Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lawyer sues Nigerian government over gay rights

Published:

The Senate has passed a law banning same-sex marriage

The controversy over the passage of the bill that limits sexual minorities has been taken a notch higher with a Nigeria based lawyer, Robert Igbinedion, heading to court to challenge the Senate’s passage of the Same-Sex Prohibition Bill.

In a suit filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos on behalf of the “sexual minorities”, Mr. Igbinedion prayed for an order for the enforcement of fundamental rights to Private and Family life, Freedom from Discrimination, and Human dignity.

Joined in the suit were the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation.

 

The suit also seeks to ensure that people who practice same orientation with counterparts of their opposite sex are not penalized.

Mr. Igbinedion said that he filed the suit because the step taken by the Senate to make a law against LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgender) persons is “one too many”  by the government to oppress the minority.

“All over Nigeria, the accepted norm now is as long as the majority is happy, the minority can go to hell… and that is the direction we are running into at jet speed. That is not a direction a government should go,” Mr. Igbinedion told Premium Times.

“The essence for which government is established is to protect minority,” he added.

In November last year, the Nigerian Upper Legislative House passed the Same Sex prohibition Bill which stipulates up to 14 years imprisonment for gay couples who decides to head to the altar while witnesses to the marriage or anyone who assists the couples to marry could land 10 years behind bars.

The Bill also makes operation or registration of gay clubs or organizations a criminal offence while anyone engaging in a “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly” gets 10 years imprisonment.

While the passage of the bill generated widespread commendation from the majority of Nigerians, international rights groups, including the Amnesty International, expressed displeasure that such a bill “would threaten all Nigerians’ rights.” 

If passed into law, the bill would set a precedent that “would threaten all Nigerians’ rights to privacy, equality, free expression, association, and to be free from discrimination,” the groups said.

In filing the suit, which comes up for hearing at the Justice Tsoho court in Ikoyi on May 4th, Mr. Igbinedion said that instead of making a law to protect the minorities from victimization, the Nigerian State is “rather moving in the direction” of criminalizing them.

“I am not gay. Since I filed this action, I have only met one. Before I filed the action, I have never met any in Nigeria. But that gives me more vigour, that empowers me because I am not biased. I have nothing to lose or gain. Even if I have something to gain, I’ll still file it anyway,” said Mr. Igbinedion, a registered foreign lawyer in the United Kingdom.

The Same Sex prohibition Bill is still awaiting a concurrent passage by the House of Representatives and would be signed into law by the President afterwards.

“I will fight it because our law permits it. That is why I’m in court. Chapter 4 of our Constitution says you cannot discriminate, so it permits it,”  Mr. Igbinedion said. 

“And the fundamental rights enforcement procedure rules have given us a clear direction in interpreting our Chapter 4, it says you must look to UN’s decision. And UN’s decision has recognized rights of LGBT persons as fundamental rights,” he added.

 

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