Thursday, January 26, 2006

Nigerian government to ban gay activism

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

Musings of a Naijaman and Black Looks blogs both comment on a shocking anti-gay bill proposed by the Nigerian government.

The bill would order a five year jail sentence for anyone who has a gay wedding or officiates at one.

The bill doesn't merely ban gay unions recognized by the state, it would ban such unions performed by churches as well.

Gay acts are already illegal in Nigeria.

But freedom of religion and the right to privacy are not the only freedoms under assault, but freedom of speech as well.

Justice Minister Bayo Ojo said the law would also ban "any form of protest to press for rights or recognition" by homosexuals.

This is perhaps the most astonishing provision of this hideous bill. It wouldn't merely ban gay rights, but it would ban people from agitating for gay rights.

What makes this more shocking is that Nigeria is no longer run by a brutal military dictatorship. It's a country supposedly run by democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law.

It's not clear if this bill would be in violation of the Nigerian Federal Constitution.

Section 39 (1) of the document states: Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

However, Section 45 essentially renders this 'freedom' meaningless: Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health.

One can certainly argue about the state not recognizing gay unions. But when a government that claims to be civilized and democratic attempts to ban peaceful political activism, particularly when it's to ensure that all citizens are treated equally, that government is no longer civilized or democratic.

It's one thing to ban gay unions or gay rights. But once you criminalizes freedom of expression, you've crossed a fundamental threshold in a democratic state: the supposedly democratic federal government of Nigeria essentially wants to criminialize politics.

It's even more hypocritical when you know that the current president of Nigeria was imprisoned in the 1990s by his dictatorial predecessor for doing exactly what this bill proposes criminalizing: practicing freedom of expression to denounce fundamental violations of human rights.

The internationally community rightly condemned the Muslim states of northern Nigeria for using Sharia law as a pretext to stone women for being raped and for banning women from public transport. Surely the world must condemn this terrible bill being puhsed by the predominantly Christian federal government, on the urging of vocal Christian clergy.

Anyone who believes in freedom, democracy, human rights must denouncing this sickening assault by the Nigerian government to ban peaceful activism.

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