UN agencies and others warned on Wednesday that a new Nigerian anti-gay law violates human rights. Thomas Mösch says Nigeria should be addressing its real problems instead of legislating against a persecuted minority.
By his standards, President Goodluck Jonathan moved very swiftly. The two houses of the Nigerian parliament only agreed on a joint version of the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill 2013 in December. Just weeks later Jonathan had signed it into law amid international protests. Many Nigerians wish that their president would act so decisively in other areas of policy. After almost three years in office, he has accomplished very little.
Instead of governing the country, he is waging battles on several fronts against opponents who want to stop him from running for the presidency in 2015. Yet as far the signing of this bill is concerned, he can be sure of the support of almost all of the Nigerian people.
Nonetheless this is a fateful day for human rights in Nigeria, even if most Nigerians do not agree.
Enemy 'Western' values
Firstly, despite its name, the purpose of this bill is not to ban marriage between people of the same sex. Nobody is calling for marriage equality in Nigeria. The law defines same-sex marriage not in the sense of an exchange of vows, but as any and every form of sexual partnership between two men or two women. This is a deep intrusion into the private lives of individuals. The activities of consenting adults in their own homes are no business of the government or the state. Even if the bill has the support of a huge majority, that is no justification for depriving a minority of the right to a private life of their own choosing.
Secondly, the new bill penalizes anybody who supports gay partnerships or organizations campaigning for gay rights. This spells danger for friends, relatives, or parents who are not prepared to throw their son or daughter out of the house simply because they are gay. The bill is also a threat to everybody who wants to help others to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS, because it simply won't be possible any more to talk about certain sexual practices.
Homosexuality already banned
One is left wondering why this bill has been enacted in the first place. Homosexuality is already punishable by heavy prison sentences under Nigerian law. In the Muslim north of the country, sharia courts can even hand down the death penalty. It would appear that Nigeria's political elite is trying to recapture moral authority it has long since lost at the expense of a minority that is already being persecuted.
With this goal in mind, Nigeria's politicians have been spreading lies and disinformation about gay marriage. One example is "This is something the West wants to force upon us." But no Western government has ever demanded that another country should legalize same-sex marriage. Their concern is simply to ensure that people are not thrown into prison or even killed merely because their way of displaying love and affection is not accepted by a majority. Another example is "All the world's major religions vehemently reject homosexual relationships." In Nigeria and in most other African countries this may be true. But seen from a global perspective, that assertion is just wrong. In South Africa, the Anglican Church already treats gay worshippers equally. Europe's Protestant churches do likewise. Even the Pope has urged Catholics to treat gay men and women with compassion and not expose them to hatred and persecution.
There are countries in Africa in which homosexuality has not been banned and they include some of Nigeria's neighbors. South Africa is regarded as a pioneer in the struggle for gay rights. None of these countries is better or worse off than the others.
Nigeria's politicians should start focusing on the country's real problems. When is parliament going to take tough action against the inequality in the country that permits only tiny elite to benefit from the country's wealth? A country in which the streets are full of beggars and in which the vast majority can afford neither education nor health care!
Most Nigerians regard the time that has elapsed since the last election in 2011 as years of missed opportunities, because none of the country's major problems have been tackled. A law outlawing homosexuality, which has already been banned anyway, won't change that.
Thomas Mösch is the head of DW's Hausa Service