Gay Nigerians face beatings, harsh prison sentences, even death

Nigeria made same-sex marriage and gay rights activism illegal last January. Since then, gay Nigerians say abuse and extortion have become commonplace by state-sponsored vigilantes, police and public mobs. As part of a week-long series “Nigeria: Pain and Promise,” special correspondent Nick Schifrin reports on the threats and violence that LGBT citizens face in that country.


Judy Woodruff: We now turn to our series “Nigeria: Pain and Promise.” Tonight, Special Correspondent, Nick Schifrin, details the abuse and mistreatment of gays in the country, by law enforcement and by Muslim and Christian groups. A warning, it contains some disturbing images.

Nick Schifrin: In Bauchi, Nigeria this House of God has become a home for hate. Do you believe that gay men deserve the same rights as everyone else?

Joshua Maina, Reverend, Bauchi Christian Association: The gay man knows that because of his practices, he has no right equal to another person.

Nick Schifrin: Reverend Joshua Maina leads the state’s 50,000 Christians. As his service begins, the band starts a hymn about Christ’s sacrifice and then it delivers a warning: “end times are here.” Reverend Maina says they’re here because of one thing.

Joshua Maina: Homosexuality, sodomy. It is evil to this country. It is evil to our culture. It is evil to what we believe and that is Christianity. It is evil to what we inherited from our fathers. It is evil against anything that we hold so dear. Preach against them. Stand against them. If you want to go by them, the wrath of god will fall upon you.

Nick Schifrin: In the west, his sermon has become the outlier. In Nigeria, it’s red meat;

Esther Dauda, Parishioner: It’s very abominable and I think that is one of the reasons why Sodom and Gomorrah had to be wiped out of the face of the earth, because of homosexualism and whatever.

Nick Schifrin: Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge a gay man?” Why do you think you should judge?

Joshua Maina: If there is a gay, you judge him based on the law of the land, and if the land says he should be killed, leave that one to the law enforcement agent.

Nick Schifrin: The problem is that’s exactly what’s happened. Last January, Nigeria made same-sex marriage and advocating for gay rights crimes. Since then, nobody’s been sentenced, but police, State-sponsored vigilantes, even public mobs are accused of exploiting the law to abuse and extort. In another video, a mob accuses a man of being gay and then the accusers take off their belts. Gay Nigerians say since the law was passed this kind of abuse has become common, and not just by vigilantes.

Brian Ifenna: They beat me. They would hit me with a gun on my body. One of them wanted to take a plywood to put on my ass because he said I should lie down.

Nick Schifrin: Brian Ifenna says police officers picked him off the street and beat him inside this police station.

Brian Ifenna: The law has given them the right to do what they want to do to anyone who is an LGBT person.

Nick Schifrin: In Lagos, Brian and a group of gay men agreed to meet and openly discuss their homosexuality.

Man: You remove yourself from Facebook. You remove yourself from social media because one day you might talk trap.

Simeon Lanre, LGBT Activist: Once you’re gay, you’re gay. This thing is actually a mindset. You can’t erase it. This is who you are.

Nick Schifrin: Simeon Lanre is gay and HIV positive.

Simeon Lanre: Has it gone to that extent that my people started excluding me simply because I’m HIV positive or what? So, I was, that’s how I got fired from my place of work.

Nick Schifrin: You’ve considered committing suicide?

Simeon Lanre: Yes, actually, because I was like, positive because that was actually the last thing I was expecting.

Man: Why do you think this law is actually passed?

Nick Schifrin: The law doesn’t only punish same-sex marriage. By advocating for gay rights, these men could be sentenced to 10 years. By talking to them, I also could be sentenced to 10 years.

Peter Kass, LGBT activist: We’re responsible for ourselves, okay?

Man: Yes.

Peter Kass: We cannot have heterosexuals come and be responsible for you.

Nick Schifrin: 27-year-old Peter Kass is the group’s organizer. He’s been a gay rights activist since before the law, ever since one day in church his pastor told him.

Peter Kass: You’re gay. You’re homosexual. You’re perverted. You’re possessed, and it started to rain all slandering words and me, that I needed deliverance and that I was trying to bring Sodom and Gomorrah, into their church, and not only that, that I was the reason why God was not answering their prayers.

Nick Schifrin: can you show me your house?

Peter Kass: Okay. Why not?

Nick Schifrin: Down the street, Kass shows me the safe house he runs for gay men and women. It’s often overwhelmed. And you have to share this space with how many people?

Peter Kass: Seven people, sometimes.

Nick Schifrin: You said yourself this is relatively basic. Do you wish you could offer more?

Peter Kass: Yeah, I wish I could offer more, seriously, because we have too many issues of the LGBT being kicked out of their homes because they are gay.

Nick Schifrin: When Brian told his family he was gay, he was disowned.

Brian Ifenna: My dad said he doesn’t want to see me in the house. He doesn’t want to – that it’s better for him to have no son instead of a gay son. I’m so scared of meeting anyone. I hardly meeting people. I need people to come see me.

Nick Schifrin: As difficult as life is for gay Christians in Nigeria, it’s worse for Muslims.

In Northern Nigeria, the Bouche Security Committee enforces this state’s Islamic law. Every night they walk through alleys and markets, hoping to punish what they consider vice. For them, the criminals include gay men. Their leader believes homosexuality is the same as pedophilia.

Why do you equate gay activity with pedophilia, with children?

Aminu Abubaker, Bauchi Security Group: It’s what is happening. It’s what is happening. How did they start to do it? A child who is not matured enough to understand something and somebody who is a gay, an adult, will now draw him, entice him.

Nick Schifrin: After they patrol, they’re calm. In this community, they’re the hunters; their prey are terrified.

Man: The vigilante people came and raided the hotel, so we were arrested and taken to prison. We were seriously tortured; beaten; persecuted; insulted in the prison. Look at these pigs. Look at these animals.

Nick Schifrin: Can you tell me what the vigilantes did to you?

Man: I was seriously beat up. If they took me to Sharia Court, I think they can even stone me to death.

Nick Schifrin: These three men are gay and Muslim, and live in northern Nigeria under Islamic law. It’s too risky to show their faces.

Man: You can’t display your sexuality. So it becomes, like, you’re just hiding, you know, you don’t want anyone to know what your sexuality is.

Nick Schifrin: Because what would happen if you displayed your sexuality?

Man: You might be killed.

Nick Schifrin: What happened when your family found out you were gay?

Man: My father said I had to promise him that I would quit.

Nick Schifrin: Quit being gay?

Man: Yes, or else my parents threatened to disown me, so I had to pretend.

Nick Schifrin: Does your family know you’re gay?

Man: No. I have to lie to them that I’m not. If they knew that I’m gay, they would cut any relation with me. So I was forced to get married.

Nick Schifrin: You were forced to get married. What’s that like?

Man: I have not any option. I don’t like it. I’m forcing myself to be something that I’m not.

Nick Schifrin: Newly elected Nigerian President, Mohammed Buhari, has promised change, but so far, that doesn’t extend to gay men. On Twitter, Buhari’s spokesman said, in a meeting in Washington, Buhari was point blank: Sodomy is against the law in Nigeria and abhorrent to our culture. In a second tweet the spokesman added, “the issue was not pushed.”

Despite some international protests, U.S. officials tell PBS Newshour they don’t push the issue because they fear public criticism would backfire; but gay Nigerians say that policy helps increase public hate and private pain.

Peter Kass: When somebody tells you, you cannot amount to anything because of your sexuality, when the pastor tells you you’re going to go to hellfire because you’re homosexual, a lot of people’s spirits get broken. Sometimes I get calls, I get text messages, I get e-mails threatening my life. That’s– if you don’t stop what you’re doing as an activist, as a gay activist, then, we’ll kill you. I mean, sometimes I get scared but I tell myself, no. If I don’t fight, who will?

Nick Schifrin: That courage comes from the brotherhood that their religions and their state try to deny them.

On a day like today, when you’re with this group, how do you feel?

Brian Ifenna: I feel at home. I feel welcomed. I feel loved. I feel like I’m with a family.

Nick Schifrin: Where do you get your courage from?

Man: From friends that always encourage me, that, look, we are all human beings. So I have the courage, I can stand firm, and say, yes, I’m gay and say, yes, I’m gay but still I’m very, very careful because it can cost me my life.

Nick Schifrin, PBS Newshour, in Northern Nigeria.

Source – PBS NewsHour