How Police and the public have driven Nigeria's gay people into hiding

You're probably friends with more gay persons than you know, and you might be oppressing them.

This is not true, of course, what they have is a denial of the obvious that is based on suppressing a culture they do not approve of until it no longer exists.

In parties held in hotels around cities like Lagos, men find a space to be openly gay, the Guardian reports.

At one of such parties, the turnout is low but men sit, fiddling with each other’s hair as music and drinks fill the space, anticipating more members of an oft-maligned society.

Nigeria is one of the five most homophobic countries in the world, and while there are activists who make a case for the country’s LGBT persons to be afforded their rights, being gay in Nigeria is a death sentence.

While the hostility towards gay persons has always been a part of society’s fabric, the Same-Sex Prohibition Act, which banned gay relationships and institutionalised intolerance was signed into law by former President Jonathan in 2014, all but certifying all forms of injustice against LGBTQ persons.

In July 2017, at Club Owode in Lagos, 70 men and boys were arrested by police.

"In the majority of these cases, the police extort funds from them, knowing that any court case will out their sexuality”, says Okoye, “For most of them, their single wish is to pay and get out, and the police use it against them”

But it’s not just law enforcement.

Are you trying to get rid of gay people too?

After the names of members of the House of Rainbow Church, an LGBT friendly ministry in Abuja was published in the newspapers, about a dozen of its members were attacked and beaten.

Omolara Oriye, a director at the Initiative for Equal rights told the Guardian that since the beginning of 2017, the spate of violent attacks had reduced, instead what has increased is extortion, blackmail, infringement of the right to assembly.

Most of them keep their orientation and relationships hidden.

It explains why, when they have gatherings it is in secluded places, where secrecy and privacy are paramount.

But even at that, some of the participants are pressured or coerced into ratting out their peers. In other cases, they simply can’t be trusted.

A gay man shared a story of how his friends lived in his home for over three years.

“Some of them had lost or left jobs because people had found out about their sexuality, some of them weren’t allowed to be around their own family”, he says.

“I was paying for everything, our food, our bills, even giving them money to go to places they needed to”.

Then one of his friends had a party while he was away. One attendee took pictures and tried to blackmail them, saying he’d show the police.

It should be said that this behaviour of extortion and underhanded practices is not unique to homosexuals. The Nigerian Police had a soiled reputation for unprofessionalism and corruption.

The Police is not your friend

Just recently, a social media campaign under the hashtag #EndSars highlighted the brutality of the Police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad with photos and accounts of beatings, extortion and in cases, murder.

This is possible mostly because many Nigerians do not know their rights and when they do, they can be pressured into believing in that time and place, they do not matter.

For gay people, it is more extreme: they are a demographic whose lifestyle is viewed as indecent and so, finding support in the face of oppression is very unlikely.

To fight this and to help their peers find safety in the country of their birth, many activists have put their foot down and resources in place to protect their interests.

Azeenarh Mohammed, a 32-year old lawyer based in Abuja, is one of such.

“You live life here as a gay person, knowing that there’s no future in Nigeria if you want to live an open life, but I really wanted to change that”

In 2011, she spoke at a hearing in the National Assembly about gay rights, even though the lawmakers expected her to talk about the environment.

This sort of defiance is what it takes, but perhaps more importantly, we must also unlearn our homophobia.

This generation of LGBTQ persons may be safe in hiding but the problems that have created this circumstance are getting worse.

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