The controversy over the agreement is unnecessary

Reports in some sections of the media last week linked the Samoa Agreement signed by Nigeria, to the protection of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) rights. According to the reports, the federal government signed the agreement on the back of the prospect of a $150 billion loan deal. Not surprisingly, reactions were swift and fierce from critical stakeholders in the country. At the Jumat prayers last Friday, some Islamic scholars lashed out at the government for allegedly succumbing to pressure from Western countries over the protection of LGBTQ rights—a tendency which had been outlawed in Nigeria. On Sunday, it was the turn of Christian clerics to express their condemnation.  

The federal government has responded by clarifying the content of the Samoa agreement, which it described as a partnership between the European Union-member countries and the Organisation of African, Caribbean, and the Pacific States (OACPS) to foster inclusive economic growth and development. “The Samoa Agreement is nothing else, but a vital legal framework for cooperation between the OACPS and the European Union, to promote sustainable development, fight climate change and its effects, generate investment opportunities and foster collaboration among OACPS Member States at the international stage,” Minister of Information and Orientation, Mohammed Idris said last Thursday while responding to media reports on the issue. When the searing attacks on the government continued, the Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, Abubakar Bagudu, who is responsible for bilateral and multilateral relations, made further clarification on the document.

 The rebuttal of the LGBTQ-for-$150bn loan allegation by the federal government is understandable given the sensitive nature of the issue in Nigeria. But the whole controversy was pointless. Signed on 15 November last year by all 27 EU-member countries and 47 of the 79 OACPS countries, the Samoa Agreement was not an innovation. It was a follow-up to the Cotonou Agreement signed in 1975 which lapsed on 29 February 2020 but was extended to 2023. Furthermore, Nigeria had long adopted a multilateral approach to the agreement, working alongside other members of the OACPS.

 Nigeria declined assent last year due to certain controversial clauses which could create challenges at home. Upon return to the country, Bagudu (who led the delegation) reportedly teamed up with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation to constitute an inter-ministerial committee which reviewed the terms of the agreement to ensure that they do not conflict with the 1999 constitution and other statutes. Convinced that none of the 103 articles offends our laws, the committee proceeded to convene a stakeholders’ seminar comprising civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations and religious bodies on 8 March 2024 to outline the terms of the agreement and address areas of concerns. It was after a consensus was reached that recommendation was made to the president for approval and assent. Nigeria finally appended its signature on 28 June 2024 at the OACPS Secretariat in Brussels, precisely two days to the deadline.

We consider the federal government prompt response to the reports quite commendable. Declarations by senior officials that the administration will not enter into any foreign agreement detrimental to the interest of the country and its citizens is also reassuring. While we understand that building an inclusive and egalitarian society in a federal arrangement is always a work-in-progress, dealing with the current challenge in Nigeria requires sensitivity to public opinion. The subsisting law in the country today is not for a recognition of LGBTQ tendencies. Since the federal government has stated that conferring such recognition is not part of the agreement it signed alongside other OACPS members, the matter should rest.

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