nigeria_aids_agency_dismisses_gay_law_concernsNigeria’s National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) has dismissed concerns that the country’s recently signed anti-gay law will impact on providing HIV services to men who have sex with men (MSM).

“A perusal of the Same Sex Marriage Act 2013, makes clear that the provisions thereof do not have any negative effect on the HIV/AIDS Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support Programs or any other such programs currently in operation in Nigeria,” said the agency’s Director General, Prof. John Idoko in a statement.

“Nothing in the same sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2013 refers to or prohibits programs targeted at Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support for people living with HIV or affected by AIDS in Nigeria. No provision of this law will deny anybody in Nigeria access to HIV treatment and other medical services,” he naively states.

The reality, however, may be very different. While the law does not explicitly address or restrict the provision of HIV/Aids services, its effects by implication are very likely to do exactly that when it comes to MSM.

The anti-gay law states: “A person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisation, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable to conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.”

The law also criminalises any individuals or group of people who support “the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies and organisations, processions or meetings in Nigeria.” The conviction is also 10 years imprisonment.

How a “gay organisation” is defined and who decides this is dangerously left open to interpretation. The law could therefore be used to target any organisations reaching MSM with affirming prevention or treatment messages.

Furthermore the law bans not only “same sex marriage” but also “any arrangement between persons of the same sex to live together as sex partners” with a 14 year prison sentence. It also criminalises “the public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly” – for example, just holding hands or even expressing one’s love to a member of the same sex – with a 10 year prison sentence.

It in essence forces the sexual life of MSM, a particularly HIV vulnerable group, underground. The result is that MSM, fearing being arrested and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, may well avoid seeking treatment or at the very least being honest about their sexual practices to health care professionals.

A host of organisations and experts agree: Graeme Reid, from Human Rights Watch, has said: “The law is so vague that it is likely to lead to the arbitrary arrest of gay people, while facilitating extortion and blackmail of vulnerable groups by members of Nigeria’s notoriously corrupt security services. This law threatens to further marginalise an already stigmatised population, driving them underground and imperiling their rights and their health.”

Nigerian activist Bisi Alimi, from Kaleidoscope International Diversity Trust (UK), earlier told BBC Newsday that the law means that “you’re not allowed to provide services to anyone who is perceived to be homosexual. When you say that services will not be provided, what you’re saying is that HIV services that are catering for men who have sex with men will have to stop”.

UNAIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS stated earlier this month that “the provisions of the law could lead to increased homophobia, discrimination, denial of HIV services and violence based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. It could also be used against organisations working to provide HIV prevention and treatment services to LGBT people”.

Remember, this is a country with the second largest HIV epidemic in the world. According to UNAIDS, in 2012 there were an estimated 3.4 million people living with HIV in Nigeria. In 2010, national HIV prevalence in Nigeria was estimated at 4% among the general population and 17% among MSM.

Nigeria is a country that is determined to risk the health and life of its population simply for political and religious expediency. All this to address misguided and ignorant hysteria about gay marriage and the non-existent “homosexual threat”.

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