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Nigerian anti-gay activists fear Obama pressure on Buhari during US visit

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari arrives Washington DC shaking hand with spokesman Shehu Garba
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari arrives Washington DC shaking hand with spokesman Shehu Garba saharareporters

Nigerian opponents of gay rights vowed to defend the country’s anti-gay laws as President Muhammadu Buhari met his United States counterpart Barack Obama in Washington DC on Monday.  Some believe that Washington will threaten to reduce aid if the laws remain on the statute book. 

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Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan steered an anti-gay law through parliament in 2014, as well as a law banning same-sex marriage.

The law criminalised public displays of affection between same-sex couples and penalised organisations advocating the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

"This law serves no purpose at all," Mausi Segun, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Nigeria, told RFI. "This law restricts the right of freedom of assembly and freedom of association."

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that gay marriage was a constitutional right and the US government has been trying to push new Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to review the law.

US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield said last week that supporting gay marriage would now be part of Washington's foreign policy.

The United States has recently pressurised Uganda to reverse of its anti-gay law and has influenced Mozambique in its decision to dscrap its anti-gay laws.

Nigeria is a very religious country and, according to recent polls, 85 per cent of its people are against gay marriage.

The Nigerian government is very unlikely to give in to pressure, Bishop Felix Akinbuluma told RFI.

"The Nigerian government will never succumb to that. The people will never succumb to that" he said. "The Bible is our standard and it says that men and women should be married together, this is the will of God. And in Nigeria there are several religions and Islam is against it as well."

Anti-LGBT activists say that the US is now the major exporter of gay rights in the world.

They fear that Obama could trade off US assistance to Buhari’s government against shooting down Goodluck Jonathan’s anti-gay law and they have called on Buhari to resist such a trade-off.

Buhari, who was elected recently, will have to deal with several major issues on his four-day trip to the US and pro-LGBT activists are aware of that fact.

"The situation is still the same, people are being attacked, there were a few arrests," Michael Ighodaro, from the Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention group told RFI. 

Public awareness and the rights of LGBT people is what really needs to change, according to him.

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