A human rights crisis erupted in Nigeria this weekend when police raided a Lagos hotel and arrested 42 men for performing “homosexual acts.” The sweep of the hotel happened on Saturday and targeted a hotel that locals claimed was known to “harbour homosexuals.”
The arrest of these men would be significant in any case but, specifically in Nigeria, it could mean a 14-year jail sentence thanks to the country’s long-held anti-gay beliefs. It’s been illegal to be gay in Nigeria for a long time, but in 2013, the law became even more strict after the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) was passed. The law also expanded criminalization to include same-sex unions and gay sex. Those found guilty of entering any same-sex union could spend 14 years in jail, while those who “witness, abet and aids the solemnization of a same sex marriage or civil union” could face up to 10 years in prison.
The 42 men are set to appear in court today and the odds aren’t looking good, given the recent anti-LGBTQ activity in the country. Last month, writer and gay activist Chibuihe Obi was kidnapped after writing an essay about queer phobia and was only recently released after public outcry, and earlier this year, 53 people faced criminal charges after police claimed the group had attended a same-sex wedding.
The rise in anti-gay crackdowns has been linked to the passage of the 2013 law. As a recent Human Rights Watch report explained: “While existing legislation already criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct in Nigeria, the report found that the SSMPA, in many ways, officially authorizes abuses against LGBT people, effectively making a bad situation worse. The passage of the SSMPA was immediately followed by extensive media reports of high levels of violence, including mob attacks and extortion against LGBT people.”