John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Gay Marriage and Goodluck Jonathan’s Tricky Position

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
June 17, 2013

President Goodluck Jonathan presents his administration's midterm report during Democracy Day in Abuja May 29, 2013. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters) President Goodluck Jonathan presents his administration's midterm report during Democracy Day in Abuja May 29, 2013. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)

This is a guest post by Dominic Bocci, assistant director at the Council on Foreign Relations’ David Rockefeller Studies Program.

The passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill on May 31, 2013, by the Nigerian House of Representatives places President Goodluck Jonathan in a tricky position. Not signing the bill risks alienating his own government and signaling to the general public that he does not support one of the few issues that brings the majority of Nigerians together. Alternatively, signing such legislation may cost the country substantial sums of international aid and investment. Either way, gay marriage—an otherwise unlikely political issue—may significantly influence the Nigerian political debate leading up to the 2015 national elections.

The bill, which received unanimous approval in the House, has inched another step forward to becoming law in the oil-rich nation. In the simplest terms, the bill prohibits same-sex marriage contracts from being issued or recognized by the state. However, if President Jonathan signs the current version, the law would also enable courts to levy criminal charges against public displays of affection between individuals of the same sex. It would further make it a criminal offense to establish or operate gay organizations in Nigeria—incurring penalties of mandatory imprisonment if found guilty.

Recent studies have found Nigerians to be overwhelmingly against accepting homosexuality, even in comparison to other African nations with anti-gay legislation. However, according to Nigerian civil society groups, the recent version passed by the House places more than just the LGBT community at risk. Both Nigerians and international aid workers implementing HIV/AIDS-prevention programs may be prosecuted under the new law if their efforts are construed as promoting same-sex relationships.

If President Jonathan signs the bill, questions loom as to what extent the law will be enforced and if the international community will retreat. In 2011 when the Nigerian Senate passed a similar bill, the United Kingdom threatened to withdraw aid; but the Nigerian Senate did not back down.

Even more may be at stake for Nigeria this time. Since the 2011 passage of the Senate-version of the bill, the Obama Administration has publicly affirmed its stance towards the advancement of LGBT rights across the globe—even suggesting that the United States might tie aid to support of LGBT rights. However, it remains an open question whether the United States will divest aid from countries with anti-LGBT legislation, particularly in light of President Obama’s previous statement that “Africa’s future is up to Africans.”

The recently passed bill has the potential to violate not only international treaties and conventions—many of which Nigeria has signed—but also the country’s Constitution. There is justifiable fear that this law will be used to abridge Nigerians’ right to freedom of speech, association, and assembly. Yet, the bill’s enactment may also lead to political blackmailing and rampant abuse by the country’s security forces.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by James

    Nigeria Legislators and by extension GoodLuck knew better than towing the path of endorsing Pro- LGBT laws. Just the way the western wold frowns at polygamy, that’s how we Africans frowns at Homosexuality. Common sense should let western leaders know that if their parents were homosexuals, they won’t be alive today. They have the myopic legislation that gay couples can adopt a child; who will give birth to the child they want to adopt?

  • Posted by Chike

    Jonathan should sign the bill ASAP.

    Foreign aid is a negligible proportion of Nigerian government spending and Nigeria needs to learn to live without it.

    Africa is the only continent where aid is tied to gay rights (nobody tries this in Pakistan or Afghanistan). So African nations like Nigeria should call their bluff & sign the bill.

    If Jonathan doesn’t sign the bill, his successor (who is likely to come from Northern Nigeria & be a Muslim) is even more likely to sign it.

    The West is wasting its time with gay rights in Nigeria & the use of aid as a tool to promote gay rights should trigger a movement by visionary African leaders to do away with Western aid.

  • Posted by Cheikh Traore

    Agree with the first assertion: Not signing the Bill will be a very unpopular move here in Nigeria. However, it is less clear that foreign aid and investments will be affected. It will be a highly unwise move for funders to tie aid or investments to LGBT rights. Most African LGBT organizations are against this approach to aid conditionality, and have made it clear after a statement made by David Cameron (UK prime minister) in fact. In fact, the UK – a major partner of Nigeria – has pledged just a few days ago to increase its aid flows to the country. As President Obama travels to the continent, his words will be carefully watched. he is already perceived as having ignored africa in his foreign policy. In his entire first term, he has only spent one day on the continent (during his visit to Ghana). Whilst we welcome his stance on human rights, his commitment to africa’s development are still not clearly demonstrable. Even george Bush – with his PEPFAR plan can claim to have done far more for Africa

  • Posted by ONWUDIWE ADA

    I AGREE WITH CHIKE,EVEN IF PRESIDENT JEG DOES NOT SIGN IT IN HIS TENURE , HIS SUCCESSOR WILL GLADLY DO SO AS MAJORITY OF NIGERIANS ARE IN FAVOR OF THE BILL. THE U.S GOVT SHOULDN’T BE A PROPAGANDIST OF SUCH ILL..WE AFRICANS HAVE ENOUGH ON OUR PLATE ,ADDING GAY RIGHTS IS JUST PLAIN VAIN.AS TO TO AIDS TIED TO LGBT RIGHTS.WE DON’T CARE.I BET YOU CHINA ,JAPAN ,RUSSIA AND OTHER G8 WOULD BE MORE THAN WILLING TO OFFER AID ALTHOUGH I BELIEVE WE NIGERIANS DON’T HAVE MUCH NEED OF IT IF WE TACKLE CORRUPTION.

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