Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan speaks in the U.N. General Assembly during high-level meetings on HIV/AIDS in 2011 (Photo: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
An estimated 3.4 million Nigerians are currently living with HIV. And according to AIDS organizations, an anti-gay law passed yesterday could prevent gay people from seeking HIV services — setting back the fight against the disease in a country with the second largest AIDS epidemic in the world.
The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law yesterday, bans gay marriage, same-sex "amorous relationships" and even membership in gay rights groups. Breaking the law could carry a penalty of up to 14 years.
In a joint statement, UNAIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria expressed their "deep concern that access to HIV services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people will be severely affected by a new law in Nigeria––further criminalizing LGBT people, organizations and activities as well as people who support them."
According to the groups, the prevalence of HIV in the Nigerian population was pegged at four per cent in 2010 — that number quadruples to 17 per cent, however, among men who have sex with men.
"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," the groups said. "It could also be used against organizations working to provide HIV prevention and treatment services to LGBT people."
The two groups have called for an immediate review of the constitutionality of the law "in light of the serious public health and human rights implications."
The law was first passed by the country's national assembly in May, and has since drawn harsh international condemnation.
"We call on Nigeria to repeal this law and to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Nigerians regardless of their sexual orientation," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a release yesterday. "Canada has clearly spoken out against human rights violations committed against people on the basis of their sexuality, and we will continue to do so."
Even before the passage of the law, Nigeria was far from a friendly place for gays and lesbians, activists say. Dorothy Aken'Ova of the International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights told AP that in the country's Bauchi state, police have rounded up gay men and tortured them into revealing the names of others.
Although President Jonathan has not publicly expressed his views on the matter, his spokesperson told AP, "This is a law that is in line with the people's cultural and religious inclination. So it is a law that is a reflection of the beliefs and orientation of Nigerian people."