Puny response to 68 arrests in Nigeria's anti-gay war

As many as 68 suspected homosexuals have been arrested in oil-rich Nigeria in connection with the new anti-gay law imposed there early this month.

Goodluck Jonathan and Barack Obama
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and U.S. President Barack Obama

Several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, as well as human rights organizations, the European Union and the United Nations, had quickly condemned the law, which provides prison sentences of 10 years for belonging to a gay organization, supporting same-sex marriages, and public displays of same-sex affection, and 14 years for getting married to a member of the same sex.

But after that initial outcry, responses to the wave of arrests both in the Muslim north and Christian south of Nigeria have been scattered and contradictory.  The United States sent mixed messages:

The U.K. said it would increase aid to Nigeria. The European Union pledged to contribute 500 million euros to Nigeria over the next seven years.

The response had seemed to be strongest from Canada, which reportedly canceled plans to welcome Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in a  trip there next month because of the new law. But the Canadian government backed away from that account. The Nigerian newspaper Punch quoted Canada’s representative to Nigeria as saying that the trip had not yet been scheduled, but should occur in the future. Punch quoted a government source as saying, “You cannot cancel a visit that has not been scheduled. The arrangement is still on but no date has been fixed.”

Reports indicate that many Nigerian citizens have been arrested on charges of being homosexual, even though the law does not outlaw that. The swelling accounts from Nigeria have been alarming, though the magnitude of the ongoing wave of arrests makes a firm tally difficult or impossible:

Reported total of 38 arrests as of Jan. 13 in northern Nigeria.
Police challenge those reports.
Police reportedly hunt for as many as 168 more gay men.

Dorothy Aken'Ova (right), executive director of  INCRESE. (Photo courtesy of GlobalGiving.org)
Dorothy Aken’Ova (right), executive director of INCRESE. (Photo courtesy of GlobalGiving.org)

Associated Press (Jan. 13): Police in northern Nigeria reportedly detained four gay men over the Christmas holidays and tortured them until they named others belonging to a gay organization. Police have now arrested 38 men and are looking for 168 others in Bauchi state in northern Nigeria, according to reports from an AIDS counsellor and from Dorothy Aken’Ova, executive director of Nigeria’s International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights.

Amnesty International (Jan. 15): An Assistant Commissioner of Police in Bauchi, confirmed to Amnesty International that the police have a list of suspected LGBTI people in Bauchi as part of their “profiling of criminals”. He said: “The police have a list of suspected gay people under surveillance. We use the list to conduct our surveillance but the names on the list are not up to 167.”

CNN (Jan. 16): Nigerian police spokesman Frank Mba angrily suggested no one had been arrested due to the new law.

“I challenge Amnesty International to publish details of persons alleged to have been arrested in connection with the new anti-gay law, stating clearly when they were arrested, where they were arrested, the police station or department that carried out the arrest, etc.,” Mba told CNN [on Jan. 16].

“The new anti-gay law is primarily designed to prevent same-sex marriages and unions in Nigeria. So far, (to the best of our knowledge) no Nigerian has come out to declare his intention of engaging in such an illicit union. Therefore, the question that naturally arises is: how can the police arrest ‘suspects or offenders’ not known to them or to the law?”

5 or 10 or 11 men charged in Sharia court in northern Nigeria.
A Christian arrestee will be tried in secular court.

Location of Bauchi state in Nigeria (Map courtesy of Wikipedia)
Location of Bauchi state in Nigeria (Map courtesy of Wikipedia)

Associated Press (Jan. 13): The chairman of Bauchi state Sharia Commission, Mustapha Baba Ilela, told the AP that 11 men have been arrested in the past two weeks and charged with belonging to a gay organization. He denied anyone had been tortured and said all 11 — 10 Muslims and a non-Muslim — signed confessions that they belonged to a gay organization but that some of them retracted the statements when they were charged by a judge.

BBC (Jan. 15): An Islamic court in Nigeria’s northern state of Bauchi has put on trial 11 Muslim men accused of being homosexuals in violation of their religion, a religious leader has told the BBC. A 12th person arrested – a Christian – would be tried under secular law, a BBC reporter says.

Agence France-Presse (Jan. 16): Five men appeared in an Islamic court in Bauchi on Jan. 6 and four pleaded guilty under Sharia law to forming a gay club. “They were arraigned by the Bauchi state Sharia Commission… following an allegation that they had formed a gay club and received $150,000 from the United States,” said court clerk Abdul Mohammed.  All five were remanded in custody until the next hearing on Jan. 23, he added.

First punishment: whipping

Agence France-Presse (Jan. 17): Mubarak Ibrahim, 20, one of the men tried in the Sharia court, was flogged with a horse whip in public and fined $30 after being convicted of breaking Islamic law banning homosexuality. He expressed relief that he had not been sentenced to death, as he has expected and as Sharia law allows. He said the homosexual incident occurred seven years ago and he has “since repented.”

Ibrahim was one of 12 men arrested under Sharia on suspicion of breaking the law banning homosexuality. The remaining 11 are in custody pending further hearings.

From 10 to 32 reported arrests in southern Nigeria

Amnesty International (Jan. 15): More than 10 people have been reported arrested in several Nigerian states such as Anambra, Enugu, Imo (all in southeastern Nigeria) and Oyo (in southwestern Nigeria) since Jan. 13, when it was revealed that President Jonathan had signed the bill into law.

Those targeted under the new law included five allegedly gay men who were arrested [Jan. 14] in Ibadan, Oyo state – they have since been released on bail. In the south-eastern city of Awka, Anambra state, six persons were reportedly arrested and detained by the police. Human rights defenders told Amnesty International that the arrests and intimidation of LGBTI people in Nigeria is expanding across the country.

Agence France-Presse (Jan. 16): Since the law was signed, 24 people had been arrested in three southern states — 12 in Ibadan, Oyo; six in Owerri, Imo; and six in Awka, the capital of Anambra, according to Aken’Ova. Most of the people arrested had previously been detained but had been re-arrested since the new law was announced, she said.

Ifeanyi Kelly Orazulike, executive director of the International Center for Advocacy on Rights to Health (Photo courtesy of VOAnews.com)
Ifeanyi Kelly Orazulike, executive director of the International Center for Advocacy on Rights to Health (Photo courtesy of VOAnews.com)

Associated Press (Jan. 17): More than 30 people have been arrested, with an increasing number coming from the west African country’s Christian southern states. Until Jonathan signed the law, prosecution of gay people had largely been centered in the predominantly Muslim north, where gays have long been punished under Sharia law.

In addition to the 24 arrests cited by AFP on Jan. 16, Ifeanyi Kelly Orazulike, executive director of the Nigeria-based International Center for Advocacy on Right to Health, cited eight arrests in central Abuja, for a total of 32 in central and southern Nigeria  since Jan. 15.

Previously: 7 arrests in early December in northern Nigeria

Nigerian newspaper Punch (Dec. 3, 2013):  The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps in Jigawa State in central northern Nigeria arrested seven suspects, ages 18 to 25, for alleged homosexuality. The Commandant of the corps, Alhaji Mohammad Gidado, said the suspects would soon be charged to court.



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About Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor / publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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