As controversy rages with Nigeria’s Parliament unchanging stance on passing the same sex bill which scaled 2nd reading at last deliberations, health experts and rights activists have called for caution on the part of members of parliament on the need to consider the wider implication that passage of the bill will have on modest gains recorded on the country’s HIV prevention, treatment and care.
At 3.1m persons living with HIV in the country, Nigeria carries the 2nd largest global burden of the disease after South Africa. From recent reports however, Nigeria does not compare favourably with South Africa in halting the disease progression, missing a global target to halve new infections by 50%, instead recording about 60% increase in new infections in the year ending alone.
The Integrated Biological Behavioural Survey Surveillance conducted by the Federal Ministry of Health and its partners estimated the prevalence rate of HIV amongst same sex partners at 13.5% in 2007. The 2010 surveys released in 2011 puts new figures at 17.2%, (IBBS 2010). These figures are alarming for the community, and are in many ways jeopardizing the progress that Nigeria is making in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
It must be noted that from the same survey, that more than 50% of same sex partners reported sex with female partners in the last 12 months, and most of them, about 40.8% actually had sex with girlfriends. Most people of same sex orientation are also bisexual, keeping girlfriends, some, to satisfy societal expectations.
Experts suggests that it is important to note that the stigmatizing attitudes of society and of health care workers in HIV service provision continues to fuel the disease, and, with this bill, they express fears it will be more difficult to provide services to Nigeria’s highly productive youth burdened by the epidemic, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Members of the Nigerian gay community have also reacted, suggesting that the core attention of the bill, which seems to be on marriage, does not even come up on the priority agenda of the community. According to Rashidi Williams, ‘‘here in the megacity of Africa’s most populous nation, I don’t think I know of any gays or lesbians who is even thinking of getting married’’. Ifeanyi Orazulike, Executive Director of International Center for Advocacy on Right to Health (ICARH), opined that “the bill will further drive the populations of sexual minority targeted by civil society organizations with HIV/AIDS prevention and intervention programs underground, with grave consequences on public health.” And, in the view of United Kingdom, UK based Bisi Alimi, ‘’the decision of leaders of Nigeria HIV intervention to involve the population I call the “Silent” drivers of the epidemic ensured and contributed to the modest successes recorded. By also including civil groups working with the gay community in the bill, is like taking the nation back to the dark ages. I will implore a re-think from parliamentarians on this issue, lest Nigeria experience an HIV explosion in few years to come’’. Oliver Anene, Coordinator of the Initiative for Improved Male Health would also rather toe Bisi’s admonition and pleads for understanding, ‘‘I will just humbly implore our law makers to really consider the long term consequences of this bill on the social security of our youth’’.
If the bill is passed, it would make it a crime for gays and lesbians to get married, even though members have said they are not even looking up to that prospect, while those who witness a gay marriage, or an affirming church which performs a gay wedding would be seen to also have committed a crime.
Gays and lesbians who marry will face 14 years in prison. While any public displays of affection, such as holding hands, or even looking at each other affectionately could result in a 10-year jail sentence.
Whether the participant is gay or straight, anyone who organizes or becomes a member of a “gay club” or supports a gay organization financially could also face jail time.
The Nigerian Senate had in November 2011 passed a similar bill banning same sex marriages in the country.
Here, listen to what some members of the House of Representatives who are currently considering the bill have to say about it during deliberations:
Leading the debate on the bill, Mulikat Akande-Adeola (PDP-Oyo) said the proposed legislation would ensure that the institution of marriage was respected. Mrs. Akande-Adeola, who is the Leader of the House, said the bill would also protect and preserve the Nigerian culture. She urged members to support the second reading of the bill, saying that marriage between people of the same sex “is foreign to the culture and traditions of Nigerians.” According to her, “this same sex marriage is alien to our culture and not ordained by God; same sex or gender marriage is completely alien to our society and culture’’. “This practice has no place in our culture, religion, Nigeria or anywhere in Africa, it is immorality and debasement of our culture, we condemn it in totality,” she concluded.
Adams Jagaba (PDP-Kaduna) aligned himself with the submission of the Majority Leader and said no religion supported gay marriage. “We are a cultured people; we cannot carry everything from other culture,” he said.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa (ACN-Lagos), who also supported the bill, said that solemnisation of same sex marriage had no place in the Nigerian culture. “It is repulsive,” she stressed.
Nnenna Ukeje (PDP-Abia) also condemned same-sex marriage. She said marriage is a union that should be blessed by God and marriage between same sex “diminishes the symbol of what we are and procreation.’’
Femi Gbajabiamila (ACN-Lagos), the House Minority Leader, also spoke against allowing marriage between same sexes, describing the act as immoral. “In this marriage, the third party is affected, these people go ahead and adopt children, thereby affecting the child, and in the process the child becomes dysfunctional; we are not seeking to promote a dysfunctional society.’’
Aminu Suleiman (PDP-Kano) lauded the Senate for taking the initiative in rejecting gay marriage in Nigeria with their passage of the bill in November 2011.
All through the debate, there was no one dissenting voice as the bill sailed through second reading after being put to vote by the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal.
Mr. Tambuwal subsequently referred it to the committee of the whole house for consideration.