Nigeria: Mass LGBTQ+ arrests ‘based on assumptions, not investigation’, activists say


Human rights activists are condemning Nigerian police after observing a recent rise in mass arrests targeting LGBTQ+ people.

Authorities have been accused of abusing Nigeria’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act to arrest suspected members of the LGBTQ+ community “based on assumptions” rather than solid evidence or investigation.

Nigeria is one of over 30 African countries that heavily enforces a number of anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Among those is the criminalisation of homosexuality, which is punishable with up to 14 years in prison or, under Sharia law, death. Gay marriage, same-sex relationships, and gay rights groups are also illegal.

Protests outside the Nigerian High Commission in Nairobi against Nigerian anti-gay law
Authorities have been accused of abusing Nigeria’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act to arrest suspected members of the LGBTQ+ community. (SimonMaina/AFP/AFP/Getty)

At the same time, Nigeria’s constitution promises its citizens freedom from discrimination and the right to private and family life.

Arrests under Nigeria’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which has been criticised worldwide ever since it was introduced, have always been common. But in recent weeks, there has been a notable spike in mass arrests with little to no evidence, with many suspects claiming to be falsely accused.

Okechukwu Nwanguma, who leads the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, which advocates for police reforms in Nigeria, told AP News that Nigeria’s anti-gay law is currently being “exploited” by authorities without due process.

You may like to watch

“They [law enforcement authorities] are exploiting the law to target people whether or not they are queer … There is a tendency to target them based on assumptions or allegations, not based on any investigation,” said Nwanguma

Just last week, Nigeria’s paramilitary arrested 76 people, claiming that they had been holding “homosexual birthdays” and intended to perform a “same-sex marriage” at the party. One of the prime suspects arrested, identified as Bashir Sani, has said that there were no such plans.

“There was no wedding, only birthday,” Sani told local media after the arrest.

Similarly, in August, more than 200 people were arrested in Nigeria’s southern Delta State over allegations that a gay wedding was due to take place.

Over 200 people were arrested in August for attending an alleged same-sex wedding. (Delta State Command/Facebook)

Following the mass arrest, authorities paraded the suspects before spectators and journalists.

These blanket arrests and media events pose a serious risk of further endangering people for their perceived sexual or gender orientation Nigeria’s Amnesty International Isa Sanusi warned.

“Since the signing of the Same Sex Prohibition Act into law in 2014 attacks, harassment, blackmail, and extortion of the LGBTQ+ community is rising, at disturbing speed. The Nigeria Police should be prioritizing keeping everyone safe, not stoking more discrimination,” he said.

On the other side of the law, human rights groups have expressed concern that Nigerian law enforcement is ignoring reports of abuse against the LGBTQ+ community.

Chizelu Emejulu, an activist and lawyer who covers many cases involving queer people, claimed: “When we get the perpetrators arrested, the consistent thing we have noticed is that people always claim their victims are queer, and once they say that, the police begin to withdraw from these cases.

“What the LGBTQ community in Nigeria is asking for is to be left alone to live their lives.”