This Monday, the news of Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan signing the "anti-gay" Bill hit the Internet. The development provoked both praise and outrage expressed by various world nations. On Tuesday, dozens of homosexual individuals were arrested in our country and now are facing up-to-14-years jail sentences.
The current law has been in the offing for about eight years, since it was first proposed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo's cabinet back in 2006.
The Nigerian LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community is mortified with the new law.
"Living conditions and realities for LGBT have been … hell, frustrating, challenging, demonizing, violence filled, stigma-inflicted, just name it," says Rashidi Williams, the Organizational Director for Nigeria's Queer Alliance. "Conditions moved from worse to worst. We are terrified as a people.
"There is panic in our community. People's fears have been heightened. Those who have been open all this while are gradually returning back to the closet… Laws such as this destroy society and thus there is need for civil disobedience," he says and adds they cannot desist from taking action while the law "destroys the very essence" of their humanity. He vows to "fight back to the last."
Apart from banning same-sex unions, the law also prohibits any activities related to gay clubs, societies, organisations, and/or public show of same-sex "amorous relationship". Furthermore, just showing support for "the registration, operation and sustence of gay clubs, societies and organisations, processions or meetings in Nigeria" also could mean imprisonment.
This passage makes it very difficult for HIV-awareness groups to operate in Nigeria, and the local LGBT community fears it will no longer have access to health care.
"When people hear the 'Same Sex Marriage Bill,' people feel that we are probably pushing for gay marriage," says Dennis Ojiyoma, a former community organizer for the LGBT community in Nigeria's North, "The LGBT community in Nigeria hasn't even gotten into that stage. They don't even talk about it. They've never raised it. All they want is to live their lives the way they want to be."
According to Ojiyoma, "it's a very common occurrence" that gays are stoned, adding that it's "not being recorded down because these things happen in small communities."
Michael Ighodaro, a former Nigerian activist who, like Dennis Ojiyoma, currently resides in the USA, narrates:
"Today [Tuesday] I got a call from Nigeria about some arrests that happend in Benin City at about 6 p.m. Nigerian Time. Policemen came with a proposedly gay man who knew the houses of other gay men in the city. They found five gay men, two of whom are my childhood friends."
According to Michael, the process works like a plea deal: someone is arrested and charged with a crime, and in order to make a better deal with the police, he agrees to help track down other gay men.
A Nigerian raid on an LGBT group generally goes something like this, according to the account of Obinna Asiegbu, another local activist, who experienced one himself a few months ago: "The party was going on well without any disturbance until the Hisbaah Commission, otherwise known as the Islamic Police, surrounded the vicinity arresting gays and non-gays alike.
"I didn't get arrested because I claimed ignorance and I maintained my calm, asking one of the Hisbaah member what is happening as if I didn't know. ... They arrested as many as their vehicles could contain."
Dennis Ojiyoma had a similar experience a few years ago when he was arrested under the sodomy law. A friend of his had been arrested and made a deal with the police to help arrest others.
After being arrested, Dennis was held in a prison for four days with no food or water. He says he was tortured, beaten up and told to give up a list of people that he thought were gay. He said he worked in a hospital and didn't ask people of their sexual orientation.
Whatever the case, Williams Rashidi maintains that civil disobedience is the way forward, saying, "We would not pack up and for the sake of this law stop social activities."