Religious fanatics blamed for Nigeria’s draconian anti-gay bill, approved this week

NIGERIA has passed a bill that bans gay marriage, outlaws organisations supporting gay rights and sets prison terms of up to 14 years for offenders.

Principal architects of this draconian and fundamentally stupid piece of legislation are religious fanatics, foremost among them being the ghastly Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola.

Archbishop Akinola

Archbishop Akinola

As far back as 2006, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell detected Akinola’s hand in a proposed Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill. He wrote:

In the name of Christianity, Akinola and his Anglican hierarchy are endorsing the state oppression of their gay countrymen and women.

And Tatchell slammed the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, for his failure to condemn “this church-endorsed homophobic persecution”.

Instead he embraces Akinola and the Nigerian church, appeasing their prejudice in the name of Anglican unity.

Akinola had welcomed the proposed legislation with the words:

The church commends the lawmakers … and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of all Nigerians regarding human sexuality.

In 2008, Akinola, in an address to the General Synod of the Church of Nigeria, cited civil partnerships as a sign of Britain’s moral decline.

Oh, and sheep-shagging.

He said:

As a church we cannot but continue to decry the disturbing level of moral decadence and spiritual degradation eating deep into the soul of Western societies.  In the United Kingdom, all through Europe and in an ever-increasing number of states in America, legislators make laws to upturn the natural order and throw God away from the public domain.

Marriage and family life as we know them in the word of God have been jettisoned. People of the same sex are legally permitted to marry. Parents’ right to discipline their children is legally denied, the age of discretion that used to be 21 has been lowered to 18 and there are efforts at reducing it to 16 if not 14.

As if these are not bad enough, only last week the Tell magazine reported in its 36th edition on page 12 that a 27-year-old man was arrested for having sex with a sheep in Dulwich, south-east London.

The incident to which Akinola referred involved a Dulwich man who was collared on suspicion of carrying out a series of sex attacks on sheep at a farm in Bromley. The attacks left two animals dead and several others traumatised.

The Nigerian bill, which, as far as I know, makes no mention of farmyard animals, was passed this week by the House of Representatives. It will now go to President Goodluck Jonathan, to be signed into law. Whether he will approve it remains unclear, as both the US and the UK said the move could jeopardise foreign funding for Aids and HIV outreach programmes.

Nigeria’s Senate passed the bill in November 2011, but it did not emerge in the house until Thursday. Under previous versions of the bill, couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be jailed for 10 years.

Commenting on the latest development, Nigerian gay rights campaigner Damian Ugwu, said:

While we watch the flames of homophobia in Uganda with horror, the same fires are burning in countries around the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in Nigeria. The latest version of the deceptively named “Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill” declares that the ‘public show of same sex amorous relationship [sic] directly or indirectly is hereby prohibited’. Incredibly, it would punish same-sex affection – yes, even a simple hug or kiss – with ten years in prison.

He added:

Supporters of the bill were given ample time to organise and mobilise their supporters, while LGBT activists and civil society organisations opposed to the bill were refused permission to attend the public hearing. Those who managed to scale the security barriers to attend the hearing were constantly jeered at and booed by religious fundamentalists while being intimidated by legislators.

He said that the Nigerian anti-gay bill should be “understood within the context of the sociopolitical crises within the country and the rise of Christian fundamentalism in Nigeria”.

The last 10 years in Nigeria have seen frightening levels of terrorism and religious and ethnic violence. At no time in the history of Nigeria is the unity of the country more threatened than in the present. Calls for “regional autonomy,” “true federalism” and “sovereign national conference” are becoming more strident. Such agitation represents the deep-seated mistrust Nigerian elites and ethnic leaders. For now, it seems that the only thing these leaders can agree on – and ditto for most Nigerians – is their love of football and their hatred of homosexuality.

This bill must be understood for what it is: a diversionary tactic by politicians to confuse the public and distract attention from pressing socioeconomic realities.

Commenting on the bill George Broadhead,  secretary of the UK gay charity, the Pink Triangle Trust, said:

This is shocking news. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals already face open discrimination and abuse in a country divided by Christians and Muslims who almost uniformly oppose homosexuality. In Nigeria’s north, where Islamic Sharia law has been enforced for about a decade, LGB people can face death by stoning.

 It seems that there is a very real threat that this draconian bill will become law and, if it does, Nigeria will become the most homophobic nation in Africa. Even in South Africa, the one country where gays can marry, lesbians have been brutally attacked and murdered.

 If the bill is enacted, the situation for LGB people in Nigeria will become completely untenable, setting a precedent that would threaten all Nigerians’ rights to privacy, equality, free expression and free association.

 It is clear that the impetus for such legislation has come from religious sources. The Nigerian Humanist Movement (NHM), which has had financial support from the PTT, has been one of the few NGOs defending LGBT rights in the country. Its former executive director, Leo Igwe, deserves much credit for courageously speaking up for these rights in the country’s parliament.