You Can Be Sent to Prison for Being Gay in This Country

LGBT rights were never great in Nigeria, but they just got worse.

President Goodluck Jonathan. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Jan 15, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is TakePart's News Editor.

In Nigeria, it is now illegal to be gay. In the hyper-religious and conservative country, the criminal act of openly loving someone of the same sex can carry a prison sentence of more than a decade.

It is likely that as you read this, scores of Nigerian men and women are behind bars, awaiting judgment that can lead to imprisonment for up to 14 years if they are found guilty of being in committed homosexual relationships.

President Goodluck Jonathan's signing of the legislation, called "Jail the Gays," on Monday led to police squads touring Africa's most populous country—with more than 170 million people—this week and arresting people believed to be gay.

Sodomy was already illegal in Nigeria, and when asked about the new law, Jonathan's spokesperson, Reuben Abati, told the Associated Press, "Nigerians are pleased with it."

The bill's signing has led to a witch hunt all over Nigeria, particularly in heavily religious areas—Nigeria is 50 percent Muslim and 40 percent Christian. In the state of Bauchi, where Islamic law is in place, an officer pretended to be gay to infiltrate a group of men seeking counsel for AIDS.

Dorothy Aken'Ova, executive director of a major HIV-AIDS health group, told the AP that police detained four men from the group and tortured them into naming 168 more gay men for arrest.

In addition to religious dogma, much of Nigeria's anti-gay sentiment is fueled by stereotypes and fears stoked by Africa's AIDS crisis, which remains a leading cause of death in Nigeria.

The arrests are a mark of civil rights being treated with contempt, said Graeme Reid of Human Rights Watch.

A while ago, TakePart spoke to a young gay man who fled Nigeria for the United States after being attacked by homophobes in his native land.

Now in his late 20s, Micheal Ighodaro was disowned when he was only 17 years old after he told his parents he was gay. He was forced from his home, and after years of struggle, he fled for the United States.

Ighodoro told TakePart that, for a time, it was trendy in Nigeria to cut off the noses of gays, to mark them as homosexuals for life.

We can only imagine how many more, like Ighodaro, will be forced to flee now that mistreatment is state sanctioned.