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APOCALYPTIC HOMOPHOBIA: FREEDOM OF RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION, HATE SPEECH, AND THE PENTECOSTAL DISCOURSE ON SAME-SEX RELATIONS IN AFRICA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2021

Asonzeh Ukah*
Affiliation:
Professor and Chair of Religious Studies, Department for the Study of Religions, and Director, Research Institute for Christianity and Society in Africa, University of Cape Town

Abstract

In many African societies, gender roles and sexuality are intensely scrutinized, policed, and often enforced. Frequently, this situation results in perceived deviations being characterized in very strong terms. Many Africans across religious and denominational boundaries seem united in their opposition and criticism of same-sex relationships. In the twenty-first century, criminalization of same-sex relationships has witnessed an uptick across the continent. In Nigeria, same-sex union was criminalized in 2014, an act that witnessed massive support from Protestant, especially Pentecostal, Christian communities. Prominent Pentecostal leaders spearheaded the campaign in support and defense of the anti-gay laws in the country. Reasoned opposition to a practice based on religious faith, doctrine, and scriptural prescriptions is an integral aspect of the protection for the practice of religion. However, there is a palpable tension in the debates around rights to free sexual expression as a fundamental element of legally protected human rights and the equally constitutionally embedded right to religious practice, expression, and exercise. At what point, therefore, does the respect for the free exercise of religion and religious expression come into conflict with the respect for, and protection of, minority rights such as claimed rights to sexual expression such as many LGBTQI persons are increasingly contesting? Framed differently, is the verbal and non-verbal promotion of hatred, violence, indignity, and insult or giving offence to a segment of the population based on sexual orientation a part of free religious expression? How do the Pentecostal arguments against same-sex relations in Nigeria approximate to hate speech, defined as a verbal attack on a person or group of persons based on their attributes such as gender and sexual orientation, religion, or ethnicity? To analyze these and related issues, this essay examines the arguments used by the leader of the largest Pentecostal organization in Nigeria—and by far, the most important Pentecostal voice in the country—in the wake of the legal prohibition of homosexuality in Nigeria in 2014.

Type
Article Symposium
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University

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References

1 For more on this challenge, see my prior article, Ukah, Asonzeh, “Pentecostal Apocalypticism: Hate Speech, Contested Citizenship and Religious Discourses on Same-Sex Relations in Nigeria,” Journal of Citizenship Studies 22, no. 6 (2018): 633–49Google Scholar. There are alternative traditional models of the family in many African societies such as those described by Amadiume, Ifi, Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society (London: Zed Books, 1987)Google Scholar; Amadiume, Ifi, Re-inventing Africa: Matriarchy, Religion, and Culture (London: Zed Books, 1997)Google Scholar; Nzegwu, Nkiru, “Feminism and Africa: Impact and Limits of the Metaphysics of Gender,” in A Companion to African Philosophy, ed. Wiredu, Kwesi (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 560–69Google Scholar.

2 In some constitutions of advanced democracies, a distinction is made between social rights and fundamental rights. Because this important distinction is lacking in the Nigerian Constitution, the right to sexual orientation and expression that could pass as social rights are often classed together with (and as) fundamental rights. In the Nigerian context, the claimed right to sexual orientation is at core the right against discrimination and indignity because of sexual orientation. “Discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited” (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, section 15 (2)). See Ikpeze, Ogugua V. C., “Non-justiability of Chapter II of the Nigerian Constitution as an Impediment to Economic Rights and Development,” Developing Country Studies 5, no. 18 (2015): 48–56Google Scholar.

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4 For the text of the Constitution, see The Nigerian Constitution 1999 (With the First, Second, and Third Alterations) (Abuja: Federal Ministry of Justice, 1999).

5 “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

6 “Accordingly . . . discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.” Although the provision does not contain the phrase “sexual orientation or lifestyle,” it may be liberally interpreted to cover certain forms of gendered identities such as bisexual, transgender, and intersex.

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10 Alvaré, “Religious Freedom,” 476. There are many versions of the initialism that characterize the varied, nuanced ways scholars and activists understand and define some people's, or their own, experience of gendered identity and sexual orientation. The increasing proliferation of acronyms often meant to emphasize specific nuances and inclusivity, sometimes becomes very unwieldy, confusing, or polarizing such as LGBTQQIP2SAA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit, asexual, and ally). Some Nigerian human rights activities and members of the LGBTQI community debate the relevance of some of the markers, such as “questioning,” “ally,” “pansexual,” “two-spirit,” to members of the group in the Nigerian context. Such debates sometimes polarize the LGBTQI community. Perhaps, the two versions of initialism that are in widespread use are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) and LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning), and intersex. Unlike in South Africa, where “intersex” is a common and popular identity frame frequently discussed in the media (often concerning the middle-distance runner Caster Semenya), it is not a well-known or used identity marker for the LGBTQI community in Nigeria. According to Leo Igwe, a Nigerian LGBTQI rights activist, members of the community use three acronyms interchangeably—“depending on whom you are speaking to”—namely, LGBT, LGBTI, and LGBTQI and often debate which is more locally applicable to members of the group (Leo Igwe, personal communication, May 25, 2020). I use LGBTQ or LGBTQI loosely and interchangeably in this article to represent collectives of persons involved in same-sex relationships or bisexual, trans, queer, and intersex person who may not all be “homosexuals” in the sense meant by the Nigerian law under discussion here. See Woolf, Linda M., “LGBTQI Rights and Social Justice,” Peace Psychology 22, no. 2 (2013): 19–21Google Scholar. For various definitions of the LGBTQ acronym, see Abbie E. Goldberg, introduction to The Sage Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies, ed. Abbie E. Goldberg, vol. 1 (London: Sage Reference, 2016), xxxiii–xxxv; Rebecca L. Jones, s.v. “Aging and Bisexuality,” in Goldberg, The Sage Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies, 56–61, at 57; Robin Bauer, s.v. “Bondage, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism (BDSM),” in Goldberg, The Sage Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies, 153–56, at 154.

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12 The vehemence or stridence with which the Nigerian Pentecostal community speaks out against same-sex issues does not stem from a conflictual interest or status with the wider society. The group's concern with human sexuality partly stems from a literal interpretation of the Bible, which is evident in the various ways its leaders reference the scriptures as a source of unquestioned authority and a power-text to back up their positions in sexual, family, and marriage issues. As a public religion, Pentecostalism engages with public issues, public affairs, and public policies in its attempt to influence or transform the public sphere or capture a share of public audiences.

13 The legislation became law in January 2014. The word homosexual appears two times, gay appears three times, while same sex (without a hyphen) appears twenty-two times. Homosexual and gay are part of the social lexicon in Nigeria; they are more commonly used in popular speech than is same-sex in describing relationships and sexual behaviors.

14 For more on the conflict over citizenship claims, see Ukah, “Pentecostal Apocalypticism.”

15 There is no agreed-upon definition of what constitutes “hate speech”; however, it is broadly parsed to include public speech acts and gestures that incite, inflame emotions, or create a symbolic code for social repugnance or denigration against a minority group or persons based on ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. See Lillian, Donna A., “A Thorn by any Other Name: Sexist Discourse as Hate Speech,” Discourse & Society 18, no. 6 (2007): 719–40, at 731–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar. I discuss this theme later in the essay.

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18 Alok, Gupta and Lang, Scot, “Alien Legacy: The Origins of ‘Sodomy’ Laws in British colonialism,” in Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalization and Change, ed. Lennox, Corinne and Waites, Matthew (London: School of Advanced Study, University of London, 2013): 84–123, at 84Google Scholar.

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20 Nigerian Criminal Code Act (2004) Cap. (21), §214.1 and §214.3.

21 Nigerian Criminal Code Act (2004) Cap. (21), §214.1 and §214.3. The title of the chapter is “Offences against Morality.”

22 Nigerian Criminal Code Act (2004) Cap. (21), §284, 405(2)(e). Adebanjo, Adetoun T., “Culture, Morality and the Law: Nigeria's Anti-Gay Law in Perspective,” International Journal of Discrimination and the Law 15, no. 4 (2015): 256–70, at 258CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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26 Hadd is punishment deemed as fixed by God and unvarying or unwaiveable.

27 Philip Ostien and M. J. Ukaru, eds., Sharia Implementation in Northern Nigeria, 1996–2006: A Sourcebook, vol. 3, Sanitizing Society (Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 2007), 53–54, 44.

28 Kalu, Ogbu, “Safiyya and Adamah: Punishing Adultery with Sharia Stones in Twenty-First Century Nigeria,” African Affairs 102, no. 408 (2003): 389–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Adesina, Oluwakemi, “Women, Shari'ah and Zina in Northern Nigeria,” African Nebula, no. 1 (2010): 4356Google Scholar.

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30 Since 1999, when Nigeria returned to a civilian form of governance, the Pentecostal community has been visible in the political calculations of many politicians because of their capacity to galvanize large numbers of people and draw them to one place. Some Pentecostal leaders like Enoch Adeboye (Redeemed Christian Church of God) and David Oyedepo (Living Faith Church Worldwide) have openly campaigned and supported specific political parties and their candidates. Some politicians have likewise patronized Pentecostal leaders who own and run large congregations. On the patterns of Nigerian Pentecostal incursion into democratic politics since 1999, see Ukah, Asonzeh, “‘God Reloaded’: The Pentecostal Political Transgression and Africa's non-Secularity,” in Religion in the Era of Postsecularism, ed. Okeja, Uchenna (Oxford: Routledge, 2020), 148–70Google Scholar.

31 The original unwieldy title is “The Bill for an Act to Prohibit Marriage between Persons of the Same Gender, Solemnization of Same and for Other Matters Related Therewith.” By 2011, it was refined to “Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill 2011” and described as “a bill for the Act to prohibit marriage or civil union entered between persons of same-sex, solemnization of same and for other matters related therewith,” http://www.equalrightstrust.org/ertdocumentbank/Same%20Sex%20Marriage%20(Prohibition)%20Bill.pdf. The first reading of the bill in the Senate was on July 13, 2011; the second reading took place on September 27, 2011; and the third and final (passage) reading was on November 29, 2011. After that date, the bill was dormant until January 14, 2014. The bill was introduced in the legislature in about 2006 as a part of legislative anxiety about public (sexual) morality, culture, religion, and the body.

32 Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act (2014), accessed January 3, 2021, https://laws.lawnigeria.com/2020/01/10/same-sex-marriage-prohibition-act-2014/.

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35 The evangelical Christian community is a broader group of Protestant Christianity than is Pentecostalism. Evangelicals self-describe as Bible-believing Christians who claim a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and believe in the necessity of salvation for all humanity. Pentecostals emphasize the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the believer and the possibility and necessity of miracles as in the early days of the church. Pentecostalism is a subset of evangelicalism: while every Pentecostal Christian is an evangelical, not every evangelical Christian is a Pentecostal. See Randall Balmer, Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, rev. and exp. ed. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2004), 236; Jonathan Merritt, “Defining Evangelical,” The Atlantic, December 7, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/12/evangelical-christian/418236/.

36 Oguntola-Laguda, Danoye and Klinken, Adriaan van, “Uniting a Divided Nation? Nigerian Muslims and Christian Responses to the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act,” in Public Religion and the Politics of Homosexuality, ed. van, Adriaan Klinken and Ezra Chitando (London: Routledge, 2016), 3548CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

37 Joseph Hellweg, “Côte d'Ivoire and the New Homophobia: The Autochthonous Ethic and the Spirit of Neoliberalism,” in van Klinken and Chitando Public Religion and the Politics of Homosexuality, 92–109.

38 Calling homosexuality a “lifestyle” is often intended to undermine the idea that LGBTQI sexualities have enduring integrity rather than being whimsical “lifestyle” choices or even fads. (I thank an anonymous reviewer for pointing out this nuance.)

39 Gene Robinson retired as bishop of New Hampshire in 2010.

40 Hoad, Neville, African Intimacies: Race, Homosexuality and Globalization (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 4868Google Scholar; Ehianu, Wilson E., “Assessing the Position of the Anglican Church in Nigeria to Same-Sex Marriage,” African Journal for Mission in Context 1, no. 1 (2010): 67–83Google Scholar.

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42 Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26–27; I Corinthians 6:9; Genesis 19:1–29, 1:28; Matthew 19:4–6.

43 Akinola, “Position of the Church of Nigeria,” 2.

44 Akinola, 3.

45 Akinola, 5.

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48 Paul Boyer, “The Growth of Fundamentalist Apocalyptic in the United States,” in The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, vol. 3., Apocalypticism in the Modern Period and the Contemporary Age, ed. Stephen J. Stein (New York: Continuum, 2000), 140–78.

49 Klinken, Adriaan van, “Gay Rights, the Devil, and the End Times: Public Religion and the Enchantment of the Homosexuality Debate in Zambia,” Religion 43, no. 4 (2013): 520–44Google Scholar.

50 Tunde Bakare is a former Muslim lawyer, who converted to Christianity and joined the Deeper Life Bible Church. He is the founder of Latter Rain Assembly (1989), a breakaway church from the more popular Redeemed Christian Church of God. He is a politician and once was the vice-presidential candidate to Muhammadu Buhari on the political platform of Congress for Progressive Change in the 2011 general elections. In 2007, he set up the International Centre for Reconstruction and Development, a research-led organization devoted to the transformation of postcolonial African states. In 2010, he founded the Save Nigeria Group, a coalition of progressive political and civil society organizations dedicated to campaigning for social and political justice and reformation of structures in Nigeria. Further, he is the president of Global Apostolic Impact Network, a network of evangelical businesses, churches, and ministries dedicated to advancing the Pentecostal virtues in the marketplace and businesses. He is popular for his critical interventions on public governance and his scathing criticism of his pastoral colleagues and the maleficence and lack of accountability within the Pentecostal community. Favoring an ethical apocalypticism, Bakare's central tool of analysis is Judeo-Christian scripture, which affords him a perspective on geopolitical and geoeconomic matters. Unlike the focus of many of Nigeria's Pentecostal class on miracles of prosperity and wealth, Bakare's unique selling points are public prayer, provocative preaching, and prophecy. See Bakare, Tunde, Strategic Interventions in Governance: An Essential Compilation of Critical Speeches, Thoughts and Experiences in Nation Building, vol. 1 (Lagos: Present Truth Publishers, 2015)Google Scholar.

51 On the complex history of the Redeemed Christian Church of God and its rebranding since the mid-1980s, see Ukah, Asonzeh, A New Paradigm of Pentecostal Power: The Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2008)Google Scholar. Also, on that church's involvement in attempts to regulate public sexuality and morality in Nigeria, see, Ukah, Asonzeh, “Sexual Bodies and Sacred Vessels: Pentecostal Discourses on Homosexuality in Nigeria,” in Christianity and Controversies over Homosexuality in Contemporary Africa, ed. Chitando, Ezra and van Klinken, Adriaan (Farnham: Ashgate, 2016), 2137CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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53 In a widely circulated sermon, “Abba Father 4,” delivered on May 4, 2017, during the all-night monthly worship and prayer event, The Holy Ghost Service, at the Redemption Camp headquarters of the Redeemed Christian Church of God on the outskirts of Lagos, Adeboye told his audience that the spiritual father of a believer is more important and influential than the biological father in a person's life. According to Adeboye, a spiritual father promotes the realization and actualization of a person's destiny. “Your spiritual father is more superior than your biological father. Your spiritual father has a superior authority than your biological father . . . Your spiritual father can alter the cause of your destiny for the better . . . can cancel the curse in your generation . . . can cancel your appointment with death . . . deliver you from ambush . . . can see what you cannot see and warn you . . . can commit God for you, he can create a situation between God and you. When your spiritual father blesses you or curses you, the result is instant,” RCCG Grace Assembly Dubai TV, MAY 2017—RCCG Holy Ghost Service, “Abba Father 4,” May 5, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eNTEOKo3o8.

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55 Abomination is one of the words the archbishop used in characterizing same-sex relations, a word that Christian leaders like Adeboye cull from Leviticus, where it occurs six times in chapters 18 and 20 (Leviticus 18:22, 26, 27, 29, 30; 20:13). According to Michael Grisanti, the noun occurs 117 times in the Old Testament and generally means that which is reprehensible or detestable in the eyes of another. Grisanti, Michael A., “Homosexuality—An Abomination or Purely Irrelevant? Evaluating LGBT Claims in Light of the Old Testament (Gen. 18–19; Lev. 18:22; 20:13),” Master's Seminary Journal 28, no. 2 (2017): 115–33, at 129Google Scholar.

56 I thank an anonymous reviewer for emphasizing this point and underscoring the mistaken assumptions of Adeboye in respect of reproduction among LGBTQI people.

57 There is an irony here. All the countries—among them Canada, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United States of America—that have legalized homosexuality or same-sex union have better socioeconomic indices than does Nigeria or any African country opposed to same-sex relationships.

58 Usman, Zainab, “The ‘Resource Curse’ and the Constraints on Reforming Nigeria's Oil Sector,” in The Oxford Handbook on Nigerian Politics, ed. Carl Levan, A. and Ukata, Patrick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 520–44Google Scholar; Kingsley Moghalu and Nonso Obikili, “Fiscal Policy during Boom and Bust,” in Levan and Ukata, The Oxford Handbook on Nigerian Politics, 491–501.

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63 Ukah, “Religion in the Pre-contact World,” 48.

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67 For a list of some of reasons given by Adeboye why gay relationships are wrong, see Eke Matthew, “Same-Sex Marriage Will Wipe Out Humanity—Pastor Enoch Adeboye calls Gay Community to Flee God's Wrath!,” Daily Facts (blog), January 23, 2013, https://matexventures.webs.com/apps/blog/show/22799011; Ameh Comrade Godwin, “‘Homosexuals Should Repent and Turn to God’—Pastor Adeboye,” Daily Post (Nigeria), January 22, 2013, https://dailypost.ng/2013/01/22/homosexuals-should-repent-and-turn-to-god-pastor-adeboye/.

68 Alvaré, “Religious Freedom,” 476.

69 In South Africa, for example, the white minority population is often accused of hate speech against the black majority population. Also, in colonial Africa, the European minority used hate speech against the majority indigenous populations. A minority group is not necessarily a vulnerable group and vice versa.

70 Waldron, Jeremy, The Harm in Hate Speech (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 100CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

71 Waldron, The Harm in Hate Speech, 8–9.

72 p'Bitek, Okot, African Religions in Western Scholarship (Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau, 1970), 20Google Scholar.

73 Chris N. Anyanwu, “Nigerian Catholic Bishops Take a Swipe at Media Misrepresentation,” Vatican Radio, September 28, 2015, http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/09/28/nigerian_bishops_conference_against_media_misrepresentations/1175390 (emphasis in the original). Ignatius Kaigama and William Avenya, “Our Stand on Marriage, Family and Human Society,” Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, accessed December 8, 2020, https://www.cbcn-ng.org/docs/g20.pdf.

74 Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, “Critics of Catholic Church Are Prejudiced and Ignorant—Archbishop Kaigma,” February 7, 2014, https://cbcn-ng.org/newsdetail.php?tab=298; Chris N. Anyanwu, “Still on Same-Sex Union and the Stand of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria,” Nigeria World, September 28, 2015, https://nigeriaworld.com/articles/2015/sep/286.html.

75 Sean Smith, “We Do Not Advocate Punishing Gays, Say Nigerian Bishops,” The Tablet, October 1, 2015, http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/2728/0/we-do-not-advocate-punishing-gays-say-nigerian-bishops.

76 J. D. Y. Peel, foreword to Ukah, A New Paradigm of Pentecostal Power, xix–xxiv, at xxiii. It is ironic to observe how Adeboye's habit of routinely calling God his “Daddy” would signify as “gay” in stereotypical evaluations of popular rhetoric.

77 Sorial, Sarah, “Free Speech, Hate Speech, and the Problem of (Manufactured) Authority,” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 29, no. 1 (2013): 59–75, at 59Google Scholar.

78 “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

79 Ukah, Asonzeh, “Vox Die, Vox Populi: Pentecostal Citizenship and Political Participation in Nigeria since 1999,” in Christian Citizenship and the Moral Regeneration of the African State: Locating the Relationship between Religion, Society and Political Transformation in Africa, ed. Bompani, Barbara and Valois, Caroline (Farnham: Ashgate, 2018), 3548Google Scholar.

80 See Abimbola Adelakun, editorial, “But, What Exactly is Hate Speech?,” Punch (Lagos), August 31, 2017, https://punchng.com/but-what-exactly-is-hate-speech/.

81 Olalekan Adetayo, “Osinbajo Declares Hate Speech as Terrorism,” Punch (Lagos), August 17, 2017, https://punchng.com/breaking-osinbajo-declares-hate-speech-as-terrorism/.

82 National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech (Est, etc) Bill, 2019 (SB.154), § 4(1), p. 6. This quotation and all subsequent citations are from the 2019 revised bill (available at https://media.premiumtimesng.com/wp-content/files/2019/11/ational-Commission-of-Prohibition-of-Hate-Speeches-Bill-2019-1.pdf), hereafter cited as Nigeria's Hate Speech Bill, 2019.

83 Nigeria's Hate Speech Bill, 2019, § 5(1)(b).

84 Nigeria's Hate Speech Bill, 2019, § 4(2).

85 Asonzeh Ukah, “Africa and Free/Hate Speech,” The Immanent Frame, January 4, 2019, https://tif.ssrc.org/2019/01/04/africa-and-free-hate-speech/; Nicholas Asogwa and Christian Ezeibe, “The State, Hate Speech Regulation and Sustainable Democracy in Africa: A Study of Nigeria and Kenya,” African Identities (2020), 1–16. Published ahead of print, https://doi.org/10.1080/14725843.2020.1813548.

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APOCALYPTIC HOMOPHOBIA: FREEDOM OF RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION, HATE SPEECH, AND THE PENTECOSTAL DISCOURSE ON SAME-SEX RELATIONS IN AFRICA
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