President Goodluck Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan

Africa continues to slide further into a dark age for sexual minorities as the continent’s most populous nation enacts one of the world’s most oppressive anti-gay laws.

On Monday, it was revealed that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan had signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition and other Related Matters Bill, aptly dubbed the “Jail All the Gays Bill,” into law.

The frightening law, which was first introduced into parliament in 2011, not only bans same-sex marriage (which was already not legal in Nigeria) but also outlaws almost any expression of same-sex love.

The sweeping legislation will imprison same-sex couples who attempt to marry for 14 years and will also jail anyone who witnesses, solemnises or aids a same-sex marriage for 10 years.

It will imprison anyone in a same-sex relationship for 14 years and any public display of same-sex affection will lead to a prison term of 10 years.

The bill will also jail anyone who supports or operates gay clubs, societies and organisations, processions or meetings for 10 years.

People who do not report suspected homosexuals to the authorities could be jailed for up to five years.

The new law seems to be an attempt to eradicate homosexuality from Nigeria and adds to the already existing ban on homosexual acts, with up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

Twelve northern states in Nigeria also operate under the Islamic Shari’a law that allows homosexuality to be punished with death by stoning.

“I can confirm that the president has signed the bill into law,” President Jonathan’s spokesman, Reuben Abatim told AFP.

“More than 90 percent of Nigerians are opposed to same-sex marriage. So, the law is in line with our cultural and religious beliefs as a people.

“And I think that this law is made for a people and what [the] government has done is consistent with the preference of its environment,” he said.

The president apparently secretly signed the law earlier this month with little fanfare and without announcing his intention to do so.

Activists fear that not only will LGBT people be subjected to the frightening provisions of the new law, but that it will also increasingly lead to them becoming victims of blackmail and violence from others in the community. The law, which will force sexual minorities in hiding, is also certain to thwart efforts to target LGBT people in the fight against the country’s HIV epidemic.

Homosexuality is illegal in around 70 percent of African nations. In recent years, a number of countries, notably Uganda, have added increasingly more oppressive legislation to their existing Colonial-era anti-gay laws.

On Monday, the US, which is a significant buyer of oil from Nigeria, criticised the passage of the law. In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US “is deeply concerned” by the move.

“Beyond even prohibiting same sex marriage, this law dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians,” he said, adding that it is also “inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations and undermines the democratic reforms and human rights protections enshrined in its 1999 Constitution”.

While the law may lead to international condemnation, this may only fuel populist anti-gay Nigerian leaders who see the issue of homosexuality, widely perceived as a Western import, as a means to assert the country’s and Africa’s independence from the former colonial powers.

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