Anti-gay law may criminalise family, parental show of affection, Nigeria human rights chief warns

Chidi Odinkalu

Chidi Odinkalu said this in an address to Nigerian lawmakers.

Nigeria’s newly approved anti-gay bill may end up criminalizing family display of affection, as its wording has the potential of indicting and punishing relatives demonstrating love publicly, head of Nigeria’s human rights body said Thursday, calling for a review of the bill.

The Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, urged federal lawmakers to consider prompt evaluation and amendment of the bill that has been widely received and celebrated by Nigerians, but condemned by international rights groups.

The House of Representatives approved the criminalization of gay acts last week, slamming a 14-year prison term on people convicted of homosexual acts, more than a year after the senate endorsed same measures.

The bill only awaits the assent of President Goodluck Jonathan to become effective.

Major Western nations and international organizations say the legislation will be a violation of basic human rights and have urged Mr. Jonathan to veto the bill.

At a review of the House of Representatives’ two-year achievements, Mr. Odinkalu said while the bill clearly affirms an existing Nigerian law which outlaws same-sex marriage, it also raises serious issues about the possibility of infringing on the rights of family members to publicly demonstrate their relationship and love.

Some of the provisions of the bill targets public show of affection by people of the same sex, but critics point out that such stipulations may be misconstrued as a ban against even family members.

“Let me be clear: Same- sex marriage is not lawful in Nigeria and not recognized as lawful even if contracted in another country. This bill reaffirms existing Nigerian law somewhat,” Mr. Odinkalu said.

“However, the bill as passed raises serious issues of both privacy, dignity and associational rights. For example, it prohibits public displays of affection. But African cultures of family values have always cohabited quite happily with our culture of public show of affection and compassion.”

He said the ambiguities of some parts of the bill may end up being exploited against unintended categories of people.

“Among our people, long lost friends hug confidently without regard to whether they are male or female. As a father, I am grateful for the opportunity to cuddle my children – male and female; and in my part of the world, age-groups engage in acts of fraternal embrace that would not cause any batting of eye-lids,” he said.

“Equally, sharing accommodation or even beds is common (and indeed, financially imperative) in face-me-I-face-you living conditions that serve our people who are not as financially well off as many of us in this Chamber today. Under this Bill as passed, each and all of these acts could be criminal. This cannot be right.”

Mr. Odinkalu called for immediate changes and review of the bill so that the document is not “undermined by overbroad drafting that lends itself to abusive or enthusiastic arbitrariness”.

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