It is now illegal to encourage the use of condoms in southeast Nigeria’s Anambra State. The state government has also banned the advocacy and distribution of other forms of contraceptives including IUDs (intrauterine device) and any other “un-natural” birth control.
“Instead of teaching children how to use condoms to enjoy sex they should be taught total abstinence,” the state commissioner for health, Amobi Ilika said when announcing the measures in late March at the state capital, Awka. “The use of condoms has greatly encouraged immorality,” he said.
Many sociologists as well as family planning and AIDS support groups disagree. “I don’t think it's the right step," public affairs analyst Alphonsus Ofodile said. "Even if you ban the use of condoms, people will still have sex. So why would a responsible government want to discourage safe sex?”
More than 3 million people - 3.9 percent of the adult population - are living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. The rate is rising by around 300,000 people a year, according to a 2006 estimate by the joint UN programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
Condoms are openly available throughout Nigeria partly because the federal government, in partnership with family health organisations, has programmes to distribute and sell them. The programmes also produce public announcements on local radio and billboards advocating for the use of condoms.
Many religious groups around the country also back condom use, having recognised that messages urging abstinence have failed to yield the desired results.
The population of Anambra State are not known for habouring particularly fundamentalist beliefs but the ban may have been designed to appeal to local evangelical groups.
For Ofodile, the ban is just a way for the state government “to score a cheap political point". Anambra State has a history of political instability and violence and is now making “a desperate attempt to uphold morals”, he said.
Besides making advocacy for contraception illegal, commissioner Ilika also railed against abortion. “Abortion is the greatest crime,” he said. “[All fetuses] must be allowed to live no matter the circumstances that led to the pregnancy, even rape.”
He added that medical practitioners in the state will face stiff penalties if they are caught carrying out abortions or any ‘anti-life’ activities. “The state government will withdraw the license of any medical personnel who flouts this directive and any hospital will be closed down.”
The commissioner did not specify how the state would punish shops and pharmacies caught selling condoms, or individuals caught using them.