Forty-seven men went on trial in on Wednesday (December 11) for public displays of affection with members of the same sex, an offence that carries a 14-year jail term in Nigeria.
The men were among the 57 arrested in a police raid in a hotel in the impoverished Egbeda district of Lagos back in 2018. They pleaded not guilty at a hearing last month.
Campaigners say the case is an important test of a law banning gay marriage and same-sex “amorous relationships”, which came into force five years ago. Xeenarh Mohammed, the executive director of The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs), said the law had historically been used to harass and blackmail gay people but there had not been any convictions.
“People have been detained, men and women, at different gatherings but no cases had ever gone before a judge. We have to establish that people have a right to meet that shouldn’t be a crime under any law in any country,” said Mohammed.
The police have said that the arrested men were being initiated into a gay club. The accused say they were attending a birthday party.
The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which banned gay relationships and entrenched intolerance of sexual minorities in Nigerian society, was signed by Goodluck Jonathan, then president, in January 2014. The law caused an international outcry, with condemnation from global human rights organisation and western governments. Human Rights Watch called it a “sweeping and dangerous piece of legislation”.
“Police officers will stop you and then get you arrested, extort money from you and begin to call you names,” Smart Joel, 25, one of the defendants, said before last month’s hearing. “I just wish the case will be quickly dismissed as soon as possible.”
Two days of hearings have been scheduled this week to allow the prosecution to make its case. The trial is likely to last for several months.