47 men on trial in Nigeria for ‘same sex affection’ could face 10 years in jail

47 men on trial in Nigeria for ‘same sex affection’ could face 10 years in jail

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Man in handcuffs.

A Nigerian judge has given prosecutors one last chance to state their case against 47 men suspected of homosexuality.

Police arrested the men in August 2018 in a raid on a party at a Lagos hotel. The men say they were attending a birthday party. But the police claim it was an ‘initiation’ to a gay society.

They charged the men with public displays of affection with members of the same sex.

The men have suffered months of delays to their case. And, if they are convicted, they face 10 years in jail.

Nigeria’s brutal anti-gay law

The case is the first legal test of a new law that former President Goodluck Jonathan introduced.

Parliament passed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, in May 2013 and Jonathan signed it into law in January 2014.

The wide ranging law is one of the worst in the world. It doesn’t merely prohibit same-sex weddings. People can be imprisoned for merely showing affection to someone of the same gender.

In theory, even someone who witnesses a meeting between LGBT+ people in Nigeria and who doesn’t report it can get 10 years in jail.

So far, the courts haven’t convicted anyone under the law. However, police have used it to extort bribes from suspects in return for not pressing charges, human rights experts say.

And police activity against suspected LGBT+ people in Nigeria is not uncommon. 

In June 2018, just months before this raid, police raided a private party and arrested about 100 suspected LGBT+ people.

Police barricaded the party-goers and used tear gas to disorient them. A witness told GSN that police allegedly targeted ‘effeminate men and masculine women’ in the raid.

Meanwhile, in the north of Nigeria, where Sharia law operates, people face the death penalty for gay sex.

The Lagos 47 case

Police arrested the men in a raid on a hotel in the Egbeda district of Lagos, the Nigerian capital, in August 2018.

After the raid, the state police commissioner paraded the 47 arrested men in front of journalists.

They pleaded not guilty in November and say they are not gay. But the case has been adjourned twice already, after prosecutors failed to bring their witnesses to court.

And the long delays are causing them stress and financial hardship.

One of the men, Onyeka Oghuaghamba, 43, told Reuters: ‘It’s affecting my life, it’s affecting my work. I am not coping.’

He has missed work as a long-haul driver because of his court appearances. So he has had to take out loans to support his wife and four children.

But the 47 men were back in court in Lagos on Wednesday – and learned their ordeal may soon come to an end.

Prosecutors asked for an adjournment again after calling just one witness.

And Justice Rilwan Aikawa granted the delay until 3 March. But he warned prosecutors it would be the last.

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Author: Tris Reid-Smith