Nigeria: Advisory on Proposed Ban on Gay Marriage in Nigeria, Africa’s Most Populous Country

IGLHRC is deeply concerned and actively investigating reports coming out of Nigeria regarding a new bill that has been introduced for consideration by the National Assembly. The bill will criminalize same-sex marriage and impose a penalty of five years imprisonment for anyone involved in such a union. The introduction of such a bill is deeply disturbing, given its redundancy (only opposite sex marriages are currently performed in the country) and the lack of any movement among Nigerian gays and lesbians for marriage rights. Clearly the proposed law is an attempt to further marginalize an increasingly vocal minority.

Human rights activists are even more appalled by rumors that the bill will also criminalize gay “advocacy” and “relationships”. While it is still unclear what such prohibitions actually mean, a worst-case scenario could include the criminalization of any discussion on gay liberation, newspaper articles debating sexual rights and any meetings—political or social—of gay and lesbian people. Clearly this would constitute a major violation of international and regional human rights standards and challenge provisions to freedom of speech, assembly and association in Nigeria’s own constitution.

The bill, initiated by the office of President Olesugun Obasanjo, who is running for re-election, comes on the heels of a number of events in Africa that are clearly threatening to the homophobic status quo. The protection of the right of same-sex couples to marry by the South Africa Constitutional Court sent a message of equality throughout the continent. The Office of the President has also cited reports that gay rights activists “stormed” the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa (ICASA) in Abuja in December of last year demanding their rights. A group of LGBT and sexual rights activists from across the African continent did in fact participate in the ICASA conference, respectfully asking governments, donors and civil society to pay greater attention to the HIV/AIDS vulnerability of men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women on the African continent.

IGLHRC is working closely with LGBT and sexual rights advocates in Nigeria and the rest of Africa to develop an effective, African-led strategy that questions the knee-jerk conservatism and religious extremism that is fueling this move. IGLHRC is joining forces with the substantial human rights, women’s rights, and progressive religious communities in Nigeria.

For more information, contact Cary Alan Johnson, Senior Specialist for Africa at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, cjohnson@iglhrc.org, 212.216.1849.