Dating apps are no longer safe spaces for Queer Nigerians

In March 2020, a story of how Utali Ekwensu, a queer man was brutally killed in Nanka, Anambra sent shock waves through the Nigerian queer community. According to the vanguard, the victim met one Chukwuebuka Nwankwo on facebook where they started chatting and eventually decided to meet up for a hookup in exchange for 20,000. However, when the victim arrived on March 7, he met Chukwuebuka with one of his friends waiting to beat him up and collect the money. However, the victim fought back, breaking his sim card to prevent the perpetrators from identifying further victims. But eventually, he was overpowered and killed. His lifeless body was later found in a bush.

The video of the murderer’s confession went viral, leading to trending hashtag #EndHomophobiaInNigeria. Perhaps what was scariest for the queer people in Nigeria was how easily it could have been any of them.

Since the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was passed in 2014, vigilante groups have added homosexuality to their list of ‘sins’ to purge from society. Not only do these homophobic groups prowl through their communities, enforcing ‘jungle justice’ on people they perceive as homosexual, they also invade queer spaces, posing as queer people in a bid to lure unsuspecting users to locations where they are assaulted, extorted and in Utali’s case, even killed.

These people have been dubbed ‘Kitos’ by the Nigerian queer community and though they may not know the origin of the word, many of them understand what it means to be kitoed.

In an interview with the mail and guardian, a 26-year old gay lawyer in Abuja narrated how he was lured through the popular dating app used by queer people, Grindr, into an ambush. He described how the perpetrators hurled nasty insults at him, kicked him around and threatened him before they forced him to transfer 80,000 to them.

Another victim, a lesbian, narrated to Human Rights Watch, how in October of 2014, she was lured into visiting a woman she met online and then arrived at the house to find that she had been set up. She was attacked by 5 men who locked her up for 3 days, repeatedly raped her, beat her and even recorded the whole ordeal as though it was something to be applauded. According to her, the men said that they did it to ‘fix’ her and get her to change her lesbian ways.

These events are far from unique in Nigeria. According to The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS), there were 286 documented cases of such violations recorded in 2018 and many of these incidents were set up through queer dating apps such as Grindr and Man-jam and other social media apps like to-go, and facebook.

Of course, these people dare not report these crimes to the police as the Nigerian police is known to perpetrate even worse crimes on queer folks. In 2019, one survivor of a Kito attack, a Nigerian filmmaker, narrated to African Arguments, how he was beaten and robbed following a meeting with someone he met through Grindr. According to him, when he attempted to tell the police, he was arrested alongside the attackers and was detained for 3 days before he was released, and his release was only secured by a 200,000 naira bribe.

So, queer Nigerians have taken matters into their own hands and began devising ways of warning each other of such dangers. One of these is “Kito Alert”, a section on the blog KitoDiaries, a blog set up in 2014. In this section, queer people write about their experiences of being ambushed by vigilantes posing as queer people on the internet.

Dating apps themselves have also begun to improve their security, implementing measures that help ensure the safety and security of their users. An example is Grindr, which published a list of dangerous areas in Nigerian cities as well as the contacts for organizations such as TIERS to alert in cases of attacks.

However, despite these measures, many queer Nigerians still fall prey to these criminals while the rest of Nigeria looks on, seemingly undisturbed that their fellow citizens are being attacked and assaulted.

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