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Nigerian Parliament using dirty tricks in push to pass anti-gay bill

Following two previous attempts the Nigerian parliament has revived its efforts at further criminalizing homosexuality in a new bill: "An Act to Prohibit Marriage between Persons of Same Gender, Solemnization Of Same And For Other Matters Related Therewith."

And according to a report in Behind The Mask they are trying to get it passed by 'wrong footing' Nigerian activists and international attention.

Olumide Makanjuola, Director of Program of the Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) based in Lagos said:

“I will not be surprised if we read from the press, the same way we read about the bill, that the public hearing happened and the senate passed the bill."

The bill was actually introduced into the Senate in July but information about its existence was only published this month. Public hearings about the bill have not been published, which is not usual, even though they are not a legal requirement. It is at a public hearing that Nigerian human rights groups can express their opposition.

"This might be a trick to speedily pass the bill at the senate without intervention of human rights activists,” said Makanjuola.

Yemisi Ilesanmi, coordinator of Nigerian LGBT in Diaspora Against Same Sex Laws, said.

"Lawmakers are fast tracking the bill. There are concerns within the Nigerian LGBT community that the recent bomb blasts in the country would be used as a pretext to deny public access to the hearing."

The bill is currently being scrutinized by the Senate’s committees on Human rights and Judicial Matters, Health and Culture and Tourism. The committees are expected to review the bill and provide recommendation to the house at the third reading.

The bill says:

1.–(1) "Marriage Contract entered between persons of same Gender is hereby prohibited in Nigeria."
1.–(3) "Marriage Contract entered between persons of same gender by virtue a certificate issued by a foreign country shall be void in Nigeria, and any benefits accruing there from by virtue of the certificate shall not be enforced by any court of law in Nigeria."
6. "Same Gender Marriage" means the coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of living together as husband and wife or for other purposes of same sexual relationship."

It criminalises anyone who “witnesses, abets and aids the solemnization of a same gender marriage contract,” but it does not define what witnessing or abetting means.

The Bill's sponsor, Senator Domingo Obende, said in parliament that the bill is needed because "same sex marriage is spreading and spreading round the whole world just like pornography and terrorism which has become the order of the day if not arrested on time."

If the Senate passes the bill it will then go to the lower chamber, the House of Representatives. The House will go through the same process as the Senate. If passed, the bill then goes to the President for his assent.

Nigeria already criminalises homosexuality with up to 14 years imprisonment. In some Northern states there is the death penalty under Sharia law, although this has never been carried out.

Ilesanmi said that:

"This bill would lead to harassment of people for their actual or imputed sexual orientation. It would also stifle freedom of expression and association through the proposed ban on organizations that support lesbian and gay rights." 

"The passing of the bill would give official validation to the harassment of sexual minorities and many homophobic persons would use it as a license to discriminate against lesbians and gays," said Ms Ilesanmi. 

Some human rights organizations in Nigeria have condemned the bill and Behind The Mask has reported on comments on Nigerian online news websites against the bill.

The Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights in its press statement said:

"We wish to remind the parliament that, Nigeria is a secular state. Therefore, implicating that laws of our land cannot and should not be drafted and/or enact on the basis of religious and cultural value. This value already differ as Nigeria is a heterogeneous society, hence our federal system of government."

Previous attempts to further criminalise homosexuality in 2006 and 2009 were quietly shelved following international condemnation.