A police raid, viral videos and the broken lives of Nigerian gay law suspects
The 57 men stumbled out of the back of a dark police truck into the glare of a sunny courtyard and a phalanx of cameras. Some clutched another’s hand, as if for comfort. They lined up on wooden benches in the dirt, almost all of them trying to hide their faces, and not succeeding.
Standing behind a bank of microphones, the Lagos state police commissioner, Imohimi Edgal, told the gathered journalists that he personally had ordered the raid that swept up the men after the authorities received a tipoff that young men were being initiated into a “homosexual club.”
Edgal declared that homosexuality ran contrary to the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. That law, which drew international condemnation when it came into force in 2014, targets not only same-sex unions but homosexual relations in general with prison terms of up to 14 years.
“It is the duty of everybody, not only the police, to ensure that such antisocial behavior, such social vices, such crimes, are checked so that we can create communities that protect our children from such deviant behavior,” he said.
The cameras panned over the faces of the men, capturing expressions of shame, fear and anger. Most of them remained quiet, but others answered journalists’ questions.
“What is the definition of a gay? It is when you are caught having sex, intercourse, with a guy. They didn’t caught me,” shouted James Brown, a wiry young man who said he had been hired to dance at a birthday party and had done nothing wrong.
The phrase “they didn’t caught me” quickly went viral. Video footage of the August 2018 news conference has since been viewed more than half a million times. Friends, colleagues and strangers all learned of the allegations from the videos that circulated online.
Last November, after more than a year of court hearings, Brown was among 47 men who pleaded not guilty to a charge of public displays of affection by people of the same sex. Arrest warrants were issued for the 10 other men who failed to appear in court. In a landmark case that may reach its resolution this month, the men face 10 years in prison if found guilty under the 2014 law, which has never been used to secure a conviction……..read more