Seventy-six people were arrested for attending a birthday party for gay people in northern Nigeria, with the country’s paramilitary agency justifying the arrests by claiming organizers planned to hold an illegal same-sex wedding.
Buhari Saad, a spokesperson for the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps in the Muslim-majority Gombe state, told Reuters that the agency raided a party on Saturday that was being attended by “homosexuals and pimps.”
Fifty-nine men were arrested, including 21 who confessed to being homosexual, and 17 women.
The Gombe NSCDC also claimed that the organizer of the birthday party had planned to wed another man, who remains at large, before police raided the event.
Under Nigerian law, sex acts between people of the same-sex are illegal and carry a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail. Those who attempt to enter same-sex unions can also be sentenced to 14 years in jail, while others who “witness, abet, and aid the solemnization of a same-sex marriage or union” may serve up to 10 years in jail.
The law punishes attempts to engage in same-sex activity with seven years in jail, while acts of “gross indecency” between males, whether in public or private, are punishable by three years in jail.
The law also prohibits membership in LGBTQ rights groups.
In northern Nigerian states, those who engage in “carnal intercourse against the order of nature can be jailed for up to 14 years, and cross-dressing can be penalized with up to a year in jail and a fine.
Additionally, 12 Muslim-majority northern states have adopted some form of Shari’a law into their criminal statutes, for which the penalty is death by stoning.
The arrests at the birthday party follow an August raid of a gay wedding in the Southern city of Warri, in Delta state.
Initially, 200 people were arrested, with 67 detained for further questioning for allegedly trying to facilitate a same-sex wedding. The accused are out on bail and are currently awaiting trial.
The arrests at that wedding led some local D.C. area Black lawmakers to protest the Nigerian government’s raid and denounce the country’s efforts to crack down on LGBTQ rights.
The country’s 2014 law imposing harsh sentences for same-sex activity or advocacy has led to several mass arrests in recent years. In 2018, 47 men were arrested during a police raid on a hotel in Lagos, and were charged with public displays of affection.
However, the charges were thrown out two years later, after police failed to present some of their witnesses who could testify to the men’s conduct.
The human rights advocacy organization Amnesty International called for Nigerian authorities to stop carrying out a “witch-hunt” against those suspected of being gay or involved in same-sex relationships.
“We unreservedly condemn these blatantly discriminatory arrests and call for the immediate release of all involved,” Isa Sanusi, the director of Amnesty International’s Nigerian chapter, said in a statement.
“The Nigerian authorities must stop these humiliating raids and misusing laws to harass and arrest people accused of same-sex activity. It is appalling that the police can arbitrarily bring criminal charges against people based on judgements of how they are dressed or how they have styled their hair.”
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!