US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield
The Nigerian media is inflaming anti-gay sentiment by claiming that the US government is planning to force the country to accept same-sex marriage.
A This Day Live headline on Thursday read, “US: We’ll Compel Nigeria to Accept Same-sex Marriage”, while the Daily Post claimed, “US vows to force Nigeria to legalize gay rights”.
The furore centres on comments made by US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, in a live-web chat with journalists.
“As a policy, we will continue to press the government of Nigeria as well as other governments who have provided legislation that discriminate against the LGBT community,” she said.
“This is very much a work in progress, but I think you will agree with me that the law in Nigeria really went far in discriminating against this community but also people who associate with them.
“So we will continue to press the government, to press the legislature to change these laws and provide human rights for all Nigerian people regardless of their sexual orientation,” explained Thomas-Greenfield.
“With what is happening in the US, you can determine how far we are willing to go. We strongly believe human rights for all people and we are particularly opposed to legislation that actually targets the gay community for discrimination. So we are prepared to push this as a policy not just in Africa but across the world.”
The Nigerian media has dangerously hyped up the comments as confirming the widely-held belief that LGBT equality and same-sex marriage are being imposed onto Africa by Western countries.
The result is that accepting the rights of LGBT people to live and love is being equated to “giving in” to the US and former European colonial powers.
There also appears to be little differentiation between basic LGBT rights and same-sex marriage in the biased media coverage. The impression is that the decriminalisation of homosexuality is equal to legalising same-sex marriage; only adding to anti-gay hysteria.
In January last year, former Nigerian President Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, which outlaws any kind of same-sex relationship with imprisonment, and criminalises anyone who supports or operates gay clubs, societies or organisations.
Gay sex was already illegal in Nigeria, with penalties including 14 years imprisonment. Twelve northern states in Nigeria operate under Islamic Sharia law that allows homosexuality to be punished with death by stoning.
According to the International Business Times, President Barack Obama is expected to urge recently elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to end the persecution of gays and lesbians during his visit to the White House on Monday.