Anti-Gay laws signed in Nigeria arrives at a time where there is an increasing amount of concern for Africa’s gay population. Homophobia is reaching “dangerous levels” across the continent, according to a 2013 Amnesty International report.
The legislation, signed last week and made public on Monday by President Goodluck Jonathan, will punish Nigerians involved in same sex marriage with a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Gay groups and public affection among homosexuals is also banned.
Response in Western countries is overwhelmingly negative, including Britain, who has threatened to withdraw aid from African countries with anti-gay legislation. Moreover, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the law “dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association and expression for all Nigerians.”
However, within the country, gay rights are not a pressing issue for most Nigerians. The law is agreed upon by most citizens, including Christians and Muslims who make up a combined 90 percent of Nigeria’s population, according to demographics statistics on Index Mundi.
Analysts say the timing of the legislation could be a tactic for the president, whose popularity appears to be declining as the 2015 elections approach. Political science lecturer, Abubakar Kari, tells Voice of America that the bill may have also been signed to distract the public from controversy around the defect of high-level members in the ruling party to opposition parties.
However, the concern of the legislation stretches outside of Nigeria around the continent.
In their June 2013 report, Making Love a Crime, Amnesty International reported that “the existence of laws that criminalize one group of people based on who they are…sends a message to the broader population that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is acceptable, and that human rights do not apply to LGBTI.”
With anti-gay legislation signed in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, that homophobic message is sure to spread exponentially throughout the continent.
Large countries like Uganda could follow through, as a bill was already passed in December. The bill, not yet signed into law, that punishes certain acts of homosexuality with life in prison. Also, anyone who counsels homosexuals will also see a prison sentence.
Other notable countries with anti-gay legislation’s include Burundi, who outlawed sexual relations with the same sex in 2009; and South Sudan who criminalized consensual same-sex conduct with up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Liberia also introduced bills to toughen penalties on same-sex conduct in 2012.
In total, of the 83 countries worldwide with anti-homosexuality laws, 38 of them are in Africa.
Amnesty International also reports that other concerns arise out of anti-gay legislation. In many countries such as Cambodia, individuals are arrested, charged and sentenced without evidence of same-sex conduct, and in some cases, invasive medical examinations are performed to obtain such evidence. The report also states that the laws allow opportunities for abuse by both police and non-state actors.
However, the situation in Africa is not all too bleak. Countries such as Mozambique in 2007, Seychelles in 2006, Cape Verde and Mauritius in 2008, and Botswana in 2010 have all introduced legislation to outlaw discrimination on sexual orientation. Moreover, South Africa is also noted as having made progress, including allowing joint adoption by same-sex couples in 2002 and legalizing same-sex marriage in 2006.
By Kollin Lore