Arrests in Nigeria and Why We Need to Support Groups on the Ground

Reuters on July 31, 2017, reported that a police spokesman told local media, this past weekend, that about 40 "suspected homosexuals were arrested", and would soon appear in court to face charges. According to OutRight’s board member, Nigerian activist Michael Ighodaro, there is contradicting information out there about these recent arrests in Nigeria.

But one thing is clear, there is a pattern starting to build. Arrests have been happening in Nigeria over the “past few months from Grindr hunting to parties being raided which have been followed with police asking for bail money which [in Nigeria] is normally free!” stated Ighodaro.

Since Nigeria adopted its “Same-sex Marriage Prohibition Bill” in 2014, the already hostile anti-LGBT climate has gotten worse. The bill has very little to do with “same-sex marriage,” and has everything to do with outlawing organizing to promote equal rights and to push Nigerian LGBTIQ people further into their closets.

Unfortunately, the bill has had an affect on policing. It has emboldened police to increase harassment of people they suspect to be gay. The behavior has resulted in police:

  • Extorting bribes - as anyone who wants to avoid arrest can typically pay to get out of it, if they can afford it.

  • Outing people to their neighbors and communities which results in increased tensions within communities. Even if someone is not charged or charged and acquitted they might be in danger from homophobic and transphobic community members.

After speaking with Ighodaro, we took a look back at some of the news stories recently seen about arrests in Nigeria. There may be more, but here’s the list we’ve put together:

Nigerian police say they have arrested 53 young men for "belonging to a gang of unlawful society." Prosecuting officer Mannir Nasir told a court that the young men arrested in the northern city of Zaria were attending a birthday party.

Four men received jail sentences from a magistrate court in Damaturu, the Yobe state capital following their conviction on charges of homosexuality which is a crime under Nigerian law following the enactment of the Same-sex Marriage prohibition act in 2014.

Tke Ifeanyi Orazulike; he was in the middle of his birthday party when he was arrested. As friends and colleagues cheered and wished him well, the police stormed in and dragged him away. They held him for six hours before we was released without charge.

Ironically, the arrest in November 2016 coincides with the African states (Nigeria included) at the United Nations presenting a hostile resolution that specifically targeted the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Mandate. This exemplifies the attitude and hostility that has been brewing in Nigeria over LGBTIQ Nigerians fight for equal rights.

Ighodaro told us in regards to the recent arrests on July 31st that:

“The Nigeria LGBTI community are aware of the recent arrest and are working with authorities involved to release the gay men arrested. These are interesting times for us--as we are seeing an increase in arrest and extortion of LGBTI community in Nigeria, but like always are we are united front and are working behind the scenes with our friends and allies to find a solution.”

The accelerated pace of these mass arrests we have seen over the last year is very worrying. Unfortunately no one I know believes that international media pressure or public outcry can do much to help the situation. And as always, we need to continue to support the organizations working on the ground, and use international diplomacy when possible.