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Stark Differences Among Nigerian NGOs on Antigay Bill

in NIGERIA, 24/11/2011

The pending antigay bill in Nigeria has led to polarized viewpoints among leaders of the country’s nongovernmental organizations.

A pending antigay bill in Nigeria has led to polarized viewpoints among leaders of the country’s nongovernmental organizations — some who have applauded the measure, others who have blasted it as further evidence of dangerous homophobia and the country's misplaced priorities.

Introduced earlier this year with substantial support among lawmakers, the bill would criminalize same-sex marriages with prison sentences of up to three years, as well as criminal penalties for anyone who “witnesses or aids” in such a marriage.

Same-sex sexual activity is already illegal in the country, as are same-sex marriages. Homosexuality is further punishable by death in areas of Africa’s most populous nation that follow Sharia law.

According to the Associated Press, the bill has completed a second reading before the Nigerian senate and has been referred to the body’s committee on judiciary and human rights.

Pro-LGBT groups see the bill as textbook scapegoating of gays and lesbians, Vanguard reports. The CLEEN Foundation, a group that monitors police corruption and has received a MacArthur grant for its work, has criticized lawmakers for what it sees as a culture of “idleness and misplacement of priority.”

"We have a thousand and one important legislative bills begging for attention, and oversight functions that have been abandoned on same-sex marriage,” executive director Innocent Chukwuma said.

Activists with the Lagos-based Social Justice Advocacy Initiative have also blasted the bill’s homophobic aims, warning that it will lead to greater violence against vulnerable LGBT people at the hands of a corrupt police force. “It’s going to create an avenue where young men and women, who often live together in big cities for financial reasons, will become targets for extortion,” the group’s Damian Ugwu said last week.

Other groups have praised the intent of the law, however. Igho Akeregha, acting president of the Civil Liberties Organization, said, “Basically, it is a fundamental right of an individual to declare their body for whatever purpose that they want to use it for. But this is a problem when it infringes on the rights of others.”

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