“He wanted me to die in jail.” The Guys Arrested For Being Gay Speak Out

“He wanted me to die in jail.” The Guys Arrested For Being Gay Speak Out

Originally published on abc.net.au

For 23-year-old Femi*, a night out celebrating a birthday with friends ended with a month and two days in jail because of his sexuality.

In late July, Femi and his friends were among 40 gay men and boys, some as young as 13, who were arrested at a gay nightspot in a hotel in the back blocks of Nigeria’s economic capital, Lagos.

They were charged with engaging in “gay activities” by allowing other men “to have carnal knowledge of themselves against the order of nature”.

Since his arrest, Femi has been kicked out of home and now shuttles between friends’ lounges and lovers’ beds. He has lost his job as a cleaner, left his studies at the university and had sex for money to help pay for a ticket to Ghana where he hopes he can slip into obscurity.

Before court, the men were dragged out in front of local media

 

“He wanted me to die in jail.”

Femi says he “became gay” at 14 when he fell in love with the man who raped him, an older man who was close friends with his father. He kept the relationship a secret until his father accused him of being “gay and acting girly”.

In a country like Nigeria where 91 per cent of people believe homosexuality should be criminalised, his confession only led to more frequent and ferocious beatings from his father.

“Any mistake and he would hit me. Every minute, every hour.”

After a month and two days in jail following his arrest, an NGO bailed him out.

“I tried to bribe my way out of it and members of the [LGBTI] community went to speak with my father… He asked them to let me die in [jail],” Femi says.

 

Eternal damnation or prison

Gay sex has been outlawed in Nigeria since the time of British rule but recently the situation has become direr for Nigeria’s LGBTI community.

In 2014, former president Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill which proscribed penalties of 14 years’ jail time for same-sex marriage and 10 years’ for same-sex “amorous relationships”. In the country’s Muslim north, 12 states have adopted Sharia, with punishment for gay sex including lashings, jail and death by stoning.

So far no-one has been sentenced to death and convictions are rare.

Days after the hotel arrests, the Lagos State Attorney-General Adeniji Kazeem said the tough stance taken with the men was to help put “a stop to the exploitation of under-aged children” by gay men.

But Doyin*, 15, says no sex with minors took place.

Doyin was in jail for seven days before he was released, but unlike many, he wasn’t fazed by the consequences.

“My parents know I’m gay. This is my lifestyle. This is what I choose and they say I should live my life,” he says. “I don’t have feelings for women. I have feelings for men. A gay is a human being [and that’s] why I’m bold.”

 

“I didn’t want my mum to know.”

For Tunde*, the consequences were foremost in his mind.

“The police came through and started beating us so I covered my face because I didn’t want my mum to know,” he says.

Bundled into a cell with hardened criminals, Tunde says he was beaten up by another prisoner, called the President, who was instructed by police to extract confessions.

“This is when I had no choice … I said I was gay,” he says.

Nigerian teen, Tunde has been kicked out since his grandma saw him in the news

Along with the other men, Tunde pleaded not guilty to the charge in court, but his picture, name and HIV status were taken by local media and splashed across newspapers around the nation.

“When I came out, my mum found out and the people I work with were abusing me, saying I’m a girl,” he says.

The men return to court on November 22.

 

Everything has a price

Nigeria is an incredibly divided country but Lagos activist Peter Kass says hostility towards gay people is one issue that cuts across region and religion.

His NGO, Access to Health and Rights Development Initiative, was at the hotel conducting HIV tests for some of the patrons on the night of the arrests.

Nigeria has the highest rate of HIV in west and central Africa, according to the United Nations, with an estimated 3.5 million people infected with the virus.

Director of gay rights NGO Access to Health and Rights Development Initiative, Peter Kass

Akin* and his team conducted 25 HIV tests that night — they all came back positive. He spent a night in lock up where he says he was “beaten with a stick, hammer and plywood”.

“There was a hall in the police station premises and they gathered us and stripped us and said we should sleep on the floor.”

About 70 people were arrested that night, but according to Akin, about 30 men were able to pay between $18 and $36 for police to let them out.

Nigerian gay activist, Bisi Alimi, says that had local media not found out about the arrest, the police would have been paid off and “the boys would be home”.

“These are poor gay men. Class and economic power play a part here,” he says.

Akin paid his way out of jail but spent a night sleeping naked on a Lagos police station floor.

 

Anti-gay vigilantes and cat-fishers

The situation for LGBTI people in northern Nigeria is more difficult than for those living in the south, with at least 114 gay men and women having been arrested since January this year.

“What we’ve seen are people arming themselves with these laws and arresting people indiscriminately,” LGBT and women’s rights activist, Dorothy Aken`Ova says. “Any time the Hisbah (religious police) catch wind of any gathering, they’ll bust up the party and arrest and torture them.”

In August, she says, a 17-year-old schoolboy was allegedly beaten to death by some of his classmates in Jigawa State because they suspected he was gay.

“The [classmates] were taken to police custody and in their statements, they said they did it to correct [the student who died] from the social vice because he was suspected to be gay.”

Back in Lagos, Mr. Kass says gangs use social media to catch unsuspecting gay men out to either beat them up or exhort money from them.

“What people do is ping you or get you chatting and then you talk about hooking up,” he says.

“I’m going to be killed.”

The struggle faced by gay Nigerian women is often overlooked.

Rita*, 39, says there is no excuse for the neglect of lesbian rights violations simply because gay men make up the majority of those arrested and abused in Nigeria. She says she knew she was attracted to women when she was 15 but “came to terms that loving in Nigeria was going to be tough because of religious and cultural influences”. To please her parents, she married a man four years ago but after her father died, she divorced him.

Rita says her ex-husband vowed to teach her “a lesson she would never forget”, and last month, came to her house with two policemen, where she was caught in bed with her partner. She says the police slapped and kicked her and forced her to sleep on the floor of the police station for four days before a friend negotiated her release for $225.

But her ex-husband didn’t stop there. On September 17, Rita said she was walking home at night when she was attacked by four men.

“They kept hitting me with sticks and stones,” she says. “I heard them saying, ‘So, you left your marriage for a woman? Do you know it is a crime [to be gay] and 14 years’ jail?’ One said they should burn me alive with a car tyre. I was just crying, pleading for my life.”

Nearby, security guards scared the attackers away but Rita says her ex-husband sent her a message, saying that next time, she would be attacked with acid.

Battered and bruised, Rita fled to Canada and is currently seeking asylum.

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15 Comments

  1. Mandy
    October 24, 09:49 Reply

    This is so heartbreaking. ?? There’s just no imagining the amount of pain and distress these guys have been exposed to.

  2. trystham
    October 24, 10:03 Reply

    My fervent wish for them is to leave this country now. Its just too much to bear. I imagine a lot were even shocked to see results of their HIV status. No private grieving.

  3. Delle
    October 24, 11:21 Reply

    This is just so sad. For the HIV positive ones, I pray they get immediate treatment. Once again, it’s fact that the way to be in this country is being gay and financially stable.

    Sigh.

  4. Foxydevil
    October 24, 11:32 Reply

    At a point we need to start doing more than writing about it and start acting it out.
    Malafund is only 17 but look what she’s done so far ,she is a hero and a legend.
    No one is ready to take the reins.
    All Bisi Alami (the self proclaimed activist of LGTB in Nigeria) does is rant and rant like a deranged psychopath. No one respects him because his rants are usually irrelevant and bereft of actions.
    We sincerely need a true hero in Nigeria, someone who can take actions. Meet up world leaders and fashion out laws that will shape up the society so that the lives of the tiniest of us will be protected.
    Lack of ambition is a luxury we can’t afford .
    We must work towards the presidency, the governorship positions ,the senates and their likes.

    Everyday I come across a facebook post of some “smart-ass ” with a ten paragraph epistle about acceptance and sexuality.
    And I laugh at the pathetic attempt.
    Many people are shifting from the focus, everyone is now trying to sound smarter than the other person .
    In a way, I blame social media that blessed most people with cheap relevance and gave miscreants audience.
    What would have been a real fight put up to foster acceptability ,humane and considerate society is now being sacrificed at the alter of likes and comments.
    We’ve forgotten the main goal, and now most people are speaking because they are in love with the sound of their voices .

    Most people here are kids, that can’t scrap up a dime and have barely made any. They like to rant like a whore about to climax, but when faced with real situations they recline into their protective nest ,barricaded by mummy and daddy.

    I’ve been to the HIV and tuberculosis unit. I’ve given counsel to kids coming to terms with their status ,I take food and blanket to those whose relative have long absconded and when I have money, I even get them treats to help them get by. How many patients have I seen one day and the next day they’re gone, all loses I’ve borne graciously, despite developing genuine affection for them over a certain period of time .That’s why I don’t really take the perception of me most people here have seriously, because no one can define you except yourself and God that sees intent.

    Wouldn’t have said all these but I feel this is necessary to remind us, that we can do more than rant here, cry out at the injustice and then rush to the next story to read about sex. And when we are well rested, we come up with a thirty paragraph article that does absolutely nothing. You get heralded about your open mindedness and after that ,nothing happens.

    This boy is currently homeless, hasn’t eaten for days and mostly likely POS.
    Just saying we can do more than writing about his plight.
    ?.

    • pete
      October 24, 18:45 Reply

      Foxy, you brought up this story yesterday and today it’s on the blog and you still haven’t suggested or initiated a course of action to help. We may not save all but we can try. Suggest something and I promise to to back you.

      • Pankar
        October 25, 03:05 Reply

        Who told him people are dormant and doing nothing? This is an anon blog jare

  5. Flakes
    October 24, 21:49 Reply

    This painfully dumbfounding…. My heart just tore in millions..

  6. Pankar
    October 25, 03:07 Reply

    Some women are so incapacitated. You know your ex husband is bullying you and you’ve not sent thugs to cripple him, as a warning

  7. Chizzy
    October 26, 08:09 Reply

    Please can somebody tell me what Tiers and all those so called NGO’s are doing?
    The truth is that majority are hypocrites.

    • Gad
      October 26, 18:43 Reply

      Please learn to always use the right words at the right times. Those NGOs are extortionists, fraudsters, who hide under the guise of fight for equality to attract donations from donors. That’s what they really are.

  8. Houston Scholar
    December 31, 12:23 Reply

    This story and the death of the students killed in Kano and Jigawa states are the most distressing stories I read in 2017. https://dailynigerian.com/the-nation/police-in-kano-arrest-7-students-for-killing-colleague-suspected-of-sodomy/
    https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/more-news/239883-15-students-allegedly-beat-colleague-death-accusing-homosexuality.html

    Pink Panther and all the KD team, may 2018 usher a brighter phase in our quest for us to be understood by our society. I will be reaching out to you soon.

    • Pink Panther
      December 31, 12:29 Reply

      May your wishes come true for all of us.
      And sure, whatever you wanna reach out to us with, we’re not going anywhere

  9. RoCK
    August 11, 06:21 Reply

    I think the hiv test all coming back positive is bogus and mischievous
    Who carried it out?If it was the police,then they are trying to bring more negativity to the gay lifestyle
    And if it’s the ngo…then I’m sure they are trying to gather more donations and finds to themselves.
    But if it’s true,then there is BIG trouble in Nigeria.
    What that means is all those guys don’t practice safesex.In 2017?
    As for the other story,all I can say is being gay in Nigeria is being in hell.
    I can’t even begin to imagine the state of mind of those guys.
    I have tastes being outed before but thankfully not on that scale.
    The first few days you are in shock and somewhat protected by it.You are still trying to survive the initial trauma.
    The real damage starts after it wears off and it equally comes from within you and outside you.
    Your self hate multiplies
    You jump at shadows
    You know everyone knows
    You wonder what they think
    It goes on and on and never stops

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