A high court in Lagos, Nigeria presided over by Justice Rilwan Aikawa has thrown out charges of homosexuality against 47 men who were arrested in 2018 on suspicion that they were in amorous relationships with other men.
The dismissal followed what Justice Aikawa called a “lack of diligent prosecution”. On Tuesday, October 27, federal prosecutors failed to show up in court after previously failing to present witnesses while asking for adjournments several times.
Originally, 57 men were arrested on the law promulgated in 2014. However, some women who were also arrested by the police in the Egbeda district in Lagos in 2018 were freed.
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Many of the men said they had been attending a party when the police raided the location. 47 of them, including taxi driver Onyeka Oguaghamba, were arraigned before the court in December of 2019.
“I am not happy, because I’m looking for the matter to end in a way that people will see me and believe what I have been saying from the beginning,” Oguaghamba told Reuters.
Under Nigerian law, the men cannot be re-arrested on the same charges since the case was dismissed. However, due to the social stigma attached to homosexuality, the joy of freedom is not being experienced by all of the previously charged men.
If any of the men had been convicted, they could have served up to 14 years in prison. But no one has been convicted under the law before and their case was seen as a test of how far the law was willing to go in a country that is already noted as deeply homophobic.
In 2015, for instance, a survey by activist Bisi Alimi reported that 94% of Nigerians held an unfavorable view of same-sex relationships. Out of that chunk, only 30% agreed that people with LGBTQ orientation should receive social goods such as housing, healthcare and education.