an NGO tackling discrimination against marginalised groups, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Types of criminalisation
- Criminalises LGBT people
- Criminalises sexual activity between males
- Criminalises sexual activity between females
- Criminalises the gender expression of trans people
- Imposes the death penalty
Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Criminal Code Act and the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2013 (SSMPA), which between them criminalise acts of ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’, ‘gross indecency’, same-sex unions, and LGBT advocacy. These provisions carry a maximum penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment. Both men and women are criminalised under the law. Same-sex sexual activity is also criminalised at the state level through Sharia law, under which the maximum sentence is death by stoning. In addition to potentially being captured by laws that criminalise same-sex activity, trans people may also face prosecution under state level Sharia laws.
The laws criminalising ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’ and ‘gross indecency’ were inherited from the British during the colonial period, in which the English criminal law was imposed upon Nigeria. Nigeria retained these provisions upon independence, and further criminalised LGBT people through the adoption of the SSMPA in 2013. At the state level, the northern states criminalise same-sex sexual activity through an interpretation of Sharia law.
There is substantial evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, with LGBT people being frequently subject to arrest, individually or en masse, often accompanied by police violence and brutality. A high-profile case saw 57 people arrested at a party in 2018, with 47 of them subsequently being charged and tried under the SSMPA, before the case was thrown out in 2020. There have been consistent reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, including assault, mob attacks, harassment, extortion, and the denial of basic rights and services.
In March, Nigeria voted in favour of a failed Russian draft decision at the UN General Assembly’s Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) that would have had the Secretary-General withdraw his bulletin providing UN staff benefits for same-sex couples.
In January the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2013 (SSMPA) came into force.
In October, Nigeria’s Federal High Court dismissed a challenge to the SSMPA brought by Joseph Teriah Ebah, a Nigerian man who lives in the UK, on the basis that he did not have standing to bring a case.
We’ve also assessed Nigeria’s sexual offence laws against international human rights standards. Not only does Nigeria criminalise same-sex sexual activity and expression of gender identity, it also fails to properly protect other vulnerable groups, such as women, children, and people with disability, from sexual offences.
In August, a mass arrest was conducted in southern Delta state’s Ekpan town in an event described by authorities as a ‘gay wedding’. The number of arrested people is unclear. A police spokesperson stated that 67 people will be prosecuted for “allegedly conducting and attending a same-sex wedding ceremony.” Some of the suspects were paraded in front of cameras by police authorities during a live broadcast. In September, 69 individuals who had been arrested were released on bail after posting to court 500,000 naira ($645) each.
In June, a sharia court ruling sentenced three men to death by stoning for same-sex sexual acts in the northern state of Bauchi. In response to the sentence LGBTQ+ rights groups voiced fears that this could prompt similar cases in the country’s states that apply Islamic law. William Rashidi, director of Equality Triangle, is reported to say: ‘This sentencing opens the door for more draconian judgments against LGBTQ persons. It’s a call for violence.’
In March, 42 persons were arbitrarily arrested and detained by the police in Kaduna based on their perceived sexual orientation, according to The Initiative for Equal Rights, a local NGO.
In December, 40 men, presumably gay, were arrested at a birthday party in Bauchi. 31 were released on bail while nine other, perceived as more feminine, were kept in custody. The Police and Hisbah, the Islamic morality police, misreported the issue, stating that the men were conducting a gay marriage. The victims were arraigned before the Sharia court for “unnatural offences’.
The US Department of State report found that in the 12 northern states that adopted Sharia law, those convicted of same-sex sexual conduct may be subject to stoning, however the courts did not impose such sentences during the year. Instead, those convicted were sentenced to lashing.
In January, religious police arrested 15 recent graduates at a party in Kano, northern Nigeria. In confirming the arrests, Deputy Commander-General Shehu Tasi’u Is’haq said: “We arrested and transferred the errant students to our correctional centre at our headquarters in Sharada. While at our correctional centre, they will be re-oriented and at the close of the day, they will desist from their waywardness and turn a new leaf.”
In October, a case against 47 men charged with public displays of affection with members of same sex was thrown out. Presiding judge, Justice Rilwan Aikawa, struck out the case and said he had done so due to the “lack of diligent prosecution”. The men had been charged under the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act (SSMPA). The case, which began in 2018 (see below), had previously been delayed several times after prosecution witnesses failed to appear.
On 27 November, 47 of the 57 arrested in 2018 (see below) pleaded not guilty to charges under Section 5(2) of the SSMPA. The case was adjourned until 11 December and the defendants were granted bail provided that they pay 500,000 naira (approx. £1,050).
On 11 December, the 47 men went on trial for making a “public show of same sex amorous relationship” under Section 5(2) of the SSMPA.
Nigerian police arrested more than 100 men and women at a June hotel party in Asaba, Delta state. Witnesses reported that the police were hitting the party-goers with their guns and hands. The police charged them withbeing “gays and lesbians”.
On 26 August 2018, 57 men were arrested at Kelly Ann Hotel and Events Centre in the Egbeda district of Lagos. Police claimed that those arrested were about to be “initiated” into a gay club/organisation, while those arrested indicated that it was a birthday party. The men were arraigned before a chief magistrate on 30 August 2018, pleading not guilty to charges of conspiracy, membership of a secret cult and unlawful gathering. They were remanded in custody, pending fulfilment of their bail conditions (200,000 Naira and one surety each). They were subsequently charged instead under the SSMPA.
The US Department of State report for Nigeria indicated that during 2017 the government brought formal charges under the SSMPA for the first time.
53 men were arrested for celebrating a gay wedding in April. They were charged with “belonging to a gang of unlawful society”.
In July, police arrested around 70 people at a hotel party. The owner of the hotel and two staff members were charged with aiding and abetting homosexual activities contrary to Section 5(2) of the SSMPA.
In January, an Islamic law enforcement agency, the Hisbah, arrested 12 men in the north Nigerian city of Kano for allegedly planning a same-sex wedding. The head of the Hisbah, Aminu Daurawa, told Agence France-Presse that the suspects “looked and acted feminine”, which prompted their arrest.
In the northern State of Bauchi, a crackdown took place immediately following the signing of the SSMPA resulting in the arrest of 38 men with searches continuing for a further 168 men, whose names were included on a list of suspects that had been compiled under conditions of torture. Dorothy Aken’Ova, a rights activist with the Nigeria-based International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, told the BBC that some of those arrested in Bauchi State had been beaten and tortured.
Five men appeared in a Sharia court in Bauchi in January on charges of forming a gay club.
24 people were arrested in January in three southern States, Most had been detained previously and were re-arrested after the SSMPA was announced.
In January, a 20-year-old, was tried and convicted of sodomy. He was flogged with a horse whip in public (20 lashes) and fined $30.
Thousands of protestors threw stones into a Sharia court in Bauchi, northern Nigeria, in January, and demanded death sentences for the 11 men arrested for belonging to gay organisations. The court was forced to suspend the trial and security required to disperse the mob.
Three men between the ages of 18 and 64 were arrested in February.
In May, Nigeria’s Leadership newspaper reported that police in Asaba, Delta State “uncovered a hideout of lesbians… and have arrested 26 suspects.”
In the same month, 21 men were reportedly arrested in Ibadan for being in a “gay cult”, having been found with over 100 condoms in their possession.
Two pastors were arrested, charged and prosecuted in January for unlawful carnal knowledge after being caught having sex in a Lagos hotel.
A man identified as Sadiq was reportedly arrested in August and beaten based on allegations of homosexual conduct.
In the same month, another pastor was accused, charged and prosecuted for having carnal knowledge with a 23-year-old man based on hearsay rumours by locals. LGBT advocates reportthat the accused may have been beaten during his detention.
Two men, aged 35 and 22, were arraigned in the northern city of Jos in October and charged with homosexual acts under section 284 of the Penal Code (Northern States) Federal Provisions Act. Those arrests brought the total number of persons in prison or awaiting trial to 12.
Also in October two men, aged 18 and 19, were arraigned on charges of homosexual activity.
Police in northern Nigeria detained four men over the Christmas holidays and allegedly tortured them until they named others belonging to a gay organisation.
The Implications of the SSMPA
The introduction of Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act in 2013 marked a significant deterioration in the legal landscape for LGBT people in Nigeria. We’ve analysed the how the Act violates the human rights of LGBT community.Read our briefing
The Initiative for Equal Rights, a local NGO, reported 545 cases of human rights abuses based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in 2022, 521 cases in 2021 and 482 in 2020. Invasion of privacy, arbitrary arrest, and unlawful detention were the most common violations committed by state actors. Blackmail, extortion, assault, and battery were the most common types by non-state actors.
In December, a BBC video documented a man who had been subjected to flogging and other mistreatment and a woman who had oil poured into her vagina, as a form of ‘conversion therapy’.
A 2016 report by Human Rights Watch found that although there had been no formal charges under the SSMPA by this time, the debate around the law had made LGBT even more vulnerable, with police officers and the public using the law to legitimise human rights violations including torture, violence, detention, and extortion.
In August, a podcast reported the story of a lesbian woman in Nigeria who was displaced from her home, blackmailed and faced the possibility of arrest in relation to her sexual orientation. In a separate episode of the same podcast, a man told of being taken “to a compulsory everyday prayer and fasting session” after coming out to his family.
In Geshiri town near Abuja in February, a mob of about 40 men reportedly dragged a number of suspected gay men from their beds in the middle of the night, after smashing down doors to their homes in house-to-house raids. The victims were taken onto the streets and beaten with sticks spiked with nails, wires, whips and broken furniture. Members of the mob were shouting that they were “cleansing the community” of gays and “we are working for Jonathan” in reference to the then President Goodluck Jonathan. Some were taken to the police station where officers looked on and insulted them while others joined in slapping and beating them. The mobs also attempted to burn down the houses of the suspected gay men. After the attack the mob wrote “homosexuals, pack and leave” on the homes of the men they assaulted and warned them “if you come back, we will kill you”. A senior police officer in the region gave the victims of the mob attack 48 hours to leave.
Ifeanyi Orazulike, who operates a clinic for HIV clinic for MSM and trans women in Abuja, told the International AIDS Conference in July of the impact that Nigeria’s new SSMPA law was having on HIV treatment: “We used to have about 60 people a month; post-law it is down to about 10 to 15 people… For fear of going to prison, people preferred to stay at home on their sick bed.”
Three men were stripped, paraded through streets naked and then brutally beaten in January.
In June, a gay man was entrapped by plain-clothes police who tricked his partner into meeting at a rendezvous and also arrested him at gunpoint. Both were charged under the SSMP Bill even though it had not been signed into law. They were detained for two days and released after paying a bribe.
In the same month, a man was stopped by police who insisted on searching his phone and laptop in which gay pornography was found. Police obtained his parents’ numbers from his phone and threatened to tell them unless he paid a bribe.
In Ota, Ogun State of western Nigeria, a young man was beaten by a mob of villagers for allegedly being gay in August.
an organisation working to improve the health and human rights of key populations affected by the SSMPA.
a human rights, health advocacy and support group for the LGBT community in Nigeria.
a Nigerian organisation working to ensure the human rights of all are protected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
an organisation working to promote the health and rights of marginalised groups, including LGBT people.
a lesbian and bisexual-led women’s organisation promoting the rights of queer women in Nigeria.
Cameroon criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a fine.
Chad criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a fine.
Ghana criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. Sentences include a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment.
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