Nigeria: Dispatch from Bauchi on the Case of 18 Men Arrested for Gender Transgression

A case involving eighteen men arrested and charged with cross-dressing in Bauchi State, Nigeria was adjourned on October 8, 2007 after defense lawyers complained of not having received key legal documents.

The 18 men were arrested on August 5th, 2007, while attending a party at the Benko Hotel, in the Yelwa area of Bauchi—a state in Northern Nigeria that has adopted Islamic law. The men have been charged under Article 372 Sec 2(E) of the Bauchi State Islamic Penal Code with "vagrancy," which includes prohibitions against cross-dressing and the practice of sodomy. The first hearing in the case was held at the Tunde Alkali Area court in Bauchi. Thereafter the case was moved to the Upper Shari'a court in the same city.

Despite the charges, the men were not dressed in women’s clothes at the time of their arrests, and the police have reported that only a few items of women’s clothing were found in their belongings. IGLHRC is concerned that the men are being targeted because of increased homophobia in Nigeria, as evidenced by attempts during the last parliamentary session to pass a draconian bill to criminalize gatherings of LGBT people.

Though all 18 men have been released on bail, they have been refused permission to leave Bauchi State. This is causing the men great hardship, since only five of them are residents of the state and the majority are students. "I have not been able to attend classes and/or write exams, which I need to do in order to be admitted to graduate school," complained Tahir T. one of the detainees.

Joel Nana, IGLHRC Program Associate for West and Southern Africa who has been monitoring the case, stressed that requiring the men to remain in Bauchi, "puts them at risk of potential harassment and violence by the local population which has already manifested its disdain for the men.” Crowds threw stones at the men and their lawyers at the first hearing, requiring police to fire bullets into the air to disperse the crowd.

“The courts are behaving as if the men have already been judged as guilty," said Joseph Akoro, Director of The Independent Project (TIP), a Nigerian LGBT organization that has been present at each of the hearings in the case.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for November 29, 2007. IGLHRC is working with a coalition of organizations and funders, including Global Rights, the Astraea Foundation, and the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya, to ensure that local human rights and LGBT organizations are able to effectively provide legal and political support to the detainees. IGLHRC has also filed a formal complaint with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.