07/12/2011 18:42 GMT | Updated 06/02/2012 05:12 GMT

Nigerian Anti Gay Bill is One of the Most Draconian in the World

The Nigerian Senate has voted to criminalise same-sex marriages and civil unions, with penalties of 14 years jail for participants and 10 years jail for anyone who assists or witnesses such a marriage or union.

In addition, the scope of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill has been dramatically widened.

It now also criminalises gay organisations and advocacy groups, and public expressions of same-sex affection. These newly-added offences carry a sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

The Bill has been sent to the House of Representatives for approval. If it is passed there, and secures the President's signature, it will become law.

Section 5 of the Bill states:

1) Persons who entered into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years in prison.

2) Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison.

3) Any person or group of persons that witness, abet and aids the solemnization of a same-sex marriage or civil union, or supports the registration, operation or sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organisations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.

Commenting on the new law, Yemisi Ilesanmi, the Nigerian bisexual coordinator of the campaign group, Nigerian LGBTIs in the Diaspora Against Anti-Same-Sex Laws, said:

"This legislation is a clear attempt to crush the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex (LGBTI) community in Nigeria. The further criminalisation of same-sex relations is hateful and a violation of human rights.

"The Bill will jail Nigerians who participate in LGBTI organisations and will make human rights advocacy by LGBTI groups impossible.

"The new penalties for same-sex marriage are more than double what the Bill originally demanded. The previous penalty of three years jail for same-sex couples who get married has been raised to 14 years. For witnesses and facilitators of such marriages the maximum jail term has been increased from five to 10 years. The decision to so substantially increase the punishments is particularly abhorrent.

"It is shameful that many Nigerian senators are so myopic that they compared homosexuality to paedophilia during the debate on the Bill.

"The action of further criminalising an oppressed minority because of their sexual orientation is indeed an outrage, a gross violation of human rights. Nigeria is sliding fast into a despotic state.

"The Bill aims to further criminalise same-sex relationships. Already, consensual same-sex conduct between adults is a criminal offence carrying up to 14 years imprisonment and in some parts of the country there is the death penalty under Sharia law," said Ms Ilesanmi.

Davis Mac-Iyalla, the gay campaign director of the Nigerian LGBTIs in the Diaspora Against Anti-Same-Sex Laws, noted:

"The Nigerian senators have further demonstrated their discrimination and oppression of vulnerable LGBTI Nigerians. I urge human rights activists worldwide to join forces with us to fight the Bill."

"This vote demonstrates how the senators are ignorant of human sexuality. They are enforcing their religious beliefs in a secular country. Equality and human rights are for all, including Nigerian LGBTIs," he said.

It is notable that the new legislation clearly violates the equality and non-discrimination guarantees of Article 42 of the Nigerian Constitution and Articles 2 and 3 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, which Nigeria has signed and pledged to uphold.

Article 42 of the Nigerian constitution states:

(1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-

a. be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject

Articles 2 and 3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights stipulate:

Article 2

Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status.

Article 3

1) Every individual shall be equal before the law. 2) Every individual shall be entitled to equal protection of the law.

In neither the Nigerian constitution nor the African Charter are there any exceptions or exemptions to their comprehensive guarantee of equality and non-discrimination.

This means there is a good chance that this Bill, and Nigeria's long-standing criminalisation of same-sex relations, can be challenged in the courts. Litigation could be a future option for LGBTI campaigners and human rights defenders. The situation is not entirely hopeless.

Moreover, Nigeria's long-standing criminalisation of homosexuality, with penalties of up to 14 years jail, is not an authentic national law that originated in Nigerian jurisprudence. It was imposed on Nigeria by the British colonial administration in the nineteenth century. Despite Nigeria now being an independent country, this British colonial law has never been repealed. It should be.

Nigerian LGBTI people are entitled to equality and human rights, just like their fellow heterosexual Nigerians. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is an invasion of privacy and an infringement of individual liberty, wherever it occurs - whether in Nigeria, Britain or anywhere else.