Out of Africa: Promises Broken

Some of the planet's most inhospitable places to live are to be found on the African continent. This is especially true for gay and lesbian people, and no truer than in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. For these brothers and sisters, “out” in Africa is not a good place to be.

Draconian legislation proposed by the Nigerian Federal Council in January – purportedly in “defense” of a traditionalist view of marriage – goes far beyond the current criminalization of same sex physical relationships in that country … and far beyond anything proposed elsewhere in the world to “protect” marriage.

Under the proposed legislation, any public support for GLBT people, even private discussion supportive of same sex relationships, would be punishable by up to five years imprisonment. The legislation prohibits or severely restricts the freedoms of speech, association, and public discussion, even the freedom of thought of gay people and, remarkably, of those who would support or simply report about them. Although Nigeria is a signatory to the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, this legislation willfully ignores rights defined in the Declaration as derivative of our common human dignity. No doubt Nigeria would defend itself against criticism for its failure to protect these basic rights by reference to “religious considerations,” as it has so many times in the past.

Of significant concern to Anglicans is that the government of Nigeria has pursued this action with the explicit support and blessing – and some say the active involvement – of the Anglican Church in Nigeria. In February, a meeting of the Church’s Standing Committee, chaired by Primate Peter Akinola, issued a communiqué that stated:

“The Church commends the law-makers for their prompt reaction to outlaw same-sex relationships in Nigeria and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of Nigerians regarding human sexuality.”

The Church’s official spokesperson, the Reverend Tunde Popoola, has repeatedly voiced the Church’s support for the legislation, including a statement to the Voice of America on January 19. The Right Reverend Doctor Ephraim Adebola Ademowo, Anglican Bishop of Lagos, is quoted in the March 4 issue of Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper as saying: “We commend the Federal Government for the bold step it has taken thus far on the issue and we hope that it will go the whole hog to make the National Assembly complete the process by enacting it into law which will be completed to the letter.”

You don’t need a very long memory to recognize that the Church of Nigeria’s support for the proposed legislation reeks of hypocrisy. Less than 8 years ago Nigeria’s primate and bishops promised – with a majority of the world’s Anglican bishops, gathered at Lambeth – “to listen to the experience of homosexual persons.” And just last year, Anglican primates meeting in Dromantine declared: “The victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us.”

The Anglican Communion, through its Primates and Bishops, has made promises to gay and lesbian people.

Under Nigeria’s proposed legislation, the experience of gay and lesbian Nigerians will be heard only under the threat of their imprisonment – a near perfect example of the official “victimization and diminishment” of gay and lesbian persons, in this case with the explicit endorsement of the Church of Nigeria.

It is time for the Anglican Communion to live up to its words.

It is time for the global Anglican Communion to speak up for the basic human rights of gay and lesbian persons. It is time for the Anglican Church in Canada to remind the leadership of the Church of Nigeria of its commitments.

For, it seems these days, out of Africa comes only broken promises.

Paul Bunnell is a member of Integrity Vancouver, and may be reached at

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