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Why anti-gay crackdown is a catastrophe for Nigeria

By Olumide Femi Makanjuola, human rights activist, Special to CNN
January 21, 2014 -- Updated 0918 GMT (1718 HKT)
A protest takes place against Nigeria's anti-gay marriage law at Cape Town Stadium on January 19, 2014 in South Africa.
A protest takes place against Nigeria's anti-gay marriage law at Cape Town Stadium on January 19, 2014 in South Africa.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nigeria is country with 2nd most HIV/AIDS sufferers
  • Anti-gay crackdown will damage public health, says Olumide Femi Makanjuola
  • 10 people have been arrested in the crackdown
  • More violations of human rights will take place if law not repealed, he says

Editor's note: Olumide Femi Makanjuola is Executive Director at The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIER), which ensure human rights protection and promotion regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) -- Nigeria is second only to South Africa as the country with the highest number of HIV/AIDS sufferers; one would have thought a better gift for the New Year from the government to its people would be to urge the national legislature to pass the anti HIV-discrimination bill that has been with them for a while.

But alas, what the people received was a bill that further exposes them to violence and discrimination. While the signing of the bill has generated much reaction on both sides, most of its supporters have based their arguments on religion and African values, forgetting that what binds the nation together is not the divergence of religions but the respect for humanity that is enshrined in the 1999 constitution.

Olumide Femi Makanjuola
Olumide Femi Makanjuola

What the same-sex marriage (prohibition) bill in fact does is negate the principle of fundamental human rights of association, expression and dignity. When a law does this, it runs the risk of breeding anarchy, an experience that people who are or are merely perceived to be gay know all too much about in the form of blackmail, extortion and fear of arrest.

The law also acts against the principle of public health. With rates of HIV infection and AIDS running at 3.7% for the general population, and 17.2% among gay men, criminalizing organizations providing intervention for this population puts all Nigerians in jeopardy.

Another thing to note is about the public perception of the law: while many perceive there's casual acceptance by many Nigerians of the bill, in fact many of those who have commented on the bill have not even read it.

Nigeria's anti-gay law called 'draconian'

Aside from the fact that sections of this law are in direct violation of our fundamental human rights -- freedom of expression and assembly, freedom to have a private and family life -- and set back the provision of healthcare services, they effectively signify that it is open season to attack the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and mainstream society in general.

Already 10 people have been arrested for their perceived sexual orientation by law enforcement agencies across Nigeria, a human rights group said. The witch hunt to arrest many more by forcing names out of those arrested is also gathering momentum. The disturbing factor here is on what basis these individuals were arrested; we believe most have been detained due to anonymous tips that are inaccurate in most cases.

Many more of these violations of human rights will take place if this law is not repealed; blackmail and extortion will become commonplace against LGBT people and the Nigerians at large and little will be done to ensure that organizations providing healthcare service for this population are able to carry out their work in responding to the HIV/AIDs epidemic in the country.

We therefore implore the Nigerian President and his good government to repeal this law, which, we fear, could blow into an unbearable catastrophe for Nigeria and its citizens.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Olumide Femi Makanjuola.

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