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Thursday, 17 November 2011


On Wednesday January 18, 2006, the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the highest decision making body of the then civilian administration headed by President Olusegun Obasanjo met and gave approval to a Bill for an Act of the National Assembly that outlaws gay, lesbian relationships same sex marriage in Nigeria.

The Bill, which was forwarded to the then National Assembly for enactment and subsequent return to the then President Obasanjo to be signed into law, provides for a term of five years with no option of fine for anyone involved in same sex marriage. In the current dispensation under President Goodluck Jonathan, the anti-same sex marriage bill originated from Senator Domingo Obende.

A copy of the draft bill obtained then from the Federal Ministry of Justice clearly shows that the provisions in the Bill when passed into law will prohibit sexual relationship between persons of the same sex, celebration of marriage by them and for other matters connected therewith, even as the bill defines marriage as a “legally binding union between a man and a woman, be it performed under the authority of the state, Islamic law or customary law.” The new bill is not fundamentally different from the original version initially prepared by the then President Obasanjo-led executive council of the federation.  

In the new seventh session of the National Assembly the anti-same sex marriage prohibition bill has scaled through all the legislative hurdles and is on the verge of final passage into law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Senator David Mark-led Senate has shown remarkable character and determination to protect our long cherished African traditional norms, culture and world view in treating the anti-same sex marriage bill.

On Validity and Recognition of marriage, the draft bill affirmed thus: “For the avoidance of doubt only marriage entered into between a man and a woman under the Marriage Act or under the Islamic and customary laws are valid and recognized in Nigeria.”

The prohibition of same sex marriage bill covers among others:
Marriage between persons of the same sex and adoption of children by them in or out of a same sex marriage or relationship is prohibited in the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and a license issued by another state, country, foreign jurisdiction or otherwise shall be void in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The bill states that jurisdiction for the trial of alleged offenders of the law banning same sex marriage lies with the High Courts in the states and the Federal Capital Territory. Since that bill that bans same sex marriage came to the public domain, controversy has trailed it, with some people condemning the action of the Federal Government and defending the “right” of gays and lesbians to marry in Nigeria.

Interestingly, majority of commentators have applauded the action of government to introduce this law which will check the growing trends of gay and lesbian practices.

Government noted that the reason for the introduction of the law is to preserve, protect and promote the revered Nigerian cum African tradition, which recognizes marriage between man and woman as sacred and sacrosanct.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 16 provides logical background for this iconic view of marriage when it defined marriage rightly as; “men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family....” Even the law of nature abhors sexual liaison between same sex which is the reason why men and women or male and female have from time immemorial experienced productive sexual union with one of the basic aim of procreation.  

Besides, Doctor Leonard Jeffries in his articles published on the website of dated January 1st 2000, made it abundantly clear that Africans are closely related in their culture and traditional practices which includes marriage. According to the scholar:       

“The predominant values of these various African ethnic groups can be classified as centering around three primary characteristics. They are communal, cooperative and collective. They become clearer when applied to vital aspects of a society, such as how the group views the individual, the family and the land. This communal, cooperative and collective value system has an essential spiritual aspect. The individual is not just viewed from his personal perspective; he or she is seen as a spiritual extension of ancestors who died years ago. The Africans generally focus on the communal ‘we’ and not the individualistic ‘I’…” According to Jeffries:

In Kenya as in most other African societies, marriage is all about procreation and marriage is a union between a man and a woman. The time-tested, time-honored and the sacred African tradition do not recognize anything like same sex marriage. In his African Religions and philosophy, a world acclaimed writer, John S. Mbiti also made it clear that marriage is a sacred union between man and woman and also that procreation is at the core of this traditional practice, when he stated that:

As an African who is thoroughly grounded in the philosophy and metaphysics of African tradition, I support the Federal Government’s effort in introducing the anti-same sex marriage legislation and I am convinced that the bill is not in breach of any statutory provisions that promotes the human rights of Nigerians or foreigners resident in the geo-political entity called Nigeria.

The bill banning gay marriage is a fulfillment of the provision in section 21(a) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which states that “the state shall protect, preserve and promote the Nigerian cultures which enhance human dignity and are consistent with the fundamental objectives of Nigeria.”             

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) manifesto on page 44 provides that the ruling party is obliged to protect the Nigerian culture and tradition. The manifesto states that “Our party recognizes the Nigerian culture as the totality of complex of attainments, beliefs, customs and traditions which form the country’s collective identity. It is the culture of Nigeria that distinguishes her from all other peoples and gives her peculiar qualities and character. Culture is thereof an instrument of national identity. As such, any country that loses her culture also loses her identity”.

Those who protest against the anti same sex marriage legislation have stated that it violates the human rights and have pointed to the recognition of gay marriage in other climes in Europe and parts of America as the reasons why Nigeria should allow it. This is illogical and unacceptable and I do not agree that the bill violates their human rights.
Ayo Atsenuwa, a law teacher at the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos wrote that “human rights are the non-negotiable elements which are necessary in order that life may be life. Therefore, human rights embody not just the traditional, civil and political liberties but also the economic, social and cultural rights”.

As Nigerians await the speedy passage of the anti-gay marriage bill into law by the National Assembly, it will be wise to also involve psychologists in the custodial care and treatment of convicted offenders, in order to reform them to once more embrace the sacred African traditional practice, which recognizes marriage as a sacred union between man and woman.

The aspect of the bill that criminalizes the media reporting of gay relationships should be deleted so as not to hamper the god work of journalists to expose the offenders to the reading public and by extension the law enforcement agents.   

*        Emmanuel Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria and can be reached on;


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