By CLIFFORD NDUJIHE (With agency reports)
LAGOS — INSPITE of international outrage and imminent sanctions, Nigeria, has indicated clearly that she is serious with her anti-gay law.
An Islamic court in Bauchi State has put on trial 11 Muslim men accused of being homosexuals in violation of their religion. A 12th person arrested, a Christian, according to agency report would be tried under secular law.
If convicted of homosexuality, the 11 Muslim men may be sentenced to death by stoning according to Islamic law.
President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill into law on January 7. The new legislation applies across Nigeria, affecting all citizens.
The law prohibits homosexuals from even meeting in groups of two or more, bans marriage or civil unions between people of the same sex, and criminalises gay clubs, events and shows of same-sex public affection. Those convicted may be imprisoned for 14 years.
The Commissioner, Bauchi State Sharia Commission, Jibrin Danlami Hassan, said the alleged homosexuals were arrested by residents of Bauchi city and handed to the Islamic police force, which interrogated them. “They accept that they are doing that dirty game,” Mr. Hassan told the BBC.
Before the law became national, Bauchi State had been arresting homosexuals. Dorothy Aken’Ova, a rights activist with the Nigeria-based International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, said that she was aware of 38 people being arrested in Bauchi State last month.
Ms Aken’Ova said some of those arrested had been beaten up and tortured, but Mr Hassan denied this and said he was “happy” that President Jonathan had signed it into law, despite threats by Western powers to cut aid to Nigeria.
“The threat they are doing cannot make us change our religion,” he said.
However, Nigerian lawyers have endorsed the move and urged the government not to buckle under international pressure.
President Jonathan’s assent to the bill attracted immediate condemnation from the international community such as United States of America, European Union and United Nations.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday condemned Nigeria’s ban on same-sex unions as discriminatory and in contravention of fundamental human rights.
The United Nations also attacked the law, accusing President Jonathan of trampling on basic human rights and threatening vital healthcare plans.
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has pledged to cut British aid to countries that enacted new laws targeting homosexuals. In relation to the Nigerian law, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “The U.K. opposes any form of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.”
Lawyers back govt
Following the international outrage, the law has generated, some lawyers yesterday urged the Federal Government not to succumb to foreign pressure to decriminalise same-sex relationships in the country.
The lawyers, in separate interviews with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), lauded President Jonathan for signing the bill into law.
Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Mr. Onyekachi Ubani, said that majority of Nigerians were very happy with the law.
“Nigerians have the right to determine what we want in our country because we are a sovereign nation. Our culture supports sexual purity and natural means of conception. If you carry out a plebiscite today, you will see that majority of Nigerians are very happy with the law,” he said.
Also speaking, the Chairman, Muslim Lawyers’ Association of Nigeria (MULAN), Lagos State chapter, Mr. Mussodiq Sanni, said that the law was a welcome development.
“We commend the president for what he has done and we all support it. The international community cannot sanction Nigeria because they need our resources. So it is just a mere threat,” Sanni said.
Another lawyer, Mr. Wale Ogunade, said it was hypocritical that the same international community, which could not sanction some countries with gross human rights abuses, was threatening Nigeria.