On the 26th of August 2016, Nigerians woke up to news that 57 young men attending a birthday party in Egbeda had been arrested on suspicion of cultism and ‘homosexual initiation’. News of the arrest trickled in, including information that the arrests were made based on an anonymous tip and that the women who had attended the party had been singled out from the group and sent home quietly. As non-profit organizations and activists zeroed in on the arrests and began to pressure the Nigerian police to explain why the 57 boys had been arrested in the first place, the Nigerian police tried to play to sentiments by contravening Nigerian law and publicly parading the arrested boys (who at the time had not been formally charged with any crimes) before the Nigerian media accusing them of being homosexual.
The boys already branded as criminals and in violation of the law by the Nigerian police were detained without a formal charge while the Lagos State commissioner of Police at the time, Imohini Edgal struggled to scramble evidence for a formal charge. Our preliminary investigations into the matter showed the police’s contradictory statements by the statements of the birthday celebrant whose cake and food cooked for party remained in the freezer of the hotel where the boys were arrested. After initial outcry, and The Initiative For Equal Rights choosing to represent the boys, little else was heard.
It is now a little over a year since the boys were arrested, and in a press statement held by TIERs (who represent the interests of the arrested boys), it became apparent that the Nigerian police was yet to prove in any capacity that the #Egbeda57 had committed any sort of crime. Mr. Oludare Falana, the head solicitor representing the boys informed us that the Lagos state Police force had tried to use Section 264 of the state’s constitution to hold the boys in custody indefinitely while it conducted its ‘investigations’; investigations that should have clearly been done before any arrests were made.
The boys and their solicitors have been to court 6 times since the case began asking the judge in charge to either acquit the boys of any crimes or force the police to present a case. Instead the magistrate granted the boys bail, and is reportedly pressuring the Nigerian police to either charge the boys with a crime or forfeit the case.
Yes, you read right.
After all media noise and the statements made, the Nigerian police has no tangible evidence to arrest the boys and convict them of any crime. Yet, they continue to stigmatize the boys, forcing them to travel into Lagos for court cases and refusing them the right to relocate and fix their lives. Some of the victims of this incident spoke up about the opportunities they lost and the discrimination they faced because of the government’s incompetence. Some were alienated from their families, abandoned by their friends and fired from their places of work and even lost the will to live.
Isn’t it time the Nigerian police took tangible action towards convicting the boys (with evidence) of the crimes they are accused or acquitting them with compensation for the damage they experienced? Isn’t time the promised overhaul of the Nigerian constitution to acknowledge the presence and contributions of LGBT persons in Nigeria?
How long must we wait for reform?