Pic: Twitter / @JamesLantern2
An international mobile phone company in Nigeria has reportedly sponsored a billboard to warn students about the “dangers” of homosexuality.
The billboard was located near Rivers State University in Port Harcourt and states: “Say NO to Lesbianism, Homosexuality and Drug Abuse.”
A picture of the sign was sent to Anglican LGBTI campaigner Colin Coward in the UK, who posted it on his Facebook page on Monday. The billboard appeared to have been sponsored by Infinix, a Chinese owned mobile phone manufacturer.
“The sign will fuel the homophobia that is already rampant in Nigeria, and intimidate LGBTI+ students who will now be confronted with the sign every day,” said Coward. “I feel angry about the rampant prejudice and ignorance in society, often fueled by Christian and Muslim leaders and preachers, and deeply sad for my Nigerian brothers and sisters.”
He later wrote that, “Other friends have confirmed that the billboard had been there for some months.” Subsequent pictures posted on Twitter revealed that the billboard included an image of two women kissing crossed out in red. It’s also since been claimed that similar billboards have been erected on or near other campuses in Nigeria.
Calls for an LGBTI boycott of Infinix in Nigeria
Infinix sells its products primarily in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Screengrabs were circulated on Twitter of an apparent statement from the company in which it said: “Our attention has been drawn to an unauthorised use of the Infinix logo somewhere in Nigeria. Infinix Mobility had no knowledge of the usage of that material…”
The post, however, now appears to have been removed. Nigerian activist Bisi Alimi nevertheless welcomed the statement but said that it fell “far short of an apology.” He added: “#LGBT people in #Nigeria are citizens of the country and they use your mobile phones as well and this is not a way treat a customer. We demand an apology.” There have also been calls for the LGBTI community to boycott Infinix.
The controversy also appears to have resulted in the removal of the Port Harcourt billboard. New pictures show the structure stripped of the messaging. It’s unclear if it was removed by the company or by members of the public.
The signage has since been removed (Pic: Facebook)
“My friend feels very relieved as I’m sure will many other LGBTI+ students at the university,” said Coward. He noted that LGBTI people “live in a permanent state of anxiety and fear that they might be identified as gay and abused or attacked, every waking day.”
He added: “I’m grateful to everyone who reposted yesterday’s picture and those who contacted Infinix to tell them how offensive the billboard was. I have the most amazing friends in Nigeria and I long for the day when they will be freed from persecution and the threats of abuse, imprisonment and murder.”
Nigeria has some of the most repressive anti-LGBTI legislation in the world. A 2014 federal law prohibits same-sex marriages and relationships with a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. It further stipulates 10 years in jail for public displays of same-sex affection as well as membership or support of LGBTI groups. Under colonial-era legislation, anyone found guilty of engaging in homosexual acts can also be jailed for 14 years.