by Frankie Edozien
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News
The Nigerian House of Assembly voted Thursday to ban same sex marriage and impose jail terms of 10-14 years for those convicted.
The measure passed unanimously and with no debate or discussion, merely a voice vote.
The vote occurred the same day that a cache of weapons that allegedly belonged to Hezbollah and was stored in preparation for attacks on Western targets – was discovered by the Nigerian army.
Representatives of Nigeria’s 160 million residents also voted to ban organizations that support its gay and lesbian citizens and criminalized public displays of affection by same gender couples.
The Associated Press reported that a copy of the house bill had no changes made to it from the November 2011 bill the Nigerian senate passed that imposed 14-year sentences for gay couples who tie the knot or anyone who witnesses such nuptials.
The bill now awaits the signature of President Goodluck Jonathan to become law or his veto to scuttle it.
His spokesman were mum on the issue, as were most Western embassy spokespeople in the aftermath of the surprise vote.
Human rights activists in Nigerian only learned of the vote hours after it happened with one telling the A.P. that a court challenge is likely if it get’s the president’s signature.
“If that’s the scope, there will be serious issues,” Chidi Odinkalu, the chairman of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission said.
Western human rights groups abroad were quick to cry foul. This bill makes discrimination against LGBTI people the law of the land,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. “We call on President Jonathon to respect international human rights by refusing to sign this bill into law.”
“Nigeria’s elected officials are obliged, and have in fact sworn, to protect the basic rights of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation,” added Santiago Canton, director of RFK Partners for Human Rights at the RFK Center.
“This bill represents a breach of Nigeria’s domestic and international legal obligations.”
The bill if signed into law could also affect funding for groups that combat the huge HIV/AIDS problem in Nigeria. The U.S. government funds a number of treatment programs there.
Back in 2011 President Barack Obama, directed that the support from the United States Agency for International Development U.S.A.I.D., did not support governments that discriminate against its sexual minorities and Nigeria has one of the world’s largest populations of people living with HIV.
The president’s directive asked officials to “ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of gays, lesbians and the transgendered. That included having diplomats “combat the criminalization” of being gay.
Nigeria’s substantial oil revenues make its lawmakers immune to threats of getting aid cut off from Western nations and the issue is likely to follow President Obama on his Africa trip at the end of June.
Two of the countries Obama will visit – Senegal and Tanzania have laws on the books that criminalize homosexuality but the third, South Africa is the one country on the African that has full marriage equality.