Monday, October 31, 2011

Statement on Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill 2011

Distinguish Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Members of the Press,
 My Fathers and Mothers,
Fellow Nigerians,

I stand before you today to appeal to your conscience not to promote discrimination and hate towards some Nigerian citizens who for the dilemma of their sexuality cannot speak for themselves. My name is Rashidi Williams, the Executive Director of Queer Alliance Nigeria. Queer Alliance works to promote the well-being and advocate for the rights of sexual minorities in Nigeria. I am proud to identify as a gay man of African and Nigerian descent.

At this point in the history of our country, it is important to note that we are going through a period in which the decisive support for the rule of law, principles of freedom, artistic and intellectual expression, association, religious liberty, dignity of the Human Person, freedom from discrimination of all sorts, an open society and the respect, protection and fulfillment of the rights of all Nigerians have become an absolute necessity.
According to the World Health Organization; sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. Sexuality is also influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, cultural, ethical, legal, political, historical and religious and spiritual factor. It therefore suffices to say that homosexuality is inherent in a particular percentage of the citizenry of our country.

Sexuality is a core component of what makes us human beings. Same Sex attraction as we know is not a matter of choice. No one will willing choose to belong to a marginalized group within any particular society. It is already a trial to survive the hardship of our nations let alone the discrimination we face as sexual minorities. We believe that our sexuality is God-given and that it should not be a basis for discrimination against us.

Nigeria’s constitution guarantees every citizen their fundamental human rights. The Chapter IV of the constitution gives a list of these rights. Notable is the Right to the Dignity of the Human Person, The Right to Freedom from Discrimination and The Right to Peaceful Assembly and Association. Our signatory to international covenants and treaties (notably Universal Declaration on Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women etc.), recognizes the fact that we know and acknowledge that sexual orientation and gender identity is and should be a protected clause in the context of human rights. It is also means that as people and a country, there is sexual diversity amongst us.

The Right to Freedom from Discrimination has been interpreted internationally to include freedom from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. While the constitution endorse the Right to Freedom from Discrimination, discriminatory and repressive laws found in the Penal And Criminal Codes of the nation gives a breeding ground for the perpetration of hate crimes and violations of human rights on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in the country. This bill which is coming on the heels of penalizing legislation will further make life difficult for sexual minorities.

Distinguish Senators, in Nigeria violence against sexual minorities are frequent and occur on a daily basis, mostly under-reported. People with same sex orientation are being attacked by members of the society, using the discriminatory laws that exist in our statue books and religious texts to fuel their acts. These people go unpunished for these dastardly acts. This bill will escalate the tension that we are already experiencing as a result of our sexuality. Discriminatory laws found in the penal and Criminal Codes also prevent sexual minorities from seeking redress because state actors, especially law enforcement agencies use these laws to further abuse and violate their human rights. The killing of Innua Yakubu, a student of the Government College, Jigawa in 2002.  Innua Yakubu was tagged gay by his classmates. This is a vivid example of the daily horrific experiences that sexual minorities in Nigeria go through. 

May we also call the attention of the distinguished Senate of our country know that there is no place or evidence in Nigeria today that supports or affirms that persons with same sex orientations are getting married.  We believe that what this bill seeks to penalize is non-existence and therefore means that the bill to prohibit same sex marriage is null and void.

Our beloved country has committed herself to numerous Human Right treaties and convention under international laws of the United Nations and Human Rights Commission which expands on the understanding of sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity. We need these signatories to show in the protection of the lives of citizens of this great country that identify as same sex oriented persons. As citizens of Nigeria, we have contributed to the development of the nation, albeit in the closet of our humanity because of the laws present in the statues books of Nigeria.  We cannot stand or sit by any longer and watch our lives and dreams shattered all because of our sexual orientation and gender identity; a dilemma that we cannot overcome.

The last three word of the first verse of the National Anthem reads ‘Freedom, Peace and Unity’ for all its citizens. The proposed bill is a tear off this part of Nigeria that guarantees freedom to all its citizens as enshrined in the1999 Constitution. Our quest for development as a nation, meet the challenges of the Millennium Development Goals and attain vision 202020 in the light of the current transformation agenda of the Goodluck Jonathan Administration cannot be realized if we continue to have discriminatory and repressive laws in the statues books of Nigeria or legislate to make abuse and violation on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity possible. It takes away our rights as sexual minorities to contribute to the development of our country. Freedom enshrined in the respect for the rights of every Nigerian is essential to the development and growth that we all yearn for as a country. Furthermore, sexuality, sexual health and sexual rights are related to almost all the Millennium Development Goals of which we are still struggling to achieve as a country. This bill makes that largely impossible.

Initiatives to promote rights and an open society where everyone can sit at the table irrespective of their status, inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity and proffer solutions to the myriads of problems facing the country should be keen on the minds of everyone, now that Nigeria seeks to be among the 20 best economies of the world in the nearest future.  In this light, this bill is totally unnecessary and we as citizens of Nigeria urge the Senate and other bodies, to open up possibilities of discussing human sexuality in an open atmosphere rather than debating to further criminalize people with this orientation where it is already illegal and criminal. 

In conclusion, we also as citizens of Nigeria pledge to our dearly beloved nation that we shall continue to be faithful, loyal and honest regardless of the seasons, peace or tribulations, we shall serve Nigeria with all our strength and uphold the dignity and honour for all rightful citizens, Help us God. Thanks for your attention and we are indeed better off as a country without this bill.

Queer Alliance in the light of the proposed bill therefore urges the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria:

·         Recognize the importance of sexuality and sexual rights in the lives of all Nigerians and the role of sexuality in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

·         Take measures to protect the rights of every Nigeria irrespective of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

·         Repeal, amend or review laws relating to sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity that are discriminatory and repressive in the statues books of Nigeria

·         Legislate to protect from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity

Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!!!

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