The Nigerian House of Representatives began a final push to criminalize homosexuality Wednesday, a day after United States President Barack Obama issued an executive order for reassessment of American foreign aid to countries discriminating against gays.
The bill outlawing all forms of homosexual behaviors and abetting passed the first reading at the House. Nigeria runs a bicameral legislature, and a bill requires the backing of the two chambers to become law after presidential assent.
The bill will be open to debates during the second reading before being referred for committee consideration ahead of the third and a final reading.
Under the law passed at the senate which the House is considering, any one guilty of gay acts, or abets or witnesses, is to face 14 years in jail.
There are suggestions the proposed jail term will either be reviewed upward, or in the minimum, left as passed by the senate.
As the bill was read yesterday by the Clerk of the House, lawmakers sat quietly with a few murmurings and shaking their heads in disgust. After the sitting, a member, Eseme Eyiboh, hinted that the House would concur with the senate on the law.
“Any bill must consider the sensibilities of the people,” he told the Times. “It must consider their values and cultures. The essence of the law is to be obeyed, and if the people don’t accept it, then it is a bad law.
“Some people in other countries have spoken about aid this aid that, right this, right that. The question is, what about the health of the victims of these homosexuals? How do they have sex? People are dying of hunger and diseases globally, why should homosexual issue be a priority that every nation must abide by.”
Obama’s declaration in Washington directing US federal agencies abroad to “ensure the country’s diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect human rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals,” climaxed a week of controversy after the Nigerian senate outlawed homosexuality with a 14-year jail term.
The senate decision came after a warning by Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, that aids will be withdrawn from countries disregarding gay rights.
President of the Senate, David Mark, has maintained the passage of the law is “irrevocable,” winning broad acclaim from the Nigerian public, a majority of which view homosexuality as a depraved western invention.
“It is unfair to tie whatever assistance or aid to Nigeria to the laws we make in the overall interest of our citizens otherwise we are tempted to believe that such assistance comes with ulterior motives,” Mr. Mark told the visiting German Ambassador to Nigeria, Dorothee Janetzke – Wenzel.
“If the assistance is aimed at mortgaging our future, values, custom and ways of life, then they should as well keep their assistance,” he added.
On Tuesday, a blog post by British aviation billionaire, Richard Branson, describing the legislation as “cruel”, and urging “educated Nigerians around the world” to fight it, drew fiery criticisms and condemnations from Nigerians.
The responses underscored an increasing anger the subject has generated since it crept onto public discourse with the senate public hearing on the bill. In the past weeks, it has grown to become one of the most debated issues in Nigeria.
In his statement, Mr. Obama said “The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States’ commitment to promoting human rights.”