byKola Arowolo

A Life on the Run: The Story of an Activist against Unjust Criminality in Nigeria.

In recent times, a series of epidemics has plagued Nigeria; from poverty, unemployment, corruption insecurity to terrorism. One of the overlooked events among this series is the blatant disregard for human rights. In Nigeria, human rights activism is becoming a dreaded endeavor as activists are becoming targets of groups and Government clampdown. LGBT activists have turned up to be at the top of the list due to the intolerance of homosexuality by most Nigerians and the government, too.

In 2004, Bisi Alimi became the first person in Nigeria to declare his homosexuality on national television hosted by Funmi Iyanda. Ever since then, the human rights activist has suffered the backlash of criticism and threats from Nigerians and the government of Nigeria. Ten years later, the Nigerian government passed into law an act that prohibits same-sex marriage in Nigeria with a 14-year jail term. This law, to a great extent, has equipped some Nigerians the motivation and power to register their homophobic dissent and agitation against homosexuals in Nigeria. A month after the bill was passed into law, a group of people in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, went around the ‘cleansing’ Gishiri community of gay men. According to this group, it was ‘doing the president’s work.’

The threats and attacks on gay men and women in Nigeria are not limited to gay people alone; they are as well directed at pro-homosexuals who agitate for the rights of gay people under the Nigerian law that prohibits them. Bisi Alimi resides in exile due to fear of physical brutality and death threats. Aside from Bisi Alimi, there are other LGBT activists in Nigeria who daily face threats and abuse from homophobic Nigerians. Rashidi Williams, the Director of Nigeria’s Queer Alliance rights group narrates his everyday ordeals as an LGBT activist in Nigeria. One of the dangers of the criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria is that it shields the complicity of the Nigerian government on the mob attacks on gay people in the country.

The law against homosexuality and the threats against gay people and LGBT activists in Nigeria portray the Nigerian government’s laxity and complicity to the acts. Activists who have protested against the inhumane treatment of gay people in Nigeria have encountered threats, violence and untold physical assault from homophobic Nigerians. Richard Akuson, a Nigerian lawyer and founder of A Nasty Boy magazine, narrates in a CNN article, his experiences as an activist of LGBT in Nigeria. Not only was he assaulted for protesting LGBT rights by angry mobs, but there were also rumors spread about him ‘promoting gay agenda’ only to legitimize their actions and mark him as a target for more threats.

Despite the numerous threats, well-meaning and concerned Nigerians still stand to defend the rights of persecuted Nigerians who go through untold treatments from fellow Nigerians and the government. Among these people is Lateef Adeosun. Lateef Adeosun is not a new face and voice when it comes to agitating for the fundamental rights of the common man. His activism is aimed at fighting against injustice, discrimination and unjust social treatment of the vulnerable. However, he is not a big name because his activist activities are community-based. He is the founder of Violation Against Women, an NGO that is founded to fight for the fundamental human right of women and the girl child, the NGO, by extension, has also invested in the struggle against the criminalization of homosexuals in Nigeria.

Lateef’s investment in seeking justice for the marginalized and voiceless has always been his long-time predisposition. As a child, he was naturally empathetic to those around him which always propel him towards standing with vulnerable people and defense of their rights most especially that of girls, women, and children. He was noticed for this trait as a young boy; for his contempt of any such abuses and readiness to defend the victim as much as he could, from physical assaults but often receive knocks and bruises for his unwelcomed heroic acts from older persons.

Lateef was an active member of the student union, a comrade and activist while he was in the university. He led and participated in different protests on campus against injustices throughout the duration of his study which came at a cost.  However, these events did not deter him from standing up for students’ rights. If anything at all, the experiences strengthened his resolve to always fight for positive change and better quality of life for vulnerable people.

Lateef’s doggedness to see these obstacles as surmountable challenges propelled him to take a different step towards achieving success. He formally joined partisan politics with a view to using political machinery to influence positive and sociocultural changes among young people in his constituency, and to a large extent the whole community. Nevertheless, people are still consumed by hate to a difference they cannot understand and accept.

Lateef has been an active voice in the agitation for the review of the Same Sex Marriage prohibition act in Nigeria. His NGO, Violation Against Women, organized campaigns to sensitize the people of his community on the unjust attack on homosexuals. During one of the campaigns in a neighboring town, they were met with violent resistance. Because of the communal settings of people in rural villages and towns, these hostilities transformed into a physical and open confrontation that affected his business, public and private life. The height of this sabotage was the burning of a loaded tanker truck his company used for fuel supplies, on its way to supply LPG to one of his customers. This incident had a devastating effect on his psyche and eventually required therapy for him to at least recover from the shock. He also spent days in the hospital for him to regain full fitness. This event and more which included repeated kidnap attempts on his children, threat calls and messages to his wife and the uncertain safety of his life and those of his relatives, prompted his wife to abscond with the children, without his awareness.

Like Richard, he was accused of promoting lesbianism and gay agenda among the youth. These accusations were serious because they are regarded as a cultural taboo in the communities where the campaigns held and eventually resulted in his banishment from the communities. This also led to the invasion of his ancestral home, the destruction of his properties and physical assault on his aged mother who almost lost her life in the attack. His tribal mark gives him out easily and so his identity is like the public sign that can be read and understood by everyone. This was part of what made him became an easy target. He was saved in the last known attempt on his life by the security agents’ prompt arrival. For him, nowhere is safe anymore. For now, no one knows his whereabouts or that of his family.

Despite Lateef’s recent incident and numerous others, the government of Nigeria remains complicit and silent on the unjust treatment of activists. Irrespective of their differing ideologies, these activists are Nigerians with fundamental human rights, too. It is high time the federal government of Nigeria looked into the consistent attack on individual and groups of activists that are assaulted for speaking their truth to power.

The demonstration of power and disregard for the rule of law by the federal government of Nigeria is an indication that there is no safe haven for any citizen with a critical or differing opinion of the government. This explains why there is no effort exerted in knowing the whereabouts of Lateef Adeosun.

One of the ways to put a stop to the brutality of activists in Nigeria is by making sure that there is freedom of expression and opinion. The federal government of Nigeria has a major role to play in this regard. Its blatant disregard of the rule of law and court injunction is an indication that the government is unconcerned about the rule of law and freedom of expression. The way it has responded to court orders in the case of Nnamdi Kalu and Ibrahim El Zakzaky are indications that corroborate this assertion. While the former, a political leader was held in detention against the court order, the latter, a religious leader, is in detention without trial by the administration of the Muhammadu Buhari.

In addition, the federal government of Nigeria needs to review its law on Same-Sex Marriage. This law enables homophobia and enables individuals with heinous agenda to perpetrate evil against people they suspect of homosexuality. The silence of the government on incidents of mob attacks on suspects of homosexuality and homosexuals in the country only further exposes the complicity of the government in these attacks.

Most of the challenges that plague us as a country are a reflection of the bigotry that has eaten deeply into the soul of our society and the minds of the people. We are a people of diverse cultures, beliefs, religions, and ideologies. As Nigerians, we need to allow ourselves to undergo a sensitization on how to accommodate differences; this is the only way we can co-exist irrespective of our ethnic, religious, ideological or sexual differences. Without respecting these differences, we will only plunge deeper into dystopia.

People should be able to express their opinion without the fear of being arrested, detained and attacked by an angry mob. While the government looks into and review the law on Same-Sex Marriage, it should also make provision for the safety of LGBT activists in Nigeria. They cannot continue to be falsely accused of homosexuality just because they protest against the criminality of homosexuality and agitate for the fundamental rights of homosexuals.

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