On 7 January 2014, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a law that makes gay marriage in Nigeria punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Already, LGBT rights activists are reporting mass arrests and beatings of gay people, and people perceived to be gay, all over Nigeria.
Dorothy Aken’Ova, executive director of Nigeria’s International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, gave the BBC a detailed account of how police seized and held four gay men over Christmas and beat them until they named people allegedly belonging to LGBT organisations. Dozens of gay men have already been arrested in the northern state of Bauchi, after police drew up a list of 168 gay men who are now being hunted down.
There has been international condemnation of the Nigerian “Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act’’. The law bans processions, meetings or gatherings of LGBT people. Any persons or group of persons that witnesses, and aids the solemnisation of a same-sex marriage contract or civil union or supports the registration of gay ocieties and organisations, processions or meetings, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to ten years’ imprisonment.
Ifeanyi Kelly Orazulike, executive director of the Nigeria-based International Centre for Advocacy on Right to Health, said, “Arrests have been made before, but not at this magnitude. Police are not telling us what the charges are, and people are scared. People want to leave and you don’t blame them. They are asking us about the exit choices.”.
Last week, the BBC was told by Jibrin Danlami Hassan of the Bauchi Sharia Commission that “an Islamic court in Bauchi has put 11 Muslim men on trial accused of being homosexuals. The men were arrested by residents of Bauchi city and handed to the Islamic police force,” he said.
Amnesty International reported that between 15 and 18 January, 12 LGBT people were arrested in Oyo state in the southwest, six in Imo state in the south-east, eight in central Abuja, and six in Anambra state in the south-east.
The anti-gay law is seen as a calculated move by politically beleaguered Goodluck Jonathan to use homophobia and hate as a distraction from his own incompetence, and to divert attention and the focus of political debate in Nigeria from the endemic political corruption and unequal economy. Nigeria is a deeply conservative country, and homophobia is used by political leaders as a political game and a distraction from other human rights violations and political tyranny,
Homosexuality is illegal in seventy-six countries around the world, and in ten of these punished by death or life imprisonment.