Witness says no women arrested in case of 47 Nigerian men charged under homosexuality law

By Alexis Akwagyiram

LAGOS (Reuters) – No women were arrested in a 2018 police raid that led 47 Nigerian men to be charged with displays of affection with members of the same sex, a witness said on Tuesday, in a case that tests a law criminalising homosexuality in Africa’s most populous country.

In November the men pleaded not guilty to the offence which carries a 10-year jail term and resulted from legislation introduced by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.

No one has yet been convicted under the law, which targets same-sex unions with prison terms of up to 14 years, prosecution and defense lawyers in the case have told Reuters.

Police said the men were being “initiated” into a gay club at the Kelly Ann hotel in the southwestern commercial capital of Lagos in August 2018. However, the accused said they were attending a birthday party.

Among the contentious points in the case are whether some women were also arrested during the raid but later released, which according to human rights campaigners would suggest that men were unfairly singled out by police.

Oke Olufunmilayo, a senior policeman called as a witness by the prosecution, told the court on Tuesday he led a team of officers in the raid around four hours after receiving a call from police headquarters that a “gay initiation” would be held at the hotel.

He said around 100 men fled a hall when police arrived, many of whom climbed over a fence.

Olufunmilayo told the court women were not among those arrested.

But the defense lawyer claimed women were present at the event and were arrested, only to be released later. Asked if any women were arrested in the raid, the witness said: “Not at all.”

The case was adjourned until April 2.

Outside the court one of the defendants, Desmond Onuoha, claimed women were in the hall and among those arrested. “When we were brought outside, they (police) asked them to go,” said the 25-year-old cook.

In all, 57 men were arrested in the raid. Arrest warrants were issued for 10 men who failed to appear in court.

Some of the men told Reuters they have been stigmatized as a result of the raid and a televised news conference held by police in which they were identified the day after their arrest.

(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Editing by Matthew Lewis)