A court in Nigeria dismissed charges against 47 gay men charged with same-sex public displays of affection after the prosecution failed to show up at court or present a single witness. According to the New York Times, the trial had been a seen as a test of a controversial wider law known as the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act signed by then-President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. The trial had been repeatedly adjourned as prosecutors failed to present any witnesses.
Police in Lagos made the widely publicized arrests during a raid in 2018 in the city’s Egbeda district, claiming the men were being initiated into a gay club. The men said they were just attending a birthday party at a hotel. The presiding judge, Justice Rilwan Aikawa dismissed the case due to a “lack of diligent prosecution.”
Nigeria has some of the most severe anti-LGBTQ+ laws in the world. The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act criminalized same-sex unions, sexual acts, public displays of affection, participation in LGBTQ+ organizations, and other related activities. The act levies punishments ranging up to 14 years in prison for men, and whipping and/or imprisonment for women. In areas operating under sharia law, the punishment is death. To date, nobody has been convicted of any charges under the act.
The anti-LGBTQ+ laws are decidedly popular in Nigeria. Business Insider reported that 92% of Nigerians polled supported the law prior to its passage, and only 1% strongly opposed it. A 2013 Pew Research poll found 98% of Nigerians polled did not think homosexuality should be accepted by society.
Nigeria is a culturally conservative country. The majority of the country, roughly 53 percent, is Muslim while most of the rest are either Christian or Roman Catholic. Homosexuality is often seen as a corrupting moral influence throughout the African continent, and same-sex sexual relations are often outlawed and even punishable by death in many areas.
While the freed Nigerian men no longer face charges, some had previously said the raid and media exposure in the days following their arrests had been stigmatizing.