■ Bisi Alimi:
“The Bill is very political – it
is expected to pass.”
LONDON, March 8, 2007 (updated and
revised March 9) – The
draconian Bill that effectively outlaws representations and advocacy of homosexuality in Nigeria could be on
the statute book this month, a gay Nigerian activist said in London
Bisi Alimi, the executive director of
The Independent Project who is in London attending an HIV/Aids conference,
said: “The Bill is very political – it is expected to pass.”
Mr. Alimi is one of the relatively
few openly gay men in the country and was “outed” three years ago in a
The Nigerian Parliament will go into
recess later this month as the country prepares for a general election in
To stop the Bill, Nigerian and
international gay groups are urging people around the world to get their
governments to lobby the Nigerian government to withdraw the legislation.
This is an urgent priority, said Mr.
As well as Mr. Alimi’s group, The
Independent Project, other gay Nigerian organisations campaigning against
the Bill include Alliance Rights Nigeria, Changing Attitude Nigeria, and the
gay church, House of Rainbow.
It was just a year ago that the
proposals for the Bill came to light following a press release from Human
Rights Watch in New York.
Almost immediately, parliamentarians
in the European Parliament condemned the Bill, calling for its withdrawal.
A number of individual countries also joined the protest.
Since March 2006, a host of articles
have been posted on the internet by both the gay and mainstream press.
But it was not until a press release
was issued in London by Outrage! that there were any rumblings of discontent
and suggestions that the release was a ‘wake-up call’ for the Nigerian
The press release in question was
distributed only days after the Wall Street Journal in America had
highlighted the Nigerian Bill, and three weeks after the Associated Press
news agency had distributed a article, published in a number of
highly-regarded newspapers such as the International Herald Tribune
and even on some African gay websites, explaining the Bill and it’s
ramifications through the eyes of Mr. Alimi and two of his activist
About the same time, the
Washington Post published a similar article by Katharine Houreld and
headlined “Anti-Gay Legislation Considered In Nigeria”.
Despite these articles, there was no
request from activists in Nigeria to “play down” the Bill and let them
handle a low-key campaign from within the country.
It was the Outrage! press release
that caused a furore, with a number of gay and lesbian ‘list-servs’ carrying
items of condemnation – and defence – of the London group.
Outrage! immediately ceased their
‘Nigeria campaign’ with an apology and a note that no one had informed the
group that the campaign should be stopped.
The big question is whether or not
the Outrage! press release did any ‘damage’, as has been claimed, with some
even suggesting that the Bill was ‘dormant’ until the press release was
Mr. Alimi said that he felt the
January press release issued by Outrage! had not, in itself, done any harm
to the campaign against the Bill.
It was the aftermath, when the
London-based gay human right group was accused of acting alone without the
knowledge of Nigerian and American gay groups when the press release was
issued, that was widely reported – especially an emailed statement from
almost two dozen human rights groups on the African continent who were
meeting in Nairobi, Kenya..
The email said: “Over the past ten months, Human
Rights Defenders from the region and elsewhere have exercised a lot of
formal and informal pressure on Nigerian law-makers to make sure the bill
did not get passed into law. Until Outrage!'s action was issued, the bill
was dead. By calling on people to begin a campaign at this stage, interest
could be awakened in the bill. Outrage! is acting irresponsibly and in
direct contradiction to the advice of leaders of the Nigerian LGBTI
Mr. Alimi told UK Gay News
that he feared the claim that the Bill was dead may have inflamed the
“The Outrage! article did not do any
major harm,” he thought; although he takes the view that there could have
been closer liaison between campaigners around the world – everyone needs to
talk together more often, he suggested.
“I don’t speak for anyone but
myself,” he said. “I do things my way.”
Some people in the international
community are acting like superstars, Mr. Alimi suggested. He
expressed concern about the global controversy over the Bill.
We should all be working together, he
Another Nigerian activist who was not
a signatory to the ‘Nairobi Statement’ did admit by email that there could
have been better communication between London and Nigeria before the
Outrage! press release was issued.
Writing under conditions of
anonymity, he said: “People have been
saying so many things about this Bill and the strategy used so far, but my
thinking is that, look, this is a very sensitive bill sent to the Parliament
by the government in power.
“So the lawmakers couldn’t have just ignored it,
appeal or no appeal, with or without Tatchell’s press release.
“Because it is a sensitive bill as I said, there
is the tendency for people to pass the buck either by laying the blame on
one party or the other or taking the praise depending on the outcome of the
“Peter Tatchell acted in good faith and didn’t
intend any harm It made me sad to know he was portrayed [in such a] way,
even though there could have been gaps here and there in terms of
communication. Nothing tells me that this bill couldn’t have come up even
without Peter Tatchell’s release.”
Kizza Musinguzi, African affairs spokesperson for OutRage! and a Ugandan gay
rights activist, said of the allegations that have been made about Mr.
Tatchell and Outrage! in the past six weeks: “These are untrue, sectarian
“They are made mostly by people who
have never had any contact with Peter Tatchell or OutRage! Since we have
not run any campaigns about their countries, how can they accuse us of
treating them badly? They have been fed lies about us by people who are
jealous of OutRage!’s effective campaigns.
“OutRage! acted in good faith, with
the sole intention of supporting our brothers and sisters in Africa. Most
African groups recognise this. Only a small minority signed the letter.
“We continue to work with all the
Nigerian gay groups and with two of the Ugandan gay groups on asylum and
other human rights issues,” said Mr Musinguzi.
Peter Tatchell said that he had
“worked in solidarity” with African gay groups for 20 years.
“Until now, none have complained or
criticised me. All have appreciated the support I have given their
campaigns,” he said.
“These wicked smears have been
orchestrated by political opponents who are trying to discredit me and
OutRage!,” he suggested.
“A week before these activists
denounced us, we halted our Nigerian campaign. We have not campaigned on
Uganda for five months.
“This is a vendetta. It has nothing
to do with advancing gay rights. Certain groups seem more interested in
fighting other activists than in fighting homophobia. Their petty
jealousies and political sectarianism is undermining the campaign for gay
equality in Africa,” he concluded.
■ UK Gay News carried the January press release
from Outrage!, virtually in full. It was posted on January 19, some 18
hours after its arrival. Not one ‘complaint’ about its publication on this
site has been received, having had over 2,000 page reads. Neither has any
complaint, or request not to report on the Bill, been received after
highlighting the Bill in 47 articles, either posted on this site or links to
other publications. – Editor.
Denying Rights in Nigeria.
Editorial. A poisonous piece of legislation is
quickly making its way through the Nigerian National Assembly. Billed as an
anti-gay-marriage act, it is a far-reaching assault on basic rights of
association, assembly and expression. (New York Times, March 8,
National Assembly Advances Draconian Anti-Gay Bill. By Rex
The Women Affairs and Youth
Committee of Nigeria's House of Representatives held a hearing on February.
14 on an extreme antigay bill that some activists had believed was not going
to see any action. (UK Gay News, February 28)
Posted: 8 March 2007 at
01:00 (UK time), revised and updated 9 March