The media in Nigeria has uncritically reported claims by the police that a large group of men were arrested while being “initiated into a homosexual club” in Lagos.
According to police, the men were arrested at a hotel in the Egbeda area following a tip-off. Officers raided the venue and found a group of around 80 young men allegedly drinking and taking banned substances.
The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, CP Imohimi Edgal, said at a press conference that the men were about to be “initiated into a gay/homosexual club” when police stormed the venue in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Around 57 men were arrested while the rest fled the scene. Those arrested were named, shamed and paraded in front of the media and were accused of violating the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act of 2014.
That law not only bans marriage between persons of the same sex but also criminalises any same-sex relationships and displays of public affection. The formation of or taking part in gay clubs, societies and organisations is also illegal. Penalties range from 10 to 14 years in prison.
“The youths have graduated from cultism to homosexuality,” said Edgal, reported The Guardian Nigeria. “This is a dangerous dimension. We must stop them before they infiltrate our streets and schools. This war against gay should not be left for the security agencies alone.”
The police commissioner continued: “We are fighting cultism, drugs and at the same time homosexuality. I think all hands must be on the deck to stop this act. I appeal to members of the public to emulate the informant and give us reasonable information that will lead to the arrest of suspected gays. We are on the trail of others now on the run.”
The belief that homosexuality is a kind of deviant sexual ‘cult’ into which people can be initiated is widespread in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Sadly, the media often perpetuates this narrative, fueling the stigma, abuse and discrimination faced by LGBTQ people.
Most of those arrested insisted that they are not gay and were not taking part in any kind of initiation but were simply attending a party.
The LGBTQ website NoStringsNG condemned the arrests, commenting: “Clearly, the rights of the young men have been violated, as according to chapter IV of the Nigerian constitution, every individual has the right to freely express themselves and associate. This is guaranteed under the ‘Rights to Freedom of Assembly and Association’.”
Nigeria has some of the most repressive anti-LGBTQ legislation in the world. In addition to the 2014 Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, anyone found guilty of engaging in “homosexual acts” can also be jailed for 14 years under colonial-era legislation.
In June, around a 100 party-goers were arrested and beaten at a hotel in Asaba, Nigeria also on homosexuality-related charges.