Reports falsely claim Nigeria’s approval of Samoa deal legalises same-sex relationships

Nigeria's recent endorsement of the Samoa agreement reopened the floodgates of misinformation about sections in the treaty dealing with human rights. Local media claimed the deal between the European Union (EU) and countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific regions automatically legalised gay relationships in Nigeria after the country became a signatory. However, the reports were false: the accord neither includes a clause on same-sex relationships nor overrides domestic laws.  News outlet Daily Trust admitted to a “lapse in judgment” but stopped short of a full retraction after the government threatened to sue it for running the story.

“LGBT: Knocks As Nigeria Signs $150 Billion Samoa Deal,” reads the headline of the Daily Trust article published on July 4, 2024.

Screenshot showing the false claim, taken July 8, 2024

The newspaper is Nigeria’s most influential daily in the Muslim-dominated conservative north. 

The newspaper reported that Africa’s most populous country had signed a “$150 billion” accord with the EU containing clauses that “compel underdeveloped and developing nations to support the agitations by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community for recognition, as a condition for getting financial and other support from advanced societies”. 

Named after the Pacific Island of Samoa where it was promulgated on November 15, 2023, the treaty is commonly known as the “Samoa Agreement”.

Other Nigerian media like Business Day and Vanguard repeated the claims and shared them with millions of followers on social media.

The articles led to fierce criticism of the government, especially in the country's north. 

AFP Fact Check debunked similar claims about the Samoa agreement in November 2023.

Web of disinformation

Daily Trust hinged its claim on an opinion article written by Lagos-based lawyer Sonnie Ekwowusi who was one of the first people to reveal Nigeria's approval of the Samoa agreement.

“Articles 2.5 and 29.5 legalise LGBT, transgenderism, abortion, teen sexual abuse, and perversity in African countries,” according to Ekwowusi.

“The signing of the Agreement by Nigeria constitutes a threat to the sovereignty of Nigeria and Africa. It further debases our democracy”. 

The Daily Trust wrote that the government inked the deal in secrecy despite “global opposition”. The agreement came to light when budget and economic planning minister Atiku Bugudu announced it at a function hosted by the EU in the nation’s capital Abuja on July 1, 2024. 

The Daily Trust story sparked viral social media claims about Nigeria legalising same-sex marriages and became a trending topic with keywords like “Muslim-Muslim” and “Samoa agreement”. 

Reposting a screenshot of the article, government critic Mahdi Shehu wrote on X: “May homosexuality, lesbianism, and child abuse be a permanent habit in them, may it run through their children, grandchildren up to the last generation. May they die in the act.” 

Screenshot showing Shehu’s X post, taken on July 8, 2024

Muslim leaders from the country’s north criticised the move (see here and here).

Samoa agreement

The Samoa Agreement is a partnership between the EU and countries from the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) — of which Nigeria is a member. 

The 403-page document contains 103 articles and provisions.

According to the European Council, the agreement “will serve as an overarching legal framework for their relations for the next 20 years” (archived here). Areas of priority include human rights, democracy and governance, peace and security; human and social development, inclusive, sustainable economic growth and development, environmental sustainability and climate change; and migration and mobility.

It is seen as a blueprint for strengthening bilateral relations and succeeds the Cotonou Agreement signed in June 2000 (archived here).

After seven months of deliberations, the Nigerian government signed the accord in Brussels on June 28, 2024, joining 72 other members of the OACPS (archived here).

LGBTQ+ not legalised

Nigeria’s 2013 Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) prohibits rights for LGBTQ+ individuals, and criminalises marriage and civil unions between people of the same sex (archived here).

Ekwowusi claimed that articles 2.5 and 29.5 of the Samoa agreement mandated gay rights. 

However, neither section expressly promotes or even mentions same-sex relationships. 

While article 2.5 states that “the Parties shall systematically promote a gender perspective and ensure that gender equality is mainstreamed across all policies”, article 29.5 says “parties shall support universal access to sexual and reproductive health commodities and healthcare services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes”. 

Screenshot of article 2.5 from the Samoa agreement, taken July 9, 2024
Screenshot of article 29.5 from the Samoa agreement, taken July 9, 2024

Lagos-based human rights lawyer Festus Ogun said he had not found any details in the written agreement to support the claims. 

“I have carefully considered the Samoa Agreement and I do not think that there is anything in the agreement that directly and specifically gives credence to LGBTQ. No agreement can be domesticated as a law without the act of parliament,” he told AFP Fact Check.

“Parliament has not repealed the Same Sex Act and the Nigerian constitution provides that no treaty shall be enforceable by court unless enacted into law by the national assembly”.

Tobi Oluwatoba, former executive director of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), echoed the remarks.

“Private morality and public law are separate domains and it is a slippery slope to conflate them. There is no reference to LGBTQ in the document,” he told AFP Fact Check. 

“We shouldn’t be looking for a reason to discriminate against a minority group where there really isn’t one.” 

The day the Daily Trust article about the agreement was published, Information Minister Mohammad Idris denied that the deal mandated Nigeria to legalise LGBTQ+ rights (archived here).

He added that the framework of cooperation had been signed with a caveat.

“Nigeria’s endorsement was accompanied by a Statement of Declaration, dated 26th June 2024, clarifying its understanding and context of the agreement within its jurisdiction to the effect that any provision that is inconsistent with the laws of Nigeria shall be invalid,” he said.

Lawsuit threat

On July 6, the Daily Trust told readers the government had threatened to sue the paper over the story (archived here).

In an editorial published a day later, the paper said it would “readily apologise both to the government and to the public for crying wolf” if its interpretation of the agreement was wrong (archived here).

While the original article was still live on the website on July 10, the Daily Trust said it had “also acknowledged lapses in our reporting on this particular matter, pointed out to us by professional colleagues, and we will review and take appropriate measures”. 

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