Nigeria | Has writer been kidnapped for speaking out against homophobia?

UPDATE 06/06/2017: Chibụìhè Obi has been released by his captors. Below is the original story about his disappearance.

There are fears for the safety of Nigerian writer Chibụìhè Obi after he wrote an essay in support of African LGBTIQ people and literature.

Obi, who describes himself as a teacher, poet and photographer, wrote the piece titled We’re Queer, We’re Here, published last month by the Brittle Paper literature blog.

Two weeks later, he has disappeared. Posting on Facebook, his friend Pa Ikhide wrote: “The writer Chibụìhè Obi has been missing since June 1, 2017, suspected kidnapped. He’d been receiving homophobic threats recently over an essay he wrote on Brittle Paper. I hope he is safe and survives this crisis.”

He said that Obi was “kidnapped by a group of homophobic thieves because of his essay. They’re asking for money. They’re harassing and threatening to hunt down and kill other writers on his list.”

Ikhide went on to call for Nigerian politicians to help in the search for Obi. “Dear Senator Sola Adeyeye, Awo, this is SG, I am begging you in the name of everything, if you really care for me, help me, join hands with Senator Ben Murray-Bruce to find the Nigerian writer, Chibuihe Obi. I am distraught beyond words. Help the Nigerian writing community. This young man must be found alive. He is our son, Awo, he is our son! I am begging you!”

In another post, Nky Iweka indicated that the suspected kidnapping was not an isolated attack against free speech and expression. “This is the second of my young Nigerian writer friends to have been threatened. The first one had to go into hiding,” he said on Facebook.

In his essay, Obi revealed that he had been repeatedly threatened for writing “about the queer body”.

He recounted that after speaking about LGBTIQ literature at the Owerri Book Festival (which “ended in chaos”), “an unknown young man stalked me up to the rear gates of IMSU and, when he finally caught up with me, threatened to cut off my penis if I went on to write and promote homosexuality”.

Obi continued: “It is over a year now since we started publishing LGBTIQ-themed poems. Threats have been coming. Thick-brained humans come to your Facebook inbox and write long sermons peppered with hate and warnings…. The threats are becoming overwhelming. I do not speak only for myself. I speak for every queer voice speaking into the Nigerian literary space.”

He went on to defiantly assert: “Writers of queer literature must brace themselves and raise their voices above any form of oppression. We have stayed in this silence for long. It has been long. It is enough.”

Gay sex is illegal in Nigeria, with penalties including 14 years in prison. Twelve northern states operate under Islamic Sharia law that allows homosexuality to be punished with death by stoning.

The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, enacted in 2014, outlaws gay marriage and any kind of same-sex relationship with 14 years’ imprisonment. The law also punishes establishing, supporting and participating in gay organisations and clubs as well as public displays of same-sex affection with 10 years in prison.

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