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Nigerian aid at risk from anti-marriage bill

Tue 6 Dec 2011 In: International News

A move to outlaw gay marriage in Nigeria could have an even wider impact, in putting at risk the millions of dollars of western aid which is donated to help stop the spread of HIV and AIDS in the Commonwealth nation. Homosexual acts are already illegal in the nation, and if a bill passed last Tuesday by the Republic's Senate is approved by the House and signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigerians could be imprisoned simply for being gay, or for aiding and abeting same-sex marriages. Experts with the United Nations estimate that more than three million Nigerians are infected with HIV, though it is not known what percentage of gay people are included in that figure. According to statistics gathered by Nigerian public health physician Chikwe Ihekweazu, about 400,000 Nigerians are currently undergoing retroviral therapy for their infections, most of it paid for by donations from, among others, the US and the UK. If the Prohibition of Same-Sex Marriage Bill becomes law, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has threaten to cut off the £19.9m million his country provides yearly to Nigeria to fight the epidemic. Professor Jerry Gana, a former Minister of Information and National Orientation, has called on the National Assembly to pass the bill quickly, describing same-sex marriage as "ungodly" and "immoral". However, since 2006, the assembly has considered an anti-gay marriage twice and failed to enact it both times—but this time, the anti-gay rhetoric has become more heated, with Gana claiming that same-sex marriage is "a threat to civil society," and that failure to pass the bill "could make God foresake Nigeria". "We are protecting humanity and family values. In fact, we are protecting civilization in its entirety," stated Senator Ahmed Lawan, one of the backers of the new legislation. While the bill would mandate 10-year prison terms for those who "witness," "aid" or "abet" gay marriage, and is aimed at gay rights groups throughout the country, it also provides a 14-year sentence just for being gay. "If this bill passes into law, the Nigerian government will be sanctioning even greater discrimination and violence against an already vulnerable group," said Graeme Reid, the LGBT Rights Director of Human Rights Watch. BBC reports that at a tense public hearing at the National Assembly activists who spoke against the legislation were jeered and heckled. BBC World has spoken to one brave Nigerian gay man, John Adeniyi, who told the news service "They said: 'You are evil, you are a devil, and if you were my brother you'd deserve to be killed. "And it made me feel like the world is not a place worth being in." The BBC story linked below includes footage of gay activists being mocked and laughed at as they spoke at the hearing.    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Tuesday, 6th December 2011 - 4:50pm

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