18 February 2007

Nigeria Fails Obligations to Fundamental Human Rights

Nigeria’s criminal code (chapter 42, section 214) penalizes consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex; the penalty stands at fourteen years’ imprisonment, while Sharia penal codes (since 1999 introduced to northern Nigeria where the population is largely Muslim) continue to criminalize what is termed “sodomy"

Laws criminalizing homosexuality act as a licence for torture and ill-treatment. Amnesty International considers the use of ‘sodomy’ laws to imprison individuals for consensual same-sex relations in private to be a grave violation of human rights, including the rights to privacy, freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression and association, all of which are protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Nigerian Federal government is considering new legislation that, if passed, will bring further criminal penalties in contravention of Nigeria’s obligations under international and regional human rights law.

On 19 January 2006, Minister of Justice Bayo Ojo proposed legislation to the Federal Executive Council, with broad sweeping provisions that could lead to the imprisonment of individuals solely for their actual or imputed sexual orientation, and for a number of other reasons, including consensual sexual relations in private, public expression of their sexual identity, or public advocacy in support of the rights of lesbian and gay people. It would introduce five years imprisonment for any person who "goes through the ceremony of marriage with a person of the same sex" or "performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage." And if that is not shocking enough, the law would provide five years imprisonment for any person who "is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private." The draft bill also prohibits the registration of gay organizations, any public display of a "same sex amorous relationship," and adoption of children by lesbian or gay couples or individuals. In addition, it would invalidate same sex relationship formally entered into or recognized in foreign jurisdictions.

The bill already received its first reading in the Nigerian Senate on 11 April 2006 at which the provisions were widened further still. It is now proposed that any individual who witness, celebrates with or supports couples involved in same-sex relationships would also be subject to a prison term.

Reinforcing the existing provisions with new legislation displays an intent to intensify prejudice based on sexual orientation. By criminalizing acts of peaceful expression or association in defense of LGBT rights, the bill would strike at the fundamental freedoms enjoyed by all individuals in Nigeria’s long-vigorous civil society. By institutionalizing discrimination, these laws act as an official incitement to violence against lesbians and gay men in the community as a whole, whether in police custody or prison, on the street or in the home.

Even before the bill has been passed or even submitted to the National Assembly for consideration, reports from human rights activists in Nigeria suggest that some individuals are already interpreting the draft legislation as a signal that the government will not prosecute people who assault or otherwise intimidate LGBT individuals, which may lead to a situation of impunity for attacks on LGBT individuals.

This bill would also impede effective HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in Nigeria. While the prevailing pattern of HIV transmission, as elsewhere in the continent, is overwhelmingly heterosexual, the government will damage its own prevention efforts by driving populations already suffering stigma for their sexual conduct still further underground – not only making it more difficult for outreach and education efforts to reach them, but potentially criminalizing civil society groups engaged in that vital work. (For what it’s worth, Nigeria’s AIDS prevention programs have previously been criticised by their neglect of the particular risks facing men who have sex with men)

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation contradicts fundamental freedoms under the Nigerian Constitution and is prohibited under other international human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party.

  • The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights affirms the equality of all people, with Article 2 stating: "Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status." Further, Article 3 guarantees every individual equality before the law, and Article 26 prescribes that "Every individual shall have the duty to respect and consider his fellow beings without discrimination, and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance."
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Nigeria acceded without reservations in 1993, protects the rights to freedom of expression (article 19), freedom of conscience (article 18), freedom of assembly (article 21) and freedom of association (article 22). It affirms the equality of all people before the law and the right to freedom from discrimination in articles 2 and 26.

States cannot curtail the enjoyment of human rights on the basis of sexual orientation: the UN Human Rights Committee has urged states not only to repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality but also to enshrine the prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation into their constitutions or other fundamental laws.

This proposed legislation is contrary to Nigeria’s obligations to all people in Nigeria. It not only contravenes internationally recognized protections against discrimination, rights to freedom of expression, conscience, association, and assembly, but also undermines the struggle to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS. Under international human rights law, the country has the obligation to respect, promote and protect the human rights of its population, without distinction of any kind.


Transparency… information flowing freely, available to all members of society… accountability.

Gentle readers, in the knowledge this is happening, to remain silent is to be complicit. All of this information is available on Amnesty International's website, but the email feature to send your complaint has not been updated; please consider sending a letter, in English or your own language, to the appropriate authorities. (In addition to the President, there are several other figures that it will help to lobby: addresses here)

For your convenience, one provides a sample letter (based upon AI suggested format) Please adapt to your own style, particularly if you have any relevant personal connection with Nigeria, as it lends a certain persuasiveness to your concern

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