Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill in Nigeria – Any human rights implications?Posted: 11 June, 2013
A same-sex union is known to be a sexual relationship between people of the same sex; namely, between two or more males or two or more females. This relationship often described as unnatural and amongst the Christian and Islamic faiths in Nigeria is general not accepted. Without any intentions of making an ideological or philosophical argument on the issue of the morality of this kind of relationship, I would like to explore the human rights implications of passing of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill in Nigeria on 31 May 2013.
The new Bill refutes any benefits that may accrue to a marriage and restates that such a marriage will not be recognised, even when contracted outside Nigeria. It further outlaws the gathering of people of the same-sex and provides in very wide terms “directly or indirectly” liability for any person or group that is involved in a same sex relationship. It further stipulates a minimum period of 10 years imprisonment for direct or indirect involvement in issues concerning the rights of people of the same-sex. In enacting the Bill, the House of Assembly of Nigeria propose a $40million internet monitoring project to clamp down on people involved in same-sex unions.
The Bill violates several constitutionally guaranteed rights under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including but not limited to, the violation of the right to personal liberty (Section 35); the violation to freedom of association and assembly (Section 40); the violation of freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Section 38); the right to privacy (Section 37); and the right not to be discriminated against and the right to dignity (Sections 34 and 42). Interestingly a member of the House and Chairman of the Information and Computer Technology subcommittee is quoted as having objected to the proposal to monitor the usage of the internet by people suspected to be involved in same-sex relationships, citing it would amount to a violation of the right to privacy. It is surprising that the honourable members failed to recognise other possible blatant violations embedded in the new Bill.
Considering the fact that various (religious) groups in Nigeria share their beliefs and practices in the public sphere (on the streets, in public transports and market places) without restrictions, why prohibit directly or indirectly people of the same-sex from expressing themselves or their sexuality? What then is the difference between these religious groups and people of the same-sex? Is this not parallel with discrimination? Is this not parallel with equality?
The new Bill also seeks to destroy civil society groups or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that wish to stand for equality and push the frontiers for the respect of freedom of conscience of people in same-sex relationships. The ethics of the legal profession allow for a lawyer to approach a court and ask for an order to enforce of certain rights. What then is the fate of a Nigerian lawyer who takes a brief to confront laws prejudicial to the rights of his gay or lesbian client?
The question and defence that is on the lips of the average African or Nigerian is that of morals. One may then ask, whose morals and whose culture do we hypocritically claim to protect? Is the claimed “sin” of same-sex union and relations; when more grievous sins like corruption have ripped off an entire nation of its socio-economic rights and benefits? It is inherently appalling that instead of focusing on situations that are more strategic to moving Nigeria forward, effort and energy is channelled towards the frivolities that, at best, have private and individual implications. Lack of access to quality basic education, gender violence and a whole lot more looms large in a country as blessed as Nigeria, yet no light seems to be appearing at the end of the tunnel.
Another question that begs for an answer is whether the people to suffer from this tyrant law emanating from a democratic institution, would be the poor. Unverified claims attest to the fact that the wealthy in Nigeria’s private and public spheres are involved in same-sex relations for various reasons. It is most likely that the proverbial poor man who is lynched in the market place for stealing
N50 will suffer more that the rich politician who is praised and celebrated for stealing billions if both were found to be involved in this sanctionable relationship. It is worth noting that same-sex couples are human beings who, like most people, are honest, hardworking and responsible citizens. They do not seek to be identified by their sexuality, or to be reduced to their sexual identity. They hope only for an environment that values their status as human beings and that judges them on their contribution to the country they live in.
As the world moves towards a greater respect for rights and the role of governments in promoting, protecting and fulfilling rights, the reverse is occurring in Nigeria. It is therefore my opinion that the present Bill further puts Nigeria on the back foot. Nigeria is signatory to several global and regional human rights instruments that guarantee the rights the present law blatantly seeks to violate and it remains to seen how the country will show its respect or otherwise for its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights for instance. In the past, courageous lawyers like the late Chief Fawehimi (SAN) relied on the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to pave a new path for the legal jurisprudence in Nigeria and I sincerely hope we have disciples willing to challenge the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill.
About the Author:
Azubike Onuora-Oguno holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Ilorin, a BL in Law from the Nigeria Law School (Nigeria)and an LLM from the University of Pretoria (South Africa). Onuora-Oguno is currently an LLD candidate at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. His main areas of research are focus is human rights and international law, with a particular focus on minority rights. Onuora-oguno has also written on the indigenous peoples’ right to education, language rights, justiciability of the right to education in Nigeria and domestic violence.