1999 Nigeria’s Constitution
Homophobia is the precursor of the violation and abuse that some Nigerian citizens face on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. It precedes the imposition of discriminatory and repressive laws. The proposed Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill contains clauses to criminalize the identities and organizing of citizens who are sexually and emotionally attracted to people of their sexes or gender includes is a clearly a homophobic symbol that will further ignite the homophobic atmosphere of the country and several provisions that restrict the rights of LGBT Nigerians, as well as anyone who attempts to work with, support, or conduct outreach to them. It imposes a 14-year prison sentence on anyone who “[enters] into a same sex marriage contract or civil union.” Any persons who “witness, abet and aid the solemnization of a same sex marriage or union” would face a 10-year prison sentence. The bill imposes the same punishment on those who “directly or indirectly make public show of same sex amorous relationship,” or anyone who “registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organizations.” The bill goes even further by imposing a 10-year prison term on anyone who “supports” LGBT groups, “processions or meetings.” In doing so, the bill goes far beyond criminalizing the lives of LGBT individuals—which in itself is not permitted by international law—it also undermines basic freedoms enjoyed by all Nigerians. Its hall mark is homophobia and these are fundamental rights that were long fought to protect even before the return to democracy.
2. Homophobia Contravenes International Human Rights Treaties and Standards
Homophobia in the form of proposed legislations such as the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill not only undermines the freedoms guaranteed Nigerians in accordance to the 1999 Constitution, it also breaches internationally recognized human rights, including those contained in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria is a state party. Also, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Nigeria supports as a member of the United Nations, recognizes that everyone has the right to freedom of expression (article 19). Homophobia is an assault on the freedom of expression in respect to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
Legislations such as Section 214 and 215 of the Nigeria Penal Code and Section 131, 132 and 133 of the Sharia Penal Code have led to the widespread homophobic attack on LGBT people and reprisal of LGBT human rights defenders. In 2002, Innua Yakubu1 a student at the Government College, Jigawa, a sharia governed state was murdered by his classmates on basis of his sexual orientation and gender identity. Under the bill being reviewed by the House of Representatives, the infusion of homophobia is notable in the name of the protection of public morality and African values.
Article 4 of the SSMP bill grossly violates the Chapter IV of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution guaranteeing fundamental human rights. The provision of the bill infringes on the right to the freedom of expression, the right to dignity of the human person, right to health, to right to privacy as enshrined under the chapter IV of the Nigerian constitution. In totality, the bill violates right to safety and security of LGBT persons.
Homophobia and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation contravenes the principles of other international human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party. Together with equality before the law and equal protection of the law, the principle of non-discrimination provided under Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights provides the foundation for the enjoyment of all human rights. The aim of this principle is to ensure equality of treatment for individuals irrespective of nationality, sex, racial or ethnic origin, political opinion, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. Homophobia impacts on this principle, as people with sexual orientation considered deviant are marginalized and exposed to violence.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Nigeria acceded without reservations in 1993, also guarantees the rights to information and to freedom of expression (article 19), freedom of assembly (article 21) and freedom of association (article 22). Articles 2 and 26 affirm the equality of all people before the law and the right to freedom from discrimination.
3. Homophobia impacts on Nigeria’s Struggle to Combat the Spread of HIV/AIDS
Discriminatory and repressive laws are accounted for as factors driving HIV transmission amongst men who have sex with men. Affected mostly within this sub-population are young people between the ages of 15-29.The freedom of association and peaceful assembly is very vital if young LGBT people are to be reached with information and services in mitigating the impact of HIV. Article 5 of the SSMP bill shows homophobic infusion and bigotry into the proposed legislation. It is an indirect breach of the right to health for LGBT people by the denial of the right to associate and assemble peacefully.
It is asserted that sexual reproductive ill health is a precursor and consequence of poverty (Family Care International, 2006). This accounts for approximately 20% of the ill health of women and 14% for men due to lack of appropriate sexual health reproductive health services (WHO 2004). Gays, bisexuals and other men who have sex with men are among st this 14% of men. The Integrated Biological Behavioral Surveillance Survey conducted in 2010 shows an increasing rate of infection amongst men who have sex with men who may not necessarily identify as gays or bisexuals because of the social and political atmosphere. The survey showed a 3.3% rise in infection amongst men who have sex with men against a 13.5% prevalence rate recorded in 2007. For full realization of the sexual reproductive health and rights of young people, the need to speak and lead discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity is imperative. Homophobia affects programming for the sexual reproductive health and rights of young LGBT people.
Nigeria has the world’s third-largest population of people living with HIV/AIDS. Studies show that laws criminalizing people on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity pose barriers to HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. The National Agency for the Control of AIDS acknowledged the need to target services to gays, bisexuals and other men who have sex with men. Homophobia and the proposed Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill would exacerbate current barriers to HIV prevention in Nigeria by driving further underground a segment of the population already criminalized on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or consensual sexual behavior, and creating additional barriers to financial support for programs for them. Homophobia and the proposed legislation would make it more difficult for outreach and education efforts to reach this group and would potentially also criminalize civil society groups engaged in vital work on HIV prevention for men who have sex with men.
4. Homophobia impacts on the Safety and Security of citizens
It is needful to note that homophobia impacts on the safety and security of LGBT people in Nigeria. The right to safety and security cannot be fulfilled if discriminatory and repressive laws continue to abide side by side in a democratic society. It is especially needful to note here, that the security and safety of human rights defenders for people on the basis of imputed or real sexual orientation is of great importance. Homophobia is a threat in the face.
Permit us to bring to your attention cases of homophobia that have caused people their lives and livelihoods. When in 2002, Innua Yakubu was murdered by his fellow classmates on the grounds of his sexual orientation and gender identity, his violators were not prosecuted. In 2011, three women in one the universities in the south-south geopolitical zone of Nigeria were forced into sexual intercourse, beaten and raped by their violators on the grounds of the sexual orientation. In 2004 Davis Mac Iyalla fled the country after he was attacked by a mob of angry protesters on the grounds of his sexual orientation and his outspoken against the Church of Nigeria stance on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. In March 2012, an intersex man3 was lynched on the streets of Sapele, a city in Delta State, south-south Nigeria. In post militancy Niger-Delta as well as in other parts of the country, homophobia drives LGBT people away from seeking information that could better their sexual reproductive health. There are recorded instance where gay and trans identifying men have been arbitrarily detained by non-state actors followed by extortion and blackmail. Cases of homophobic attacks and other human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity remains under reported and under recorded.
No one is being held accountable for crimes and other forms of violence committed towards people on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Whilst there might be a legislation that supports discrimination, the LGBT community in Nigeria asserts that this legislations be reviewed and possibly repealed to protect the freedom of expression of individuals, which also includes the freedom to express sexual orientation and gender. These are freedoms and protected clauses under international treaties and laws to which Nigeria is a state party.
Because homophobia is pervasive, the accountability to human rights violation on the basis on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression is non-existent in Nigeria. It is pertinent for state actors to take action against impunity on this basis to act as a deterrent for homophobic crimes.
In conclusion, Queer Alliance and the LGBT community in Nigeria call for understanding, open dialogues and discussion on issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. These are human rights that we will defend even when the cause may seem unpopular. We urge leaders from all spheres of life and the Nigerian government to say NO to discrimination and say YES to diversity, the respect of African values of tolerance and hospitality towards people of different categories. We urge the National Assembly to act in accordance with Nigeria’s legal obligations under its Constitution and international human rights law, to defend the democratic gains that allows for freedoms and the security and safety for Nigerians irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity.