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Nigerian Activist Slams Anti-Gay Bill


A leading gay activist in Nigeria has denounced current government efforts to ban homosexuality in the country. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports the Nigerian government is facing substantial international pressure over the plan.

A controversial bill that would ban homosexuality in Nigeria could become law this month.

Among other things, the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act 2007 assigns a five-year prison term not only for practicing gays, but for those who support them. The legislation has passed two readings in both houses of the National Assembly, and will become law if it passes a third reading and is approved by the president.

The Nigerian parliament will go into recess later this month as the country prepares for elections in April.

Activists fear politicians will push through the bill to score political points, despite serious concerns about the implications for human rights.

Homophobic attacks, intimidation and threats have reportedly increased in Nigeria as a result of the introduction of the legislation in early 2006.

Davis Mac-Iyalla is the Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, a gay group that claims 2,000 members. An Anglican, Mac-Iyalla attracted media attention in 2005 when he announced his group. He has since fled Nigeria and on the phone from his temporary home in Lome, the capital of neighboring Togo, he told VOA his fears and anguish over current attempts to ban homosexuality in Nigeria.

"As long as that bill, same sex bill is on debateā€¦.if it is passed, many of us will go on exile. And I don't know why any government will want to send its people, harmless people, vulnerable people, on exile," he said. "So, I think everything should be done. That is why we are seeing it as a debate, but the government and the church are seeing it as a war and that is why we are worried. I am not comfortable in Nigeria. I'm into hiding."

The Nigerian anti-homosexuality bill has received widespread support in a country where homophobic feelings are very strong, including endorsements by powerful religious groups and personalities.

But several international organizations, among them experts on human rights issues, have condemned the proposal, arguing it infringes on the principle of freedom of assembly and association.

Church leaders in United States have also denounced the legislation, saying it is all about persecution and hatred and not about Christian values.

Iyalla says only strong international pressure can stop the passage of the bill.

"What I want them [the international community] to do is to put pressure on the Nigerian government to withdraw that bill. And to advise the church leaders to seek advice. The church and government are in to rush, to wipe us out," he said. "The international community has to put more pressure on them."

Gay sex is already illegal in Nigeria and most Nigerians say they resent what they characterize as the imposition of Western ideas of rights.