LGBTQ+ Persecution in Nigeria

Thomas Summers
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International protests against Nigeria’s controversial SSMPA. Source: Richard Akuson via CNN

LGBTQ+ individuals face numerous challenges all over the world, however, it must be said that these challenges are more acute in Nigeria. While other countries on the continent, such as Cape Verde and South Africa, have taken steps towards the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community, Nigeria has done the opposite.

One key example of this is the passing of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) in 2013, which prohibits LGBTQ+ individuals from marrying and actively allows for the persecution of homosexuals. In response to the act, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said 

“rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights. Rights to privacy and non-discrimination, rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention: this law undermines all of them.” 

According to the act, partaking in a same-sex marriage is punishable by 14 years in prison; 10 years for being an LGBTQ+ ally, going to a gay club, or showing public displays of affection. In the country’s twelve Northern states, the situation is even direr. Under Sharia law, LGBTQ+ individuals are stoned, lashed to death, or forced to undergo terrible conversion therapy procedures such as genital mutilation and flogging.

DEATH PENALTIES AND POLICE NEGLIGENCE

Nigerian Religious Police, known as the Hisbah, go door to door. Source: Dawakin Kudu via Africa Daily News

In the Northern state of Bauchi, immediately following the initiation of the SSMPA in 2014, police hunted down 168 men for being suspected homosexuals. Of these, 38 were caught, beaten, and tortured. Later that year, in Bauchi, when a further eleven were brought before a Sharia court for belonging to pro-LGBTQ+ organizations, the court proceedings had to be postponed as the court was being pelted with stones by a mob numbering in the thousands demanding death sentences. In January 2015, 12 men in Kano city were detained by the religious police for allegedly planning a same-sex marriage ceremony. According to Aminu Daurawa, head of the religious police, these men were suspected as they “looked and acted feminine”.

In the South, the situation does not change much. The SSMPA is being used as a means for police officers to detain, torture, and extort suspects. For instance, in August 2018, 57 men were arrested in a hotel in Lagos for being “initiated into a gay organization”. They were each charged 200,000 Naira (£389) for bail. Furthermore, the law has been used to protect those who would harm LGBTQ+ individuals. In Geshiri in February 2014, a mob of 40 dragged sleeping “suspected gay men” from their beds and beat them “with sticks spiked with nails, wires, whips, and broken furniture. Members of the mob were shouting that they were “cleansing the community” of gays and “we are working for Jonathan” in reference to the then President Goodluck Jonathan.” Some were even brought to the police station, where police officers insulted them and joined the mob violence. The senior police officer warned the victims of the mob that they had 48 hours to leave the village.

THE DANGERS OF SEEKING HIV TREATMENT

Access to HIV clinics in Nigeria is necessary for LGBTQ+ individuals. Source: Njadvara Musa via Guardian Nigeria

Another way LGBTQ+ individuals are put at risk by the law is through access to healthcare. Nigeria is the country with the second largest HIV epidemic in the world, with 3.4 million people living with HIV, and with an increased frequency in homosexual males. LGBTQ+ individuals living with the disease are unfairly affected as the police have raided NGOs that are providing HIV treatments to the LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria for “promoting homosexuality”.

This was the case of an HIV awareness meeting in Abuja in January 2014, where 12 were arrested and forced to pay a bribe of 100,000 Naira (£194.50) for bail. Understandably, the number of people living with HIV seeking treatment has plummeted. According to Ifeanyi Orazulike, an HIV clinic owner in Abuja “we used to have about 60 people a month; post-law, it is down to about 10 to 15 people (…) for fear of going to prison, people preferred to stay at home on their sick bed.”

Despite what was mentioned above, change may be coming to the African country. According to Reuters, a recent NOI Poll has shown that the number of people who believe that LGBTQ+ individuals should have equal access to public services has risen from 30% to 39% between the years 2015 and 2017. As stated by Olumide Makanjuola, executive director of The Initiative for Equal Rights, “these changes might look small, but let us acknowledge the progress. The fact that there is a small differential is important to acknowledge. Nigeria is not an easy place to have such conversations.”

Furthermore, the number of violent acts has decreased since 2016. However, the director of the Initiative for Equal Rights, Omolara Oriye, said “what has risen significantly is extortion, blackmail, infringement of rights to assembly, and police malpractice. This is happening through apps like Grindr and social media”.

  • Who should take on the responsibility to ensure that LGBTQ+ citizens are protected when the state fails to do so?
  • How can HIV medications be delivered to those who need it most?
  • How can social media platforms like Grindr protect its users from extortion?

Suggested Readings

Amnesty International (2014). HAPPENING NOW: LGBT NIGERIANS JAILED AFTER PASSAGE OF NEW ANTI-GAY LAW

The Guardian (2018). Blackmail, prejudice and persecution: gay rights in Nigeria

Human Rights Watch (2016). “Tell Me Where I Can Be Safe” The Impact of Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act

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LGBTQ+ Persecution in Nig…

by Thomas Summers time to read: 4 min
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