A controversial new bill that will ban almost all expression of homosexuality in Nigeria is moving closer to becoming law.

On Wednesday the country’s national assembly held hearings on the bill, which is named the “Act to Make Provisions for the Prohibition of Relationship Between Persons of the Same Sex, Celebration of Marriage by Them, and for Other Matters Connected Therewith.” It has been approved by the Federal Executive Council.

Under the bill, a penalty of five years imprisonment will be imposed on any person who “goes through the ceremony of marriage with a person of the same sex,” or who “performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage,” or who “is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organisations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private.”

Human rights activist organisations, including the Coalition For the Defence of Sexual Rights in Nigeria, have said that the bill is anti-democratic. Over 100 petitions have been received against the bill. Presidential and Parliamentary elections are set for April, with some commentators concerned that politicians may use the bill as a populist measure to garner votes.

Gay sex is already illegal in Nigeria, punishable by death in the Islamic northern part of the country.

Last month a furore erupted over a call by UK based activist organisation Outrage!, which advocated a mass letter-writing campaign against the Nigerian government to protest the bill. African activists slammed the organisation over its unilateral action by saying that it could hamper their efforts against the legislation.

The twenty African LGBTI rights groups issued a statement slamming the tactics of Outrage! as being neo-colonialist, patronising and self-serving.

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