I haven’t made a blog entry is a very long time but the recent incident of official blackmail against a hated community stirs me to action. It is said we acquiesce to evil by our silence and I don’t intend to play on the wrong side of history.
Last week, men of the Lagos State Police Command in Owode Onirin area of the state, raided an HIV testing event for the gay community organised by a US based group, Population Council. Initial report was that they arrested 42 people and went to press with news that they were “caught in the act”. A term that seemed to suggest that there was something seedy or malicious going on. The boys have since been subjected to all sorts of physical and emotional abuse. They have been variously blackmailed to part with huge sums of money to regain their freedom. While the Population Council got their staff released almost immediately, only the very privileged few among the victims were able to source funds to “bail” (read, ransom) themselves to regain their freedom.
However, earlier today, the unfortunate rest were herded into buses and driven to court where they were charged with offences bothering on sexual assault. Forty people (28 adults and 12 minors) were arraigned before two Lagos Magistrate Courts on one count charge of engaging in homosexuality. The minors were arraigned before an Ebute-Metta Magistrate Court, while the adults were arraigned before a Yaba Magistrate Court. According to the criminal charge, the defendants were said to have “On or about 29th July, 2017, at Vintage Hotel, No. 999 Ikorodu Road/Toyin Close, Weigh Bridge, Owode Onirin, Lagos, in the Lagos Magisterial District, did engage in gay activities by permitting male persons to have canal knowledge of themselves against the order of nature and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 261 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015.”
The Section 261 deals with sexual assault:
(1) Any person who sexually touches another person without his consent is guilty of a felony and
liable to imprisonment for three years.
The charge suggests that something untoward may have happened between some people at the event. Meaning, there is an accuser (the unwilling participant) and the accused. After planting seeds of hate with outlandish claims of “caught in the act” in the news media, it now merely turns out that all the brouhaha was a sexual assault case which inevitably should be against a handful of people against someone. How this translates to arrest of 40+ people attending an HIV testing event becomes confusing.
The presiding judge granted them bail in the sum of five hundred thousand Naira each with two sureties that must show three years tax certificate for Lagos State. Boys who were unable to make bail at the police station must provide N500,000 for the “heinous offense” of attending an HIV testing event where a sexual assault incident happened between a couple of people. They will be spending the next few days/weeks/months/years at the force criminal headquarters (panti) and possibly, in the country’s most notorious maximum security prison, Kirikiri until they are able to perfect their bail conditions. And as if, the government itself knew the raid was unjust and that the boys did assemble for an HIV testing program, the prosecution team led by Adetutu Oshinusi from the Directorate of Public Prosecution, DPP, Lagos State Ministry of Justice urged the Court to direct the defendants to submit themselves to the Lagos State Aids Control Agency (LSACA) for monitoring and Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) for rehabilitation. Unless, the Lagos State government assumes every gay person to be HIV positive, the request by the prosecution can only be a tacit acknowledgment of the true events
In all of this, despite the absurdity of it all, we have watched in silence as various interest groups, some not entirely altruistic in their intentions but all certainly with their own unique agenda, engage in unnecessary squabbles to be the face of the case. Some “wise” ones have even gone on to begin some form of fund raising on behalf of these victims. A smart way of commercializing a tragedy. Meanwhile, the desperate lives of these boys are at stake in a dirty, vicious and unforgiving jail. For those who don’t know, Panti where they are being held is a criminal police division where murderers, armed robbers and the very worst elements of criminality are held. Gays are no better, I would assume.
It has to be said that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that takes pride in subjugating and violating the rights of its minorities. First, it was the mobs represented by the religious right and pseudo cultural purists that began the blackmail against these sexual minorities; then the legislature gave vent to the jungle justice by blackmailing them with a populist tinged anti-gay bill;and then the Goodluck Jonathan executive sought to gain political capital by still blackmailing them on the throes of an election loss. The police have now been deployed to blackmail agenda.
Only last week, The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS), a front-line minority rights NGO raised alarm and reported to the police authorities that some of its men were registering on gay social networks, basically catfishing and running some form of sting operation against gays. The reality was however different. There was no such thing as sting operations. It was classic blackmail and extortion from victims.TIERS shared the photo of one Titus Temitope, a very evil police officer that did an extortion on Sunday, 23rd of July with bank transfer evidence of N100,000 that was fleeced from a victim. It seems that the magic number for sexual minorities in Nigeria today is in the hundreds of thousands. At the minimum, it is an an amount that is more than 5 times the national minimum wage.
The Nigerian socio-political system is riddled with so many inconsistencies that this latest assault on fundamental freedoms is expected to ginger a failing nation into a common cause once again. Gays are the soft targets when matters of state incompetence need a distraction.
But why do Nigerians retain this whimsical interest in gays? They spend productive hours brooding over everything gay and ascending google’s ranking as the most voracious online consumers of gay porn on the continent. The interest is so palpable that you could be forgiven to think that this nation of 200 million people is at war with gays and that gays have overrun the country.
But its not so. This is a shadowy attempt to shame, humiliate and place a helpless group of people in the spotlight. It is an affront on the human intelligence. It is unconscionable, wicked and downright evil. I hope the collective efforts to find a resolution on this matter for the victims are found quickly and they be returned safely to their families.