THE BLOG
23/12/2013 09:03 GMT | Updated 22/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Dread Grips Nigeria's LGBT Community Over Draconian Anti-Gay Bill

Nigeria's Senate passed a harsh anti-gay bill on Thursday, making life near impossible for the country's LGBT community, only awaiting an imminent presidential signature in order to become law.

Gay people in Nigeria, their families, neighbors and loved ones are in a state of panic this Christmas and face the coming of the New Year with dread, when many expect President Goodluck Jonathan to sign it into law.

The bill punishes anyone attempting to instigate same-sex civil union by 14 years imprisonment, and outlaws "gay clubs, societies and organizations, their sustenance, processions and meetings" or anyone who helps them will also be jailed for five or 10 years.

In addition the bill prohibits the "public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly."

Finally the bill defines same-sex civil union as any form of arrangement between people of the same-sex, which means even a gay relationship is to be punished with a 14 years jail term.

It is expected that President Jonathan will sign it into law at any moment after different versions of the bill have been harmonized between, and voted near unanimously by, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

In fact, the Senate's leader, David Mac, has urged the President to sign it into law immediately.

European leaders and organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called upon the President to veto the bill once its reaches his desk.

However Nigerian activists have wanred that an outright veto is probably politically impossible for Jonathan; the legislation has passed overwhelmingly every time it has come up for a vote.

The only avenue is for him to further delay it demanding modifications to the parts of the bill that could violate the constitution.

Far from being a bill on same-sex marriage or civil union it essentially criminalizes every aspect of being LGBT, hence its nickname: 'Jail All The Gays'.

Since the bill has been introduced by lawmakers in 2011 anti-gay sentiment and violence has been reportedly on the rise.

Homosexuality is already illegal in the federal system of Nigeria and is punished in different states in varying degrees of severity.

Southern states punish same-sex acts with up to 14 years imprisonment, while northern states punish same-sex acts with a minimum of 14 years imprisonment as well as a fine, and in 12 of the northern states punishments include flogging and death by stoning.

This means in essence, that a mere rumor of being gay in Nigeria could lead to violence, blackmail and imprisonment.

The Prospects for Nigeria's LGBT Community if The Bill Becomes Law:

Nigerian LGBT activists agree that if signed into law, extreme anti-gay violence would fundamentally become sanctioned by the state.

Nigerian LGBT rights advocate Bisi Alimi warned that its prospects would exacerbate the flow "of LGBT people from Nigeria.

"Most of the people would rather want to stay back at home with their friends and family, but the fear of either being reported to the police or being lynched by angry mob is too dreadful to fathom."

"Many young LGBT people will be on their own this Christmas because either they have been rejected by their families and friends or they are abused by their community and are forced to move away."

The criminalization of any forms of assistance to LGBT people means, according to Alimi, that "these young boys and girls, will have no support from anyone, possibly most will end up on the street where they will further get abused, raped or reported to the police and if so unlucky get lynched."

But such a law will have even a further devastating impact, explains Alimi,

"Men who have sex with men (MSM) in Nigeria account for over 20% of the HIV infection in the country.

"This is in comparison to just 3% of the general population. HIV healthcare workers who are compassionate towards MSM now stand the risk of being arrested for 'providing services' to the LGBT population.

"Worse still is the cases of hospital, doctors and nurses who have taken up the role of God and have set a process of stigma and discrimination in motion already.

"This year alone more than 6 young MSM in Nigeria died of AIDS related conditions due to the fact that they could not get healthcare support.

"One of them wrote to me months before he died to tell me that every time he goes into the clinic, its workers laugh at him, the doctor advised him to stop being gay or he will go to hell, and the nurses always preach at him from the bible.

"He stopped taking his medication, although I pleaded with him to go back as that is the only way he can stay alive, four months later I received word he died.

"This is becoming the everyday story of MSM/Gay men in Nigeria. Suicide within this group is on the increase and the few organizations that struggle to provide care and support will now have to close if this bill becomes law."

Davis Mac-Iyalla, a Nigerian LGBT rights advocate said: "This bill will promote wide spread homophobia which is already on the increase in Nigeria, encouraging people to take the law into their hands.

"They will feel safe and secure to persecute LGBT people violently, knowing that that the law supports them.

"Gay people will have the choice of facing mob 'justice' or being jailed by the state.

"Those who try to lead some sort of unbearable life in hiding will always be at risk blackmail or worse.

Taking Action Against the Bill Before it Becomes Law

"I would like Western governments and NGOs to use everything in their disposal to put pressure on the Nigeria government to drop not only the bill but the idea of persecuting their innocent vulnerable citizens," said Mac-Iyalla.

"A government owes it to protect all its citizens and not persecuting and violently attacking them.

Alimi appeals to readers: "write to your embassy and diplomatic mission in Nigeria reach out to and support the LGBT community."

Regarding external organizations, Alimi stated: "Western NGOs should stop using the situation in Nigeria in order to get funds that are unlikely to reach voluntary organizations in Nigeria.

"Stop using Nigerian LGBT nightmare as a meal ticket!"

Mac-Iyalla stressed another point: "The international media have a great responsibility to report the news because that bill is one of the worst draconian anti-gay legislation ever drafted."

While Alimi warned that "Western media should stop sensationalizing the events from Nigeria. I know such hype sells or draw people to your sites; however, you are at the end of the day making life really difficult for the people you want to help.

"Nigerians need help but that support must be influenced by Nigerians both at home and in diaspora. The groups at home, need funding, every little helps. It's easy, adopt one of the LGBT organization in Nigeria, use your expertise, experience and resources to support them and work with them. That way we all can make Nigeria a better place for all irrespective of sexuality and gender."