Nigeria is becoming one of the world’s most-feared places for gay men and gay-rights organizations. Within its borders of late, gay men have been arrested and in some instances tortured and punished harshly for their sexual orientation.
Last week one of the world’s most heinous bills for same-sex relationships was signed into law in Nigeria. So far, many people have been arrested, and it looks like it’s just getting started.
The “Jail the Gays” law, a bill that is both immensely harsh and incredibly strict, was signed and enacted, allowing police to arrest gay people. Reports say that Nigerian police are basing the arrests on a list of 168 suspects cited to have been obtained through torture. Broken down, The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, signed by President Goodluck Jonathan, criminalizes individuals and groups who are in favour of “registration, operation, and sustenance of gay clubs, societies and organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria.” If convicted, citizens could be jailed for 10 years.
Persecution of homosexuality in Nigeria isn’t a new thing, it’s been happening for years. However, actions against homosexuality and same-sex couples began to increase in December. During that month, police captured four gay men and tortured them until they were willing to name other gay men. From this, the police constructed a list of “suspects”, a “wanted” list of gay men to track down.
Sodomy has been punishable by law for years in Nigeria. However, the new bill outlaws the simple fact of being gay, taking the sodomy laws more than one treacherous step further.
Now that the law has earned President Goodluck Jonathan’s official seal of approval, those in the country and around the globe fear that it will pave the way for more torture, arrests, and harsher punishment for gay Nigerians, and by association, gay-rights organizations within the country.
Public officials in the United States and the United Nations have been prompt to speak out against the bill, a list of figures that includes Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and the U.N human rights chief. Navi Pillar, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a statement on Tuesday that called the bill “draconian,” and citing that it “violates a wide range of human rights.”
Since being gay is a crime and individuals can be arrested and punished for it, those fighting for human rights in Nigeria have a huge struggle ahead of them. It’s a goal of theirs to start providing legal services to those arrested for being gay, but many organizations can’t afford to help. The issue necessarily isn’t the mere fact of legal services, but in a judiciary court if the accused was arrested under national law for being gay, what is protecting them in court? It’s written into law that the individual is illegal, therefore barring any sort of protection within the courts.
Nigeria needs a drastic and swift change in policy to tackle the absurdity of the bill. An immediate response needs to take place because people’s lives are on the line. Nigeria has seen individuals who are gay marked as illegal, as if a person could even be illegal. Those tortured for the names of other gay men, what’s stopping police from beating them to death? The situation doesn’t look like it’ll be improving anytime soon.
Russia, India, Uganda, and now Nigeria, all of these countries are adopting disastrous laws for gay men and women. It’s s0metimes easy in our bubble to forget the wider struggle faced by the LGBT community abroad, but as social tolerance regresses elsewhere, let’s not let it go unnoticed.