Voice of America (Washington, DC)

28 February 2014

Nigeria: Activists Fear Wave of Homophobia

Abuja — Nigerian activists say anti-gay legislation passed this year has sparked mob violence, blackmail, homelessness and joblessness among gays across the country. The legislation is somewhat different than the anti-homosexuality law adopted this week in Uganda, but activists say the suffering in their country is the same.

Off the main road in the chaotic urban village, a dirt path leads to a single-room home where advocates of gay rights meet behind a closed metal door.

No one in this neighborhood knows who they are or what they do.

The men described a raid in their neighborhood, where gay men were beaten and forced to leave their homes.

"They were going from each gay man's house. Room to room. House to house. When they get to your room, they don't knock. What they do is they demolish the door if it's not strong, they bring down the walls of the house. They bring everything down is what they do," said a victim.

"Did they do that to your place?"

"They did that, yes! My door was iron just like this. So when you get to my house you will only see marks of the objects that they used. They were like, 'Come outside! Come outside homosexual people. Bastard!' and everything," he said.

Nearby police did nothing to stop the mob, he said, and those that were not beaten fled their homes, leaving everything behind. Two weeks later, one man said, he was still wearing the same clothes he had on when he left.

"Everybody ran into the bush. One of my neighbors from the community - a gay man - he had to escape through the toilet window. He had to escape through the toilet window," said another victim.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed new anti-gay legislation on January 13.

Activists said the most nefarious element of the law was that it banned gay organizations or the "aiding and abetting'" of homosexuality, potentially turning formerly tolerant landlords, neighbors and employers of gay people into criminals.

Uganda's new law similarly bans the "promotion" of homosexuality.

Nigerian activists said the new law has not been actively enforced by authorities, but in the past month, many gay Nigerians have been evicted from their homes, fired from their jobs and blackmailed.

Kelechi, who does not want his full name used for security reasons, is the executive director of the Initiative for Improved Male Health in Nigeria.

"There have been recorded cases of violence in the community, like I just made mention of blackmailing," he said. "Sometimes I've been in the office where someone sent to me a threat message that if I don't pay a certain amount of money I'll be 'outed' as a gay man."

He said roughly 17 percent of gay men in Nigeria were HIV positive and many were now afraid of seeking help from aid organizations.

"It's really effected HIV programming for LGBT persons because everybody feels if you take any service there's an avenue for you to be outed and you can be arrested as well," said Kelechi.

The World Bank Friday postponed a $90 million loan to Uganda intended to improve health services, in reaction to the new law and leaders from the U.S. and Europe have been vocal in their critique of both anti-gay laws, calling them 'atrocious' and 'draconian.'

But in Nigeria, locals, lawmakers and religious leaders - both Christian and Muslim - have hailed the law, saying it reflects African culture and Nigeria's religious identity.

At the gleaming national church in Abuja, near the equally-impressive national mosque, Pastor Simon A.S. Dolly, the president of the Youth Wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said the international community should not interfere with African anti-gay laws.

"It's better to obey God than to obey man. And we are not really afraid of any threat because it is our country. We have sovereignty as a nation and we have the right to have a law," said Dolly.

He did not anticipate international aid being withdrawn from Nigeria. But, he said, if it was withdrawn, it was a better fate than suffering the wrath of God for allowing sin in Nigeria.

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