Nigeria-EU deal leads to false claims about LGBT rights


LGBT people already live in fear in Nigeria, where same-sex relationships are illegal. Now widespread misinformation about a partnership agreement with the European Union has fueled even more hostility towards the community.

The Samoa Accord, 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 makes no mention of LGBT rights or same-sex relationships. Yet many Nigerians believe that by signing it, the West African country has automatically legalized same-sex relationships.

The claims went viral last week when an article in the Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust falsely claimed the agreement was underdeveloped and forced developing countries to recognize LGBT rights as a condition “for 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 result in a change in law, Nigerian lawyer Ugo Egbujo explained.

Under current law, passed a decade ago, gay couples face up to 14 years in prison.

“The only way to domesticate a law is to take it to the National Assembly where members have to deliberate and vote to pass it. Without doing this, it is not a law, nor is it enforceable or enforceable,” Mr Egbujo told the BBC.

“We have clear legislation on gay marriage and nothing has changed since it was established in 2014. Signing a multilateral agreement will not automatically change that.”

Has the government responded?

Yes, the party says it will never violate anti-LGBT laws and that it signed the agreement to boost the country’s economic development.

The Nigerian Bar Association also issued a statement saying the agreement does not include a provision requiring the country to accept LGBT rights as a condition for a $150bn (£116bn) loan.

Despite these clarifications, opposition supporters have misused fake news to attack the government and stoke anger over contentious issues surrounding religion, ethnicity and politics.

President Bola Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima, both Muslim, are accused of betraying their religion.

The false story has been trending on social media and has become the main topic of debate for influencers and political commentators.

How has the LGBT community been affected?

According to Bisola Akande, a senior program manager at a local LGBT group, hate speech has increased. She has requested that her name be changed.

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

Wise, a human rights organisation based in the northern city of Kano, has been targeted by online attacks, forcing the organisation to take down its website and block its social media pages.

Staff social media accounts have also been deactivated, protected or made private, one of the representatives told the BBC.

Anger against Wise has been fueled by footage emerging from one of Wise’s events a few years ago, in which an official from the city’s Hisbah police force, a unit that enforces Sharia, or Islamic law, spoke out in support of LGBT rights.

This led to the official in question being arrested this week, despite his claims during an interview that his comments were intended to support women’s empowerment.

Nigerian TikTokkers who post photos of themselves with other women – even if it’s a sister or friend – have also become targets of homophobic slurs, with mocking comments condemning their perceived sexual orientation.

When did concerns first arise about the deal?

It can be traced back to lawyer Sonnie Ekwowusi, who wrote an op-ed in Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper last November urging the Nigerian government not to sign the Samoa Accord, calling it “the misleading and euphemistically worded EU-ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) LGBT Accord.”

The EU admitted there were concerns over LGBT issues when about 30 countries, mainly African and Caribbean nations including Nigeria, initially refused to sign the pact last year.

They wanted to assess whether the deal would be “compatible with their legal order, in particular as regards same-sex relationships and sexual health and rights,” the EU said.

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

In fact, it had been agreed “as a matter of compromise” that the signatories would commit to implementing existing international agreements, as some African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states “refused to see the basic agreement mention sexual orientation and gender identity (LGBTI) rights”, it continued.

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

Nigeria’s Minister of Economic Planning explained that the Samoa Agreement was signed on June 28, 2024, after extensive review and consultation by the country’s Inter-Ministerial Committee.

Were the critics satisfied?

No, Mr Ekwowusi fanned the flames of controversy again a few days later in his article published in the Daily Trustwhich stated that “certain articles of the agreement, in particular Articles 2.5 and 29.5, legalize LGBT, ‘transgenderism’, abortion, teenage sexual abuse and perversion in African countries”.

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

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

  • Article 29.5 states: “Parties shall support universal access to sexual and reproductive health products 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 stood by his allegations.

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

He conceded that the pact could not override Nigerian law, but said stronger language was needed.

“We are advocating that they include a definition clause so that we know what the terms are. Define gender, define gender equality, define sexual reproductive health,” Mr Ekwowusi said.

What is the Samoa Agreement?

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

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

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

The EU briefing paper acknowledged that the wording fell short in some areas “in light of the ambitions of the EU negotiators”.

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

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