Nigeria's new anti-homosexuality legislation

On 13 January 2014, it was reported that the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, had signed the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill into law. The International HIV/AIDS Alliance is deeply concerned by the severely negative impact the new legislation will have on the HIV response in Nigeria.

The Act will seriously impact the ability of men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people to access life-saving and essential HIV treatment and prevention services and also poses a serious threat to all organisations providing such services. 

The HIV epidemic is one of the most formidable challenges Nigeria is facing today. Over 3.4 million Nigerians live with HIV, making Nigeria the country with the second largest population of people living with HIV in the World. MSM and transgender people represent less than 1% of Nigerians but over 10% of new HIV infections occur among these populations. Providing targeted services and facilitating the free access of these populations to such services is therefore essential to end AIDS in Nigeria.

Homosexuality is already criminalized in Nigeria.The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act further criminalizes LGBTI people by prohibiting same sex marriage or civil union, and carries up to 14 years’ imprisonment. 

“This provision potentially criminalises every member of the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) population in Nigeria and makes it virtually impossible for members of this population living with or affected by HIV to freely seek essential health services. This new legislation is contrary to international standards of human rights prohibiting any kind of discrimination and to political commitments on HIV which Nigeria is bound by,” said Enrique Restoy, Senior Human Rights Adviser.

The text also provides up to 10 years’ imprisonment for any person who  “supports the registration of gay clubs, societies, organisations, processions or meetings”. This provision poses a threat to any HIV organisation providing services to the LGBTI population through peer to peer and other community-based HIV services requiring LGBTI organisations to deliver them also faces up to 10 years imprisonment. 

The Alliance’s global strategy HIV, health and rights: sustaining community action (2013-2020), is committed to targeting those most in need with evidence-based HIV and health programmes.“To effectively meet the needs of LGBTI groups, we need to ensure the full involvement and leadership of key population representatives, including those living with HIV, and to tackle the extreme stigma and violence faced by these groups” said Shaun Mellors, Associate Director for Africa. “What this legislation is doing is denying these populations their very existence, the evidence demonstrates that for HIV programming to be effective, those most affected need to be centrally involved”.  

Background information

The Nigerian AIDS Commission’s National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan 2010-15 outlines a number of key interventions to prevent HIV transmission among MSM to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic in Nigeria.* 

Punitive legislation like the new Act promotes risky behaviour, hinder people from accessing prevention tools and treatment, and exacerbate the stigma and social inequalities that make people more vulnerable to HIV infection and illness.”** 

Along with all other UN Member States, Nigeria signed the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS in 2011, whereby all member states committed to “intensify national efforts to create enabling legal, social and policy frameworks in each national context in order to eliminate stigma, discrimination and violence related to HIV, provide legal protections for people affected by HIV, and promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, with particular attention to all people vulnerable to and affected by HIV.”*** The passing of this Bill is in direct contravention to what the country is trying to achieve. 

* NACA, Nigeria National HIV/AIDS Strategic Framework 2010-15

** Global Commission HIV and the Law, Risks, Rights and Health, July 2012

*** UN General Assembly Resolution 65/277, Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: Intensifying Our Efforts to Eliminate HIV and AIDS, 8 July 2011