The former Nigerian president who signed one of Africa’s harshest anti-gay laws says the time may have come to review it.
In January 2014, despite global outrage and condemnation, then-President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act.
The law prohibits same-sex marriage and relationships with up to 14 years in prison. It also stipulates 10 years in jail for public displays of same-sex affection and 10 years for membership or support of LGBT groups.
Gay sex was already illegal in Nigeria, with penalties including 14 years imprisonment.
Now, in a remarkable speech at Bloomberg in London on Monday, Jonathan, who lost the presidency last year to Muhammadu Buhari, said that the legislation may have been ill advised.
He explained that the law, which he admitted “discriminates against a segment of our population”, was passed in the context of polls that showed that 98% of Nigerians did not approve of same-sex marriage.
Jonathan went on to present himself as something of a victim of the circumstances: “The bill was passed by 100% of my country’s National Assembly. Therefore, as a democratic leader with deep respect for the Rule of Law, I had to put my seal of approval on it.”
Now, he said, “in the light of deepening debates for all Nigerians and other citizens of the world to be treated equally and without discrimination, and with the clear knowledge that the issue of sexual orientation is still evolving, the nation may, at the appropriate time, revisit the law.”
Jonathan added: “When it comes to equality, we must all have the same rights as Nigerian citizens.”
The Nigerian LGBT site NoStrings pointed out that since it was enacted, the law has “increased the heights of homophobia, promoted violence, discrimination, mob attacks, illegal arrest, extortion, and has even caused the death of many who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender in the country.”
The site said that while LGBT Nigerians await the ‘revisiting’ of the law, Jonathan should apologise “for scapegoating homosexuals and for signing that law that took the lives of so many LGBTIQ Nigerians”.
Sadly, current-President Buhari has shown no signs of accepting the idea of LGBT equality. In July 2015, he told US lawmakers that, “Sodom is against the law in Nigeria, and abhorrent to our culture”.