27 March 2014

Nigeria: Exclusive - Anti-Gay Law May Threaten Us, UK Multimillion Dollar Projects for Nigerian Gays

President Jonathan's assent to the anti-gay law may jeopardise all ongoing projects targeted at the HIV/AIDS high-risk groups, especially homosexuals.

The multi-million dollar men's health projects sponsored by the governments of the United States and United Kingdom may be affected by Nigeria's Anti-Gay law.

While same-sex relationships have remained taboos in Nigeria, the two governments and some international non-government organisations, including the Ford Foundation, have been funding projects to help homosexuals in the country.

Investigation by PREMIUM TIMES shows that the projects are targeted at "Men who have sex with Men," otherwise known as MSM.

MSM, uniformed personnel including the police, customs, immigration, military as well as truck drivers, prisoners and university students are considered high-risk to HIV/AIDS.

The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the UK's Department for International Development and the Ford Foundation channel the funds for the MSM projects in Nigeria through Population Council, an international NGO.

But President Goodluck Jonathan's assent to the new anti-gay law may jeopardise all ongoing projects targeted at the HIV/AIDS high-risk groups, especially homosexuals.

Barely a week after the bill was signed into law; the US Government said the move may affect Nigeria's fight against HIV/AIDS.

The new U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, had told journalists that the anti-gay law was against the rule of law because it violated the rights of a certain section of the citizenry.

According to him, the new law has restricted the rights of expression and assembly of people involved in gay relationships.

He said the U.S. Government was already studying the new law with a view to determine its support for HIV/AIDS campaigns in Nigeria.

"The issue of same sex marriage is very controversial throughout the world including my country. In the US, only about I7 states have signed it into law, which means that majority of states have not permitted it.

"Maybe, there are some core challenges to that in my country. I am not a lawyer but as a friend of Nigeria, I have found that the new law puts significant restriction on the right of a people to assemble and freedom of expression," he said.

Investigation showed that those involved in same-sex relationships were doing it discreetly and never availed themselves of appropriate HIV/AIDS preventive messages.

It was also found that people engaged in same sex relationships existed in every part of the country.

A study by Population Council Nigeria in three Nigerian cities showed that majority of men who had sex with men also engaged in bisexual behaviour thus exposing themselves to high burden of HIV infection.

Out of 557 homosexuals who were studied in the Council's behavioural survey; 41.1 percent were found to be engaged in high level of risky sexual behaviour with female sex partners.

Homosexuals who also have sex with women are popularly referred to as MSMW (Men having sex with men as well as women).

Among the MSMW that formed part of the study, 56 percent were engaged in casual sex, 69 percent had multiple sex partners while 66 percent had unprotected vaginal sex.

Part of the report read, "As much as 45.1% MSMW had anal sex with female partners of which, 74 percent did not use protection in the two months prior."

The report called for the decriminalisation of same-sex behavior in Nigeria with a view to promoting access to HIV prevention programs.

Based on such alarming findings, the United States, the United Kingdom and other donors had provided funds to address the needs of men's health and well-being in the country.

But with the new anti-gay law in the country, all the projects targeted at the high-risk HIV/AIDS group may be suspended.

The law criminalises all activities and programmes targeted at people with same-sex orientation including the registration of gay clubs and public show of such relationships.

Under the law, health workers involved in MSM targeted projects may be liable on conviction to fines and prison terms.

Part of the law reads, "Persons who enter into a same-sex marriage contract, or civil union commit an offense and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years in prison.

"Any person, who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organizations or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offense and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison."

Two similar proposed laws were presented to the National Assembly in 2006 but none was passed during the lifespan of that assembly.

Responding to an inquiry by PREMIUM TIMES, the spokesperson at the United States Embassy, Abuja, Rhonda Ferguson-Augustus stated that the new law could hamper efforts to check the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country.

Ms. Ferguson-Augustus stated, "Because of the restrictions in the law on Nigerians' right to freedom of assembly, association, and expression, we are concerned that this legislation could seriously compromise efforts to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria by driving key populations at higher risk for HIV infection further underground.

"We will continue to work closely with the Nigerian government on ensuring that U.S.-funded programs for HIV/AIDS prevention ensure that all individuals have access to appropriate and non-discriminatory HIV prevention, care, and treatment services, in order to have the maximum possible impact on the epidemic."

However, attempts to get confirmation from the Press and Public Affairs Department of the U.K. Embassy failed as it did not reply to the mail sent to it on the matter.

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