Nigeria will prefer to keep 57 accused men in custody than bring terrorists to book

Egbeda 57

It’s been two years since the Nigerian police allowed a media trial for 57 young Nigerians in Egbeda, Lagos – accusing them of same-sex relations and hosting an initiation party. According to the state police commissioner, Imohimi Edgal, the police had acted upon intelligence provided by a reliable source. So, they raided the hotel at 2 am, when the initiation was ongoing and picked up all the so-called 57 initiates – who became the first set of Nigerians to be publicly put under the mercy of the law for going against the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) signed into law in 2014 by the former president, Goodluck Jonathan. As we always have it, this would not have passed through the ears or eyes of Nigerians without reactions.

This story has become The Egbeda 57 and has drawn more ire than praise. On their part, the arrested young men told newsmen that they were attending a birthday party, not an initiation party for homosexuals.

Same-sex relationship is yet illegal in many African countries. In fact, it attracts the death sentence or life imprisonment in those countries. In Nigeria, same-sex relationship attracts a 14-year jail term and death by stoning in Northern Nigerian states under the Sharia Law.

The Egbeda 57 were tried in a Lagos Court, where they pleaded not guilty to the charges levied against them, and were granted bail of ₦500,000. Yet, 36 months after, they are still in custody; without substantial evidence that proves they hosted a same-sex initiation party.

In 2019, when popular Police Public Relations Officer, Dolapo Badmus said, “If you are homosexual in Nigeria, leave now or face the consequences of the law…” Nigerians reminded her of how she was further enabling stereotypes. In her defence, Badmus claimed the SSMPA law stands to prosecute ‘practicing’ LGBTQ people after evidence proves them guilty. Now, this begs the question: if this law, as crude and invasive as it appears criminalizes LGBTQ people based on pieces of evidence against them, why are the suspects in the Egbeda 57 yet to be acquitted?

On social media today, Nigerians are making a case against the justice system in Nigeria on the arrest and humiliation that the trail of the case has created for the accused. Popular Cross-dresser and dancer, James Brown who was one of the persons arrested in 2019 shared how disastrous the case has been and the emotional distress it has put him. The gravity of this issue should not be overlooked.

Nigeria being largely referred to as a conservative country of more than 170 million people, spans between mainly Muslims and Christians. Very few LGBTQ persons are open about their orientation, and violence against LGBTQ people has persisted because of the influence of religion in the making of the laws that criminalizes LGBTQ persons. LGBTQ Nigerians are fleeing to countries with progressive law to seek protection. The Egbeda 57 case is a failed attempt at enforcing these laws. With no evidence against the men, it is only just that they are discharged and acquitted, with compensation on the damage the accusation may have done to their image and that of their families and friends.

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