HIV and the NIGERIA GAY COMMUNITY  

How the queer movement gained steam in Nigeria

Gay rights movement in Nigeria is heavily tied to HIV/AIDS Activism for many reasons, people do not know what being gay means until they are tested and found out their HIV status. When they find out their HIV status, they begin to meet other positive people and know there was an underground community for HIV positive gay men. Growing up there was nothing to show that gay people every existed, I never read books, no videos or anything to show queer people live in Nigeria.

The first queer person to come out on National TV was Bisi Alimi, Alimi gained notoriety in 2004 when he became the first Nigerian gay man to appear on Nigerian national television as a guest on Funmi Itana’s show New Daw n with Funmi, a talk show on the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA). That same year, Bisi had been diagnosed with HIV, and on the show Alimi confirmed his sexuality as a homosexual and asked for social acceptance from the public. 2004 I was only 14 years old unaware of this until I became an adult and accepted my sexuality as a gay man. I knew of this as I began my work as an HIV/AIDS activist, bisi story was a heroic story, this was where I got to know that coming out is likely to make me a target for homophobic attack. After the attack Bisi Alimi flee Nigeria to the United Kingdom to seek protection.  After Bisi Interview there were no interviews granted to gay people and there was screening of media materials prerecorded before they were released.

Following this national noreity was the formation of what would be the first organization that would fight for the rights of minorities in Nigeria. TIERS were founded in 2005 as a response to the discrimination and marginalization of sexual minorities in both HIV prevention programming, human rights protection, advocacy and mainstream human rights works.

Following Bisi presence was Omololu Falobi is a Nigeria HIV/AIDS Activist / journalist who died in 2006, Omololu Falobi, who died October 6 from wounds sustained during an armed robbery in Lagos, Nigeria, was the executive director of Journalists Against AIDS in Nigeria, a partner of Internews Nigeria’s HIV/AIDS program. Omololu was very influential in helping Internews get its Nigeria program started, and is Nigeria's best known HIV activist.  One of his quotes

“All of us have to choose to respond to the challenges of our own times. For me the challenge is HIV/AIDS.” — Omololu Falobi

Nigerian journalist/activist Omololu Falobi was a one of a kind.  In 1998, as a response to the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in his country, he formed a coalition of journalists in Nigeria into an advocacy and communications NGO called Journalists Against AIDS in Nigeria (JAAIDS).

Before starting JAAIDS, Omololu had been the features editor of Nigeria's largest-selling weekly, the Sunday Punch. As JAAIDS began to grow in size and scope, Omololu left the newsroom to work full time on HIV/AIDS prevention.

The most visible aspect of JAAIDS, the daily Nigeria AIDS e-forum, quickly became a leading communications tool on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria and across Africa.  Health and development professionals around the world use the daily list-serve to share information, news, contacts, and debates on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria.

 The Award created in honor of Falobi name was going to be the defining factor in my stay in Nigeria. After his death an award was created to honor HIV/AIDS activists across Africa, I was awarded this award in 2016, as a grassroot activist fighting for the rights of gay men to have access to treatment this word puts me in trouble gay men to have access to treatment because gay men are punishable by 14 years improsiment in Nigeria. So I flee to the United States in 2016. People are still fighting back home in Nigeria but I don't want to mention people names not to put their lives at risk. The fight will continue until we all achieve freedom.

Long before the law was passed in 2014 there have been a fight by the community to combat the death caused by HIV and AIDS in Nigeria, courageous people like Bisi Alimi, Kenny and other HIV/AIDS activists have used themselves as an example to encourage people to get tested and know their status. They were beginning to form community pass down through TIERS and the organization I was part of ICARH. They recruit community members as peer educators to educate other peers and community members to go get tested and those who are positive to be on medication. This strategy was working, slowly building steam and momentum before the law was passed in 2014 that criminalizes same sex relationships by 14 years improsiment and activist or organizations that provide access to services for gay men 10 years improsiment.

This caused a large scare that drove gay men into hiding, after the law was passed survey shows that the prevalance of HIV among men who have sex with men in Nigeria increased from 14% to 29% that is more than double the amount of people that became HIV positive. This scare became even more severe when the hiding places of gay men became a target by law enforcement agencies and non-state actors like community members e.t.c Two prevalent incidents was the Gishiri 14. Gishiri is a community in Abuja Nigeria, if you type on google Gishiri 14 you will find articles of this incident written by the Washington Post, New York Times and other international media houses.  

Gishiri use to be a safe haven for gay men in Nigeria before the law was passed, because Abuja is a metropolis and the federal capital territory gay men from different parts of the country who are chased out of their family or outed in one form or the other come to this community to meet other people that becomes their chosen family. This safe haven was cracked down immediately the law was passed in January. Assailants armed with wooden clubs and iron bars, screaming that they were going to “cleanse” their neighborhood of gay people, attacked this suspected gay man, broke into their apartments, dragged them from their beds, then use those objects on these men. Four of the men were beaten and walked to the police station naked. The police saw this attack and supported the assailants by saying this is a deserving treatment for gays, that they will face up to 14 years imprisonment for the jail the gays law. This incident terrifies the gay community already in hiding and would prevent people from any form of gathering in the future, this would mean no access to treatment, testing or any form HIV prevention, care or treatment for men who have sex with men.

Blackmail became a tool used against suspected gay men in Nigeria by both law enforcement and non-state actors, police men usually stop anyone they suspect looks like a gay person. I don’t know how gay people look myself, but this was the tactics the perpetrators used, they stop to search and ask you to open your phone. If the person opens his phone and the police men finds out he has a gay dating app. Or any adult picture of a same sex person that means he or she is gay. This stop and search tactics became a tool by black mailers who come on gay dating apps. Look for other gay people trying to find sexual partners, lure them to their places and mob them up. I was a victim of several violent mob attacks.

This pain and agony made it almost humanly impossible for gay men to find a place to come together. So, gay men resulted to underground parties, this was a good idea for gay men to leave there houses dressed as men, take a bag with change of clothes. Gay men from different part of the country travel to cities such as Abuja and Lagos, get inside the party and change their clothes to drag. During this event HIV testing counsellors are available to get people tested. One of my friends named Benjamin said this to me “I like the underground party, this is the only place that I feel like myself,” Benjamin told me that during his younger years he wanted to be a dancer. He came to a dancing competition and dance like a woman and was booed by the crowd for being to femine’ people shouting he looks like a woman, dance like a man. This scared him and he never danced again. This was the only place he can really be himself without worry, but this fun and excitement would not last for long. The Nigerian police force got tipped that gay men usually meet in a particular place and when they go inside the building they turn into women. This tip gave the police more edge over the gay community.

The police raided the underground party, caught 15 men and labelled them in press that they were trying to organize a gay marriage. This news was not only shocking but increased fear in the gay community that there are insiders that tip of information to police and other people that could use it against gay men in Nigeria.

 

The first Law suit in the movement

 Ifeanyi, against The Inspector General of Police (1st Respondent) and Abuja Environmental Protection Board ( 2nd Respondent.)

 

The police step up their game by raiding the places that provide access to health care services for gay men, one of those places was the office where I would work International Center for Advocacy on rights to Health (ICARH) the police came to the office and unlawfully detained Orazulike Ifeanyi, this was where the movement gained more steam. Orazulike a very vocal advocate in Nigeria. Mr. Orazulike was arrested at 11.00 pm on the night of October 22nd at his office in Abuja, while celebrating his birthday together with 10 friends, well-wishers and staff members. Ifeanyi tells the story of the raid and his detention in an Affidavit attached to a motion filed in the Nigerian Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division, alleging he was arrested detained and dehumanized, without charge. The Motion was brought on October 24 by attorney Mike Enahoro Ebah, of Enahoro and Associates, based in Abuja, representing Ifeanyi, against The Inspector General of Police (1st Respondent) and Abuja Environmental Protection Board ( 2nd Respondent.)

The Motion was brought pursuant to Order II Rules 1 and 2 of The Fundamental Right Rules 2009 as Preserved by Sec 315 of the Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria. 1999 (as amended); Section 34,35,40 and41 of the Constitution; Articles 6,9, (2), 10(1), 11 and 12 of The African Charter of Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) ACT, CAP 49, Laws of Fed of Nigeria.

In his affidavit Ifeanyi asserts:

“I saw men and women of the Nigeria Police Force, about fifteen (15) of them, armed with guns and what seem like bullet proof vest, maneuvered their way into the office premises, despite the fact that the gate was closed and manned by security staff.”

Ifeanyi said that this was very strange and was completely without cause. Ifeanyi says he approached the police and introduced himself as they “barged into my office”:

“I was told that they had come to arrest me on the instruction of the commissioner of police and nothing further was volunteered,” by them.

Ifeanyi describes that he was physically lifted up by the armed men and taken to their pick up truck which was parked outside the gate.

“They chased members of my organization who were present, staff, friends and well-wishers who had come to visit me, and made to scamper about like common criminals.”

Ifeanyi then goes on to tell how the police searched and wrecked the office, without a warrant and removed items which had been donated to the organization by USAID. They removed condoms, DVD player, speakers, DSTV decoder, took laptop computers and some files which were labelled USAID.

Ifeanyi had no idea why he was being detained or if he was being arrested. He was not told what he had done to cause such treatment.

Some friends followed the police truck to see where he was being taken. The police continued to drive around town arresting “street girls” along the way, until finally he was taken to premises identified as Area 3, Garki, Abuja, the premises of 2nd Respondent, being Abuja Environmental Protection Board. He was left there until the police returned after arresting more people.

Ifeanyi said the experience was horrific as he was humiliated, embarrassed and degraded.  He said that one of the police tried to solicit a bribe from him in exchange for his release. Ifeanyi refused and told the policeman he would rather go on to handle this in a court of law. His answer was met with a severe slap to the face, which knocked him to the ground. He says he was forced to remain on the ground.

When the other officers returned, they were told which of those arrested had provided bribe money and that he had refused to pay up.  Ifeanyi asked several times for a reason for his detention. He asked why he had not been taken to a conventional police station. No answer was provided. When the police realized he would not pay a bribe they released him.  His friends were waiting outside the gated area and were able to help him retrieve some of the items which had been taken.

Ifeanyi asserts that his health and well-being has been negatively impacted by the undue detention and he is holding the authorities responsible for violating his rights.

In the Motion he alleges his constitutional rights were violated and seeks an order of court, requesting “enforcement of his fundamental rights, so as to respect of the dignity of his person, personal liberty, freedom of movement, right to peaceful assembly and association.”

Ifeanyi and the human and civil rights law office of Mike Enahoro Ebah, representing him believe that unless relief is granted in this case, Nigerian government agencies, such as those in this cited as Respondents in this case, will continue to violate people’s fundamental rights with impunity.

Ebah, the attorney, who brought the earlier case to squash the ‘Jail the Gays law’, which was signed by President Goodluck Jonathan, earlier this year,  and which was struck by the Court on the very day of this incident, wonders if those targeting Ifeanyi  may have been empowered by the ruling of the Court earlier that day. In that case the Court refused to invalidate the Anti-Gay law, on a technicality, stating the Plaintiff in that case, did not have locus standi. The Plaintiff in that case was a Nigerian man living in the United Kingdom.

Results of the Law Suit:

Although Mr. Orazulike case was not a gay case directly it was a fuel for activist to find out that someone challenge the government and won. Ifeanyi was awarded a million Naira in the case against the Nigerian police force and Abuja environmental protection board. This shows that Nigeria justice system works, you can sue against human rights violation and win.

 

The Movement gained more steam with the influence of media

            The rise of digital media has brought a new twist to the movement, publications such as kito diaries and The Initiative for equal rights (TIERS) media made it possible for LGBTQ people in Nigeria to have online visibility. Due to the high rate of hate crimes against gay people in Nigeria, Kito dairies became a website for finding community. Many people who tried to meet people online have been victims of violent mob attacks, we hear every day about someone that was rounded and jumped by mobs.

            So, kito diaries was the website to go and learn about new tactics used by the mobs. The curator of kito diaries publish stories of people who are willing to share of how they were attacked. I would post one of those stories here a short one to give you understanding of the violence the community suffer but I do not have rights to use their materials. This provided a form of community where people know what is happening in different parts of the country.

TIERS started producing videos and films about what it means to be a member of the LGBT+ community, they started the production of a movie Hell or High Water is a Nollywood movie released in 2017 that tells a story of a young pastor who got married and had everything going for him, but he had challenges with his sexuality and found it very difficult to control, thereby making his wife to be frustrated.

In 2017 an online publication called A Nasty boy started by Richard, this publication was a gender non conforming digital magazine that explores the different forms of expression of people. Using visuals and video media styles in challenging the stereotypes of how a man should be able to dress and how a man should look. This ended with the founder of the online publication being a victim of a violent homophobic attack that led him to flee Nigeria to seek Asylum in America.

There was no media or any form of expression for some while before the rise of instagram and twitter that allows members of the community to maintain anonymity online and be able to find or join the conversation online.

 

Law suit against the Nigeria government

 

 There is some new news of the hardship of gay men to access health care treatment and continually difficult for gay men to find space to access to health care service. This resulted in a joint lawsuit between individuals and organizations such as TIERS to help fight against the law in Nigeria. This recent lawsuit is dropped by the Nigeria court because no plaintiff was courageous enough to come out and speak of the direct attack they face because the law in Nigeria criminalizes same sex relationship.

 

IS NIGERIA LGBT+ COMMUNITY DOOMED?

In 2019 Nigerian police officer tells gays: Leave country or face prosecution. A high-ranking Nigerian policewoman has warned gay people living in the country to leave or risk criminal prosecution.

Dolapo Badmos, a Chief Superintendent and spokeswoman for the Lagos State Police Command, made the comments on her personal Instagram account, which is set to private and has 125,000 followers.

"If you're homosexually inclined, Nigeria is not a place for you," Badmos wrote last week.

"There is a law (Same-sex Prohibition Act) here that criminalizes homosexual clubs, associations, and organizations with penalties of up to 14yeats (sic) in jail.

"So if you are homosexual in nature, leave the country or face prosecution," wrote Badmos, who has attained celebrity status in the country due to her frequent social media posts.

The underground parties still exist, recently the Nigerian police force raided the party that was organized by some men and most recently 57 suspected gay men were arrested in Lagos Nigeria, penalizing them for attending a party that is meant to lure people to get tested for HIV. the HIV epidemic in Nigeria is on the rise and we need to stand up for people in places where their rights are not respected.

The fight for HIV/AIDS treatment, suppression and prevention can lead to change in the Nigeria gay community, there is wild spread hate and discrimination for HIV positive persons and most people want to continue believing that gay people are the cause of the problem in Nigeria. It is my affirmative belief that a continuous fight against health care discrimination is an entry point to a revolution because I believe health care is a basic human right. No body should be prevented access to health care because of who they choose to love.