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Evaluation of the health implications of Nigeria’s same-sex prohibition act

Eudora Nwangwu, CYGEN Lead for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics Rights evaluates the health implications of Nigeria’s same-sex prohibition act, among young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ+) persons.


In Nigeria, social injustice and violations of the fundamental human rights of vulnerable groups, especially women,[1] are common. Women are disproportionately affected by poverty, HIV and AIDS, gender-based violence; sexual and reproductive rights abuses, and limited access to information and basic health and legal services.[2]

Like much of the rest of Africa, Nigeria is not an easy social or political environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) persons. Not only is same-sex sexual conduct criminalised under out-dated penal codes inherited from the British colonial laws and Islamic Shar’ia Law that applies in the north of the country, but reactionary new legislation – The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) 2014 – has gone much further to criminalise same-sex relationships, any public displays of same-sex affection, as well as community organising by LGBTI-focused civil-society organisations. In the current political and social climate, politicians, religious leaders, and even mainstream civil society frequently practice hate speech against LGBTIQ+ persons. Social stigma, discrimination, violence, extortion, blackmail and other human rights violations are routine and only very rarely do LGBTIQ+ persons feel comfortable to live ‘out of the closet.’

The last fifteen years have witnessed LGBTIQ+ rights becoming more politicised across the globe. As a result, a new network of civil society organisations working with LGBTIQ+ persons has emerged in Nigeria. However, the vast majority of these organisations have focused almost exclusively on gay men to the exclusion of lesbian women and other LGBTIQ+ persons. This is in part due to the linking of human rights activities to health-related services for men who have sex with men (MSM) but also reflects the male dominated culture that predominates across Nigeria.

Since the passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) 2014 into law, access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services has steadily declined among LGBTIQ+ persons in Nigeria. This is as a result of the criminalising laws, social stigma, discrimination, violence, extortion and blackmail, used as weapons by both state and non-state actors to victimise LGBTIQ+ people. This study’s aim is to evaluate the effects of the SSMPA on the access and use of SRHR services among young LGBTIQ+ persons in Nigeria.

Since the passage of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2014, there have been recurrent violations and injustice perpetrated towards persons who identify as LGBTIQ+. The law contributes significantly to a climate of impunity for crimes committed against LGBTIQ+ people.

LGBTIQ+ victims of crime said the law inhibited them from reporting to authorities due to fear of exposure and arrest. Interviewees, including representatives of mainstream human rights organisations, said the SSMPA has created opportunities for people to act out their homophobia with brutality and without