British Prime Minister Theresa May is taking advantage of the ongoing Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London to arm-twist member nations, including Nigeria, that have criminalized same sex relations. Some 37 out of the 53 members have passed legislation banning gay marriage, in particular. Nigeria did so Jan. 7, 2014 when then President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a bill passed by the National Assembly mid-2013.
Addressing CHOGM Tuesday, Mrs. May said, “Nobody should face discrimination and persecution because of who they are or who they love. Across the world discriminatory laws made many years ago continue to affect the lives of many people, criminalising same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls.” She then promised help to any country ready to revoke its anti-same sex law.
Our President MuhammaduBuhari is in London for the meeting. We know Mrs. May’s words were meant for his ears. Her position is a rehash of the West’s opposition to the anti-gay law Nigeria enacted in 2014. Just as we advised President Jonathan at the time, today we want President Buhari to ignore the blackmail from the West to undo a fine piece of legislation Nigerians have accepted wholeheartedly. We made our position very clear in a January 2014 editorial. That position has not changed. For the sake of our readers who did not read that comment, we reproduce it below:
Despite protests and intense pressure from some countries in Europe and America, groups and activists campaigning for so-called gay rights, President Goodluck Jonathan has finally signed into law the anti- same sex marriage bill passed by the National Assembly last year. The criminalization of same-sex relationship is indeed one action that deserves commendation. This is because the ban is not only in tandem with the wishes and sensibilities of Nigerians, it is also in tune with the historical, cultural and religious values of the people. The Senate had passed the bill in November 2011, while the House of Representatives did so by the Senate on May 29, 2013. The President assented to the Act on January 7.
The law provides that gays, lesbians in Nigeria will risk a 14-year jail term if they do not retrace their steps. Also, any person who operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organizations directly or indirectly will earn a 10-year imprisonment. Those who administer the solemnisation of a same-sex marriage will bag a 10-year jail term, according to the law.
As expected, individuals, groups and countries disposed to same sex relationships reacted sharply to the action of the Nigerian government, some threatening diplomatic sanctions. For instance, a state visit being planned by President Jonathan to Canada for February has been reportedly cancelled by the Canadian government. The cancellation came in the same week it was revealed the President had signed the anti-gay/lesbians law. Reports said the Nigerian Ambassador to Canada, OjoMadueke, was told to inform President Jonathan that the state visit to Canada scheduled for February 13-14 had been cancelled.
There were also threats by the United States (US) to withdraw aid to Nigeria in protest against the law. But the US government later denied the report tacitly. The US Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, said while fielding questions from newsmen on whether his country would withdraw financial aid to Nigeria on HIV/AIDS that “absolutely not. But we have to look at it very carefully and make sure that everything we do is in compliance with the new law.” According to him, “as you know, we put millions of dollars in the fight against HIV/AIDS and again, I am not a lawyer; I read the bill and it seems to me that it may put some restrictions on what we can do to help fight HIV/AIDS in this country. These are the issues we are looking at as we look at the bill.” The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon also has condemned the Nigerian action.
The good news is that Nigerians have unanimously thrown their weight behind their government and are fully in support of the same sex marriage ban. Religious leaders across all faiths, regional groups and opinion leaders have all endorsed the action of the Nigerian president and the parliament for approving a law banning something that clearly goes against morality, culture and religion. Therefore, the government has nothing to fear because its action has the imprimatur of the generality of the Nigerian people. Nigerians have spoken unequivocally against anything that further threatens the values they cherish very much.