In Nigeria, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) persons continue to suffer persecution and extreme violence. The reason is the nation’s intense homophobia, generated by repressive religious beliefs, an intolerant culture and harsh laws against sexual minorities.
By Mike Daemon
In 2014, the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, which is supported by the majority of Nigerians, was swiftly passed into law, leaving LGBT people vulnerable to abuse and human rights violations.
In 2016, the country was cited in a report from the University of Melbourne Student Union as one of the most homophobic countries in the world. That remains true today. In Nigeria, LGBT people live in fear and have to watch their backs at all the times for their own safety, given that there could be serious consequences if one is found or even suspected to be gay.
Last year, a survey by the Bisi Alimi Foundation, an LGBT diaspora organization, concluded that Nigerians are now becoming more tolerant of LGBT people, but in fact the pace of human rights abuses against LGBT persons in the country has rapidly increased.
But perhaps that tolerance is just on the surface or is limited to relatively few Nigerians, because violent intolerance is widespread and seems to be becoming more intense.
This year alone, there have been several cases of human rights violations against LGBT persons, one of which was the arrest of over 57 young men at a birthday party in Lagos after police got a tip-off that they were supposedly homosexuals who were gathered to initiate new recruits into the ‘lifestyle’. They were later all paraded for the media by the police, putting the lives of the young men at further risk.
Also earlier this year, about 72 young men were arrested in Lagos and arraigned in court where they all faced trial on homosexual-related charges. After which, their HIV status and real names were published in the national dailies, further exposing the young men to discrimination and stigma.
Another concern is the formation of fierce anti-gay groups of criminals who are spread across different parts of the country. These groups go about luring gay men to their hideouts where they blackmail, threaten, and brutally beat their victims as well as carting away with their valuables, leaving them seriously injured. A similar case was reported in Asaba, where an NGO took steps to curb the menace in the town.
Trans people are also a major target. A few months ago, a well known Muslim trans activist popularly known as Rabiu was found dead in her home at Abuja after her killers slit her throat, stabbed her multiple times and buried her in a shallow grave in her small room.
Human rights activists are not spared the country’s homophobia. Unoma Azuah a US-based Nigerian human rights activist, says she receives hate mail and death threats, in addition to being stigmatized — she often is called a disgrace to her family and her country. LGBT organizations operate cautiously to avoid being labeled as promoting homosexuality, which in Nigeria could result in a 10-year jail term if convicted under the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, which provides that penalty for belonging to a gay advocacy organization.
Clearly, Nigeria’s homophobia is still very much intact, and attempts to liberate LGBT people are rejected. Recently, Nigerian lesbian activist Pamela Adie lost a lawsuit against The Cooperate Affairs Commission (CAC) after her application to register a lesbian organization was rejected on grounds that it was misleading, offensive, contrary to public policy and violated the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act.