Add Nigeria to the list of nations persecuting its LGBT citizens (alongside Russia, Uganda, India, etc.): lawmakers in the west African country gave final approval to a sweeping bill on Tuesday that essentially criminalizes all things gay.
With a population of nearly 175 million people, Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa and the seventh most populated country on Earth. The religiously conservative nation is divided between a poor, predominantly Muslim north and a rich, largely Christian south.
Known as the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill, the measure makes it a crime for gay and lesbian Nigerians to wed, even outside the country. Same-sex couples who marry will be punished by up to 14 years in prison, and anyone who administers or witnesses a same-sex wedding -- including clergy, family, and wedding guests -- can also be jailed for up to 10 years.
But the bill goes far beyond marriage, imposing 10-year prison sentences for a host of activities including providing services for gay and lesbian couples, public displays of same-sex affection, and LGBT rights advocacy of any kind.
Activists have dubbed the measure Nigeria's "Jail the Gays" bill.
Buzzfeed's J. Lester Feder reports:
The opaqueness of the process around the bill has frustrated human rights activists, who were unable to piece together a clear picture of the bill's status two days after the Senate vote. Not only are details of the legislation uncertain, but it also is not clear whether the compromise version of the bill must also receive a final vote from the House of Representatives or whether it now heads to President Jonathan for his signature.
As local activists attempt to uncover the status of the bill following Tuesday's vote, foreign diplomats were also left scrambling. Pressure from the United Kingdom and other western governments has been important in keeping the bill from becoming law during the seven years it's been under consideration, and diplomats are also trying to figure out where the proposal heads next.
As Feder notes, Western governments wishing to intervene on behalf of LGBT Nigerians are in a difficult position:
LGBT rights groups in the U.S. and Europe often call for overt action, while human rights activists in African countries have warned efforts could backfire if Western governments are too aggressive.
"We don't want an open confrontation," said Dorothy Aken'ova of the Nigerian sexual rights group INCRESE. "That would be bad for us."
British Prime Minister David Cameron was widely criticized for suggesting in 2011 that foreign aid be tied to respect for LGBT rights. Such a stance reinforces the argument put forward by LGBT opponents that the West was imposing LGBT rights in a kind of moral colonialism, activists said.
At this point, the fate of the bill rests with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who must decide whether to sign or veto the legislation. But LGBT activists in the country say an outright veto is unlikely, due to the fact that the "Jail the Gays" bill has passed overwhelmingly every time it's come up for a vote. Dorothy Aken'ova of the Nigerian sexual rights group INCRESE told BuzzFeed that instead of a veto, Jonathan could delay the bill by raising concerns about the bill's constitutionality and asking for modifications.
Gay rights advocate Davis Mac-lyalla told Gay Star News that Nigeria was following the lead of India and Russia in cracking down on LGBT human rights, but the difference is that in Nigeria, the climate is already far worse for LGBT people. "Once you begin to talk about LGBT issues openly, you can be attacked, lynched, murdered. The government... terrorizing same-sex couples with their laws."
He also asked for the international community's continued attention and support for Nigeria's persecuted LGBT population. "We need to keep fighting and keep challenging these leaders," he said. "Silence is the only way they can win."
Map of Nigeria: