Nigeria is one signature away from 'Jail the Gays' law

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Nigerian legislature has approved a long-discussed proposal nicknamed the “Jail the Gays” bill, sending it to President Goodluck Jonathan for his signature.

Jonathan has not announced how he intends to act. If he signs it into law, Nigeria will impose prison sentences of up to 14 years for any Nigerian who enters into a same-sex marriage and up to 10 years to anyone attending a same-sex wedding in Nigeria.

Discussion of the bill in Nigeria has focused on same-sex marriage, which is almost no one in the country has advocated, but does not mention the harsh treatment it would impose on LGBT people and LGBT rights advocates. There was some uncertainty about the exact language that the Senate passed, but the bill apparently would provide prison sentences of up to 10 years for anyone who supports:

  • LGBT-friendly organizations or meetings
  • Gay Pride marches
  • Gay clubs

According to the IDAHO Portal, the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill’s specific language is:

“Any persons or group of persons that administers, witnesses, screens, abet and aids the solemnization of a same sex marriage contract or civil union or supports the registration, operation of gay clubs, societies and organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offense and liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.”

The Nigerian Senate and House had previously passed such a bill in 2011 and earlier this year, but with minor differences that had to be worked out by a conference committee.

The Senate approved a version late on Dec. 18.  News accounts did not mention similar action by the House, but nevertheless said the Senate’s unanimous vote was the last step needed before the bill goes to the president. If he does not sign it, the bill can still be enacted without his approval, if the House and Senate vote for it again.

Nigerian law already provides for up to 14 years in prison for homosexual activity. In the northern part of the country, sharia law is in effect, which calls for up to the death penalty for male-male sex.

David Mark, president of the Nigerian Senate (Photo courtesy of Punch)
David Mark, president of the Nigerian Senate (Photo courtesy of Punch)

Senate President David Mark urged the president to sign the bill quickly, the Nigerian newspaper Punch reported. Mark’s rhetoric was in the familiar anti-gay tradition of denying equality to LGBT people in the guise of defending society from attack. He said:

“We have been under series of attack from different quarters. I think we believe in this Bill. The earlier we sign it into law, the better. We (Nigeria) have many shortcomings, we don’t want to add this one (same-sex marriage) to it.”

Nigerian gay rights activist Davis Mac-lyalla, who currently lives in England, told Gay Star News that if Jonathan signs the bill, he will be known as “one of the worst human rights abusers in Africa.” He added:

Homosexuality is already illegal [in Nigeria] and now the Senate is trying to promote their hate and homophobia.

There’s no need for this bill. No one in Nigeria has asked for marriage. This bill is just to please the religious leaders.

In June, human rights activists said the bill had serious flaws and, if enacted, could:

  • Send any same-sex roommates and their families to prison.
  • Prohibit homosexuals from hiring legal representation.
  • Violate nine human rights guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.

After the House voted for its version of the bill earlier this year, the LGBT rights group Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora Against Anti-Same-Sex Laws urged Jonathan not to sign it into law. They wrote:

Banner of Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora opposes anti-gay law.
Banner of Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora opposes anti-gay law.

Dear President Goodluck Jonathan, do not assent a bill that infringes on the human rights of Nigerian lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals. The bill is against the spirit of the Nigerian constitution which you swore to uphold.  Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals are citizens, not criminals. Do not criminalize our sexual orientation.

Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora against Anti Same Sex Laws affirms that LGBT RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS and every Nigerian deserves the same right every other Nigerian enjoys irrespective of class, sex, gender or sexual orientation.

We call on all progressive Nigerians to oppose the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition bill. This bill erodes our hard-fought-for constitutional human rights including Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association.

Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora Against Anti Same-Sex Laws urge the international community to stand in solidarity and support the human rights of Nigerian lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.

They asked supporters to sign a petition to the president, urging him not to sign the bill. As of Dec. 19, the petition had 1,459 signatures.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor / publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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  1. As a NIgerian, i think this law does not only represent the sentiments of religious leaders as purported by Davis Mac-lyalla, it also represents the views of majority of Nigerians who think that homosexual activites are repugnant to nature.
    A question for Davis Mac-lyalla, if the law is not necessary why are you asking the president not to sign the law. this law is to prevent homosexuals from asking for marriage tomorrow
    Mind you we don’t hate homosexuals, we love them but we hate those homosexaul tendencies. and we want them to change, and really they can and should change.
    i join David Mark our senate president in calling the president to sign this bill quickly, it will not make him a human right abuser, rather it will make him a human right presever

    • Great response. I especially liked how you mentioned that homosexuals can change.
      But they don’t believe they can do it. We need normal people like you to turn gay to demonstrate to the homosexuals that they can change, easily!

  2. Dear Joshua,
    Thank you for commenting, but this is not good news. Your blog post that you link to contains several important inaccuracies.

    • You state that homosexuals “from all scientific evidence were not born that way but chose to be that way.” Untrue. The scientific evidence is mixed. It would only be true to state that scientists have not found a specific genetic cause for homosexuality. You simply assert it to be a choice, but I doubt that your own experience is that you yourself considered your options and then made a choice — in your case, I assume, to be physically attracted to women.
    • You reject Secretary Kerry’s statement that the law “dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians.” But the law provides a 10-year prison sentence for any homosexuals who join together as a group to seek any political change or even to inform themselves about AIDS.
    • You ask people in the West “to kindly respect our sovereignty and culture and stop threatening us with their aids.” As I understand that statement with regard to the United States, it means, “Kindly keep sending us $230 million a year and pay no attention to the fact that we encourage the spread of AIDS and imprison people simply because they make us comfortable. We consider them worthless sinners. Why bother caring about them? Care about us — and prove that you care by sending us your money.”

    — Colin Stewart, editor of this blog

    Nigeria ($625 million)

    • Thanks colin, but i think you misunderstood the wordings of the law. The law does not proscribe homosexuality because it is not even possible to do that. the law impliedly provides that homosexuality should be a private affair, as such homosexuals should not ask for marriage neither should they form gay cluubs sicne all these things willl give them publicity.
      but the law does not forbid homosexuals from being members of other clubs like Rotary club etc.
      secondly, it is not clear how this law forbids them from gaining access to HIV treatment and education, there are many people who have HIV from sex, birth, blood transfusion etc and they are all treated well without creating dictinct centers so why should the one of Gay’s be different.
      Thirdly the fact that homosexualilty leads to a lot of STD’s, isn’t a sign that there is something wrong with homosexuality?

      • Dear Joshua,
        Sure, a gay man can get HIV treatment and education in Nigeria — if he gets it from a clinic or other site run by those who are not gay, many of whom fear and hate him. If gays get together to serve each other in a mutually respectful way, they can all be thrown into prison. That’s Nigeria’s public health arrangement now — a sure method for encouraging the spread of AIDS.
        — Colin Stewart, editor of this blog

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