25 August 2007

Nigeria: 'We Never Held Same-Sex Wedding' They Did - Hisbah

Kaduna — It would have turned out to be the first ever Bauchi gay wedding but history was upturned when the Sharia monitoring team and the security agents dispersed the group that allegedly gathered for a gay nuptial ceremony.

However, to some residents of Bauchi town, it was a slap on their faces, hence, they came out in numbers to enforce the law even after the Bauchi Sharia court granted bail to 18 of the suspects.

The angry protesters who converged at the court inside Bauchi town demanded that the accused should be punished harshly under the Islamic laws. Instead, the court said they were not charged with sodomy which carries a death sentence but were charged with lesser crimes of truancy, organising gay wedding, idleness and vagrancy.

The police had to use tear gas to disperse the crowd before the prison van which conveyed the suspects to the court was able to escape with the suspects. Many people sustained injuries. However, five of the suspects met the bail conditions of presenting a surety who is a residence of Bauchi and deposited N20, 000.

Their bail was granted after initial opposition by counsel to the state, Barrister Aliyu Ibrahim Idris who requested for time to study the case and look for the possibility of changing the charges in order to ensure fair judgment as contained in the Bauchi State Sharia Penal Code. But the defence counsels under Barrister Ralph Titus pleaded for bail to enable them meet the accused and prepare their defence.

The presiding judge, Malam Tanimu Abubakar told newsmen that the crimes the men were charged with were not punishable with death. Even if they were found guilty they face one year in prison with 20 or 30 lashes as contained in section 372 and 373 of Bauchi State Sharia Penal Code 2001.

One of the suspects who spoke to Weekly Trust at the court premises said "we gathered at the Denco Hotel to celebrate the graduation ceremony of one of our friends who graduated from Government Secondary School, Darazo when the Hisbah arrested us and accused us of homosexuality." On the issue of dressing that were found with the suspects said, "I was not aware that the police and Hisbah got anything like that I was wearing our costume cloth, jumper that's all I know."

They were arrested two weeks ago after the police found them in a hotel room allegedly organising a gay wedding.

The 18 young men came from different parts of the country to allegedly witness the nuptial ceremony of their friends of the same sex but it was abruptly disrupted by the Hisbah commission.

The group under their gay association converged at the hotel along Dass/ Tafawa Balewa Road, when information about the proposed wedding leaked to the authorities who immediately disrupted the wedding.

Immediately the news reached the Shariah commission chairman, Alhaji Mukhtar Ahmad, he deployed his men to the scene.

The deputy coordinator of the Hisbah command, Malam Salisu Mohammad Bununu who was among the senior officers of the commission who led the Hisbah in conjunction with the police made several arrests.

Bununu told Weekly Trust that, "Immediately we received the information from different sources, our chairman sent a member of the Hisbah and State Security Service (SSS) to go and monitor the arrivals of the organizers of the gay wedding which is the first of its kind in the history of Bauchi State."

He said, "Our members who went there stayed with the gay group for over three hours and they even had their sunset and night prayers together with some of them. After we witnessed the arrival of almost all the members of the group who came from different parts of the country, we then effected the arrest."

Narrating the experience of his staff who cage the suspects, he said. "Our secret member who was with the group recorded all their conversations and according to him, they all spoke like women."

He said the informant told them that most of their conversations were on teasing their colleagues about the lack of "protruded breast or pointing at another and saying he doesn't have big buttocks, beautiful face or lack of long hair, among other jokes."

According to him, it was after they allowed the members to properly settle down and set for the actual event that his team moved into the hotel and stopped the wedding.

"Before we moved in, we made sure that over 50 of their members had arrived and almost all of them had secured accommodation waiting for their musicians to arrive. Before the musicians came into the venue, we quickly went in together with the police," Bununu said.

"When they saw our bus, they alerted their members that Hisbah command and police had arrived and so most of them ran away except those who locked themselves in their hotel rooms, so we got them and most of those arrested were dressed in women clothes.

"And all 18 pleaded guilty. We also recovered money between N300 to N1,000, women dresses like braziers, rubber buttocks, pants, skirts, head ties and wrappers, we also recovered some cosmetics like kajal, powder, lipstick and other women cosmetics," said Bununu.

According to Bununu, because of their number, they took them to the township police station and from there, they were charged to court same day.

"Another problem we encountered is with what offence were we going to charge them, because if you charge them with homosexualism, it would be difficult to prove the case before the state Shariah court since Bauchi is operating the Islamic legal system for its citizens. You know the consequences and to prove this case you most produce four reliable witnesses who will testify that that they saw them naked doing the thing. This is very difficult to prove," Bununu explained.

The deputy coordinator said they later charged them under section 372 sub-section (2) e with truancy, organising an illegal meeting and cross dressing that is wearing women dress which all contradict Islamic laws.

Under this section, according to Bununu, if they were found guilty, they would be punished and sentenced for few months or years in prison depending on the judge saw.

Parading the suspects before the Tudun Alkali Shariah Court, the police prosecuting officer, Corporal Danlami Mohammed told the judge that the members of the group arrested came from Bauchi, Plateau, Nasarawa, Jigawa and Borno states and were between the ages of 20 and 28.

Meanwhile, the case has now generated public comments in the state especially about their sponsors.

Most residents who spoke to Weekly Trust blamed it on moral degradation in the country and lack of parental guidance.

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