Nigeria is a country that takes pride in its rich culture and values. A largely conservation country with 170 million people split between a large Muslim community in the North and the Christian community in the South. The laws that govern this country stem from its culture, customs and value system and is usually enacted by the National Assembly. The scope of the issues, the legislative arm of government can legislate on is contained in the Exclusive legislative list and the concurrent legislative list.
Before an international treaty takes effect in Nigeria, it has to be ratified first in Nigeria and before its ratification, this law has to be vetted to ascertain that it is not inconsistent with any of the country’s values, customs or moral system. But when there’s a clash of interest with the country’s morals and the ultimate right of human dignity, which should prevail?
The United Nations Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognises the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family which is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world and that no individual shall be discriminated on the basis of gender, race, sex, religion or sexual orientation.
This charter, however, might not be identified in Nigeria given the country’s declaration against the LGBT community in its Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act of 2013. This Act expressly prohibits the association or the consensual sex of the same sexual gender. Where the constitution provides for equal treatment of all persons regardless of it, however, does not specifically protect LGBT rights. It does contain various provisions guaranteeing all citizens equal rights (Section 17(2)(a)) as well as other rights, including adequate medical and health care (Section 17(3)(d)) and equal opportunity in the workplace (Section 17(3)(a))
According to a study by the LGBTQ Danger Index, Nigeria ranked first amongst the 150 countries highlighted to be dangerous for people with such sexual orientation to either live or visit. In the Northern region of the country where the sharia law is applicable, the ultimate form of punishment is death by stoning whilst in the southern states, the ultimate is 14 years’ imprisonment. Men who have sex with men are the only group in Nigeria where HIV prevalence is still rising. In 2017, prevalence in this group stood at 23%, significantly more than the next highest prevalence group – sex workers – at 14.4%. Of all new HIV infections in the country, 10% occur among men who have sex with men.
In 2014, the Nigerian government increased the punishment for homosexuality to 14 years in jail. Anyone ‘assisting couples’ may face up to 10 years in prison. Mass arrests of ‘suspected gay men’ in Nigeria have followed, for example in July 2017 the police arrested 40 men at a private house party.
Criminalising laws such as these have made it harder for civil society organisations to work with LGBT communities and have pushed men who have sex with men underground, making them more vulnerable to HIV. Although the NACA state that ‘no provision of this law will deny anybody in Nigeria access to HIV treatment and other medical services’, studies have shown that since the law came into action, more men who have sex with men report they are afraid to seek healthcare.
While it is understandable that this act takes root in the country’s value system which must be respected, it is pertinent to ask if it is right. Does the provision of this act provide for an all-inclusive society?
December 1st is the annual celebration of the World HIV day where knowledge is made available on the dangers of this disease and people are encouraged to get tested. Presently, there are 1.9million people known to be living with the disease in Nigeria but the country also accounts for a high percentage of the new infections in sub-Saharan Africa. Reports have proven in 2017 that men who have sex with other men are the highest prevailing group which stood at 23%.
Given the information index provided by the United Nations and the country’s disposition towards same-sex marriage as reflected in its prohibition act, a high number of individuals are not only at risk of not being treated or tested but are also at risk of infecting others given that they’re not aware of their status. In the light of this, it is safe to say that most of the unknown cases of HIV cases reside with homosexual men who unfortunately cannot access medical care due to the laws criminalizing their sexual orientation.
It is however difficult for civil societies, NGOs to assist as anyone aiding these people will also be liable under the act. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Communities This situation, then, begs the question, Morality or Human Dignity? Whilst everyone’s moral standing should be respected, should it be at the detriment of another person’s health? Is the right to human dignity subject to sexual orientation?
It is worthy to note that this article is in no way supporting the LGBT community neither is it advocating for the recognition of their mission in our country, however, where their health is concerned and the general wellbeing of those around them, it is expedient that the law should be accommodating. Allowing them access to healthcare services, medication, and proper counselling can deter the widespread of this disease thereby creating a healthy environment for everyone.