United States President, Joe Biden has embarked on an ambitious campaign to promote the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) community overseas, including in Nigeria and other African countries.
Many African leaders were undoubtedly excited about Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the last presidential election, but his bid to push for LGBTQ people’s rights in Africa may not be welcomed by them.
Biden, in a memorandum issued to all U.S. departments (including embassies), made known his administration’s aim to expand protection for LGBTQ rights through different means, including financial sanctions and visa restrictions.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s prohibition of same sex marriage (and relationships) by signing a law to criminalize it during the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2014, was opposed by the U.S. Government.
The law, which prescribes a 14-year jail term for violators, was strongly criticized by the Barack Obama administration and other world leaders, including the United Kingdom (UK).
America’s global push for gay rights had been truncated when the Trump administration took office in 2017, but the push is getting a new lease of life with the emergence of Biden, who was vice to Obama, as U.S. President.
On February 4, Biden issued a directive to all U.S. agencies worldwide, stating that his administration would promote and protect the rights of LGBTQ through the following diplomatic options (as published on the White House website) :
WITHDRAWAL OF AID TO COUNTRIES WITH ANTI-LGBTQ LAWS
“The Department of State shall, on an annual basis and as part of the annual report submitted to the Congress pursuant to sections 116(d) and 502B(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151n(d) and 2304(b)), report on human rights abuses experienced by LGBTQI+ persons globally. This reporting shall include anti-LGBTQI+ laws as well as violence and discrimination committed by both state and nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons.”
The Act provides that aid would be withdrawn from a government which “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights ” such as LGBTQ.
ASYLUM FOR LGBTQ PEOPLE THROUGH ITS EMBASSIES
“In addition, the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security shall ensure appropriate training is in place so that relevant Federal Government personnel and key partners can effectively identify and respond to the particular needs of LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers, including by providing to them adequate assistance and ensuring that the Federal Government takes all appropriate steps, such as potential increased use of Embassy Priority-1 referrals, to identify and expedite resettlement of highly vulnerable persons with urgent protection needs.”
FUNDS FOR LGBTQ MOVEMENTS/PERSONS
“Agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development programs should consider the impact of programs funded by the Federal Government on human rights, including the rights of LGBTQI+ persons, when making funding decisions, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.”
According to New York Times, America spent more than $41 million to promote gay rights globally between 2012 and 2015, along with a portion of $700 million earmarked for marginalized groups to support gay communities and causes.
The report said more than half of the $700 million was spent on sub-Saharan Africa, which is an indication of how much importance the U.S places on gay rights in Africa.
SANCTIONS/VISA RESTRICTIONS AGAINST COUNTRIES WITH ANTI-LGBTQ LAWS
“When foreign governments move to restrict the rights of LGBTQI+ persons or fail to enforce legal protections in place, thereby contributing to a climate of intolerance, agencies engaged abroad shall consider appropriate responses, including using the full range of diplomatic and assistance tools and, as appropriate, financial sanctions, visa restrictions, and other actions.”
WHAT NIGERIA’S LAW SAYS ABOUT LGBTQ
A look at the Nigerian law on same sex marriage clearly shows that the Biden administration’s push for gay rights in Africa would not go down well with the government.
Besides a 14-year jail term for persons who enter into same sex marriage contracts or unions, other provisions of the law stipulate stiff punishments for persons caught operating gay-related businesses, associations, amongst others.
Part of the law states, ” A person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisation, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.
“A person or group of persons who administers, witnesses, abets or aids the solemnization of a same sex marriage or civil union, or supports the registration, operation and clubs, societies, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.”
Furthermore, the federal government had stressed that it would relate with the U.S. on matters of shared interests and not in jeopardy of its national interest, which includes its existing laws.
HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER’S COMMENT
In his response, a Nigerian human rights lawyer, Abubakar Marshall (of the Femi Falana Chambers) told THE WHISTLER on Saturday that Biden’s foreign policy on LGBTQ rights will still be resisted in Nigeria because of the country’s historical norms and values as well as the enacted law criminalizing it.
“Nigeria has at all time opposed homosexuality and same sex has for long been a criminal offence that attracts capital punishment in northern states that have promulgated the shariah penal code law.
“The 2013 same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act clearly prohibits same sex marriages and actions arising same sex unions by Nigerian citizens including promoting, advancing and aiding LGBTQ rights and activities, persons witnessing, officiating or supporting gay acts or weddings.
“This is not the first time the USA would be on collision path with countries that introduce direct policies and laws that directly affects the rights of LGBT…,” he said.
He said although the issue of LGBTQ rights was captured in international law, the description of LGBTQ in Nigeria’s law puts such people in great danger.
“In fairness, the Nigerian legislation on same sex marriage employed wordings that directly violates basic rights donated by the 1999 Constitution as amended…violation of freedom of expression, association and assembly guaranteed by international law and the African charter on human and peoples right is also apparent,” he said.
However, he noted that Nigeria’s laws has to be respected by foreign government, but added that “Nigeria is a sovereign state, this policy thrust (law) could be looked at in a manner and way that does not jeopardise relations with USA” – a great donor to the nation.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS EXPERT’s VIEW
An International relations lecturer at Bayero University Kano, Dr Riya’uddeen Maitama, told THE WHISTLER in an exclusive chat that irrespective of what foreign powers like the U.S. wants to force on Nigeria, the government must have the adequate political will to draw the line for them.
“Nigeria must tread with caution in its relations with major powers particularly to make sure that as a country, they have their own national interest and they project their interest at all cost, in their relations with these economic powers,” he said.