Nigeria-EU deal sparks false claims about LGBT rights

Nigeria-EU deal sparks false claims about LGBT rights

LGBT people in Nigeria already live in fear because same-sex relationships are illegal there, and now widespread misinformation about a partnership agreement with the European Union has fuelled hostility towards the community even further.

The Samoa Agreement – ​​signed in June by Africa’s most populous country – is a cooperation agreement between the EU and 79 countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

The 403-page pact does not mention LGBT rights or same-sex relationships. Nevertheless, many Nigerians believe that by signing the pact, the West African country automatically legalized same-sex relationships.

The allegations went viral last week when an article in Nigeria’s Daily Trust newspaper falsely claimed that the agreement would force developing and underdeveloped countries to recognize LGBT rights as a prerequisite for “receiving financial and other support from developed societies.”

Even if the agreement referred to such rights, it would still be impossible for the provisions of an international agreement signed by Nigeria to automatically lead to a change in the law, explained Nigerian lawyer Ugo Egbujo.

Under current legislation passed a decade ago, same-sex couples face up to 14 years in prison.

“The only way to pass a law is to present it to the National Assembly where members must deliberate and vote on its adoption. Without this action, it is not a law and cannot be judicially or enforced,” Mr Egbujo told the BBC.

“We have clear laws on same-sex marriage and they have not been touched since they were introduced in 2014. Signing a multilateral agreement will not automatically change that.”

Has the government responded?

Yes, the country says it will never compromise on its anti-LGBT laws and signed the agreement to boost the country’s economic development.

The Nigerian Bar Association also pointed out in a statement that there was no provision in the agreement requiring the country to accept LGBT rights as a condition for a $150 billion (£116 billion) loan.

Despite these clarifications, opposition supporters are using fake news as a weapon to attack the government and stoke anger over controversial issues of religion, ethnicity and politics.

President Bola Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima, both Muslims, were accused of betraying their religion.

The false story is making headlines on social media and has become the main topic of discussion for influencers and political commentators.

What impact did this have on the LGBT community?

Hate speech has increased, according to Bisola Akande, a senior program officer at a local LGBT group that has applied to change its name.

“We were attacked because we published our data online. We had to close our website and try to protect ourselves,” she told the BBC.

Wise, a human rights organization based in the North African city of Kano, was the target of online attacks and was forced to close its website and block its social media pages.

Employees’ social media accounts have also been deactivated, protected or set to private, one of the company representatives told the BBC.

The anger against Wise was sparked by resurfaced footage of an event held by the organization several years ago in which an officer from the city’s Hisbah police – a unit responsible for enforcing Sharia, or Islamic law – advocated for LGBT rights.

This led to the officer in question being arrested this week, despite his assurances that his comments in an interview were intended to express the empowerment of women.

Nigerian TikTokers who post pictures of themselves with other women – even sisters or friends – have also become the target of homophobic abuse with derisive comments condemning their alleged sexual orientation.

When were concerns first raised about the deal?

It goes back to lawyer Sonnie Ekwowusi, who wrote an op-ed in the Nigerian newspaper Vanguard last November calling on the Nigerian government not to sign the Samoa Agreement, calling it “the misleading and euphemistic LGBT agreement between the EU and the ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) countries.”

The EU acknowledged that there were concerns about LGBT issues when around 30 countries, mainly African and Caribbean states, including Nigeria, initially did not sign the pact last year.

They wanted to examine whether the agreement was “compatible with their legal system, in particular with regard to same-sex relations and sexual health and rights,” the EU said.

“This move surprised several commentators as the wording on these issues does not go beyond existing international agreements,” said a briefing document published by the EU Parliament in December.

In fact, it was agreed “as a compromise” that the signatories would commit themselves to implementing existing international agreements, since some African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states “did not agree that issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity (LGBTI rights) should be mentioned in the basic agreement,” it said.

The Nigerian government reviewed the text and agreed, saying in a statement that the text was consistent with Nigeria’s laws and other obligations.

Nigeria’s Minister of Economic Planning said the Samoa Agreement was signed on June 28, 2024, after undergoing extensive review and consultations by the country’s inter-ministerial committee.

Were the critics satisfied with this?

No, Mr Ekwowusi rekindled the flames of controversy a few days later in his article published in Daily Trust, where he claimed that “certain articles of the agreement, particularly articles 2.5 and 29.5, legalise LGBT, ‘transgenderism’, abortion, teenage sexual abuse and perversity in African countries”.

However, the content of these articles does not support this:

  • Article 2.5 states: “The Parties shall systematically promote a gender perspective and ensure that gender equality is mainstreamed in all policies.”

  • Article 29.5 states: “The Parties shall support universal access to sexual and reproductive health goods and services, including family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Ekwowusi insisted on his allegations.

“Gender equality” is a euphemism the EU uses to encompass sexual and LGBT rights, and “reproductive health” is a euphemism for abortion and contraceptives, he said.

While he acknowledged that the pact could not override Nigerian legislation, he said more precise wording was needed.

“We are pleading for them to insert a definition clause so that we know what the terms mean. Define gender, define gender equality, define sexual and reproductive health,” Mr Ekwowusi said.

What is the Samoa Agreement?

It is a legal framework for relations between the EU, a major development aid donor, and 79 members of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).

It sets out common principles for around two billion people around the world to tackle global challenges together.

Respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law are essential components of the agreement, but it also covers areas such as sustainable economic growth, climate change and migration.

The EU briefing document admitted that in some areas the wording “does not match the ambitions of EU negotiators”.

It replaces an earlier EU partnership agreement – ​​the Cotonou Agreement – ​​from 2000, which aimed to reduce and ultimately eradicate poverty.

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