February 19, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT Nigerians seek asylum in U.S., Canada
Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, gay news, Washington Blade

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. (Photo by World Economic Forum; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Duke, a 38-year-old bisexual Nigerian man who asked the Washington Blade not to publish his last name, arrived at his friend’s home in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, in the spring of 2012 after driving from a his pig farm when police officers arrested him.

He said the officers told him they took him into custody because he is gay. Duke said they proceeded to beat him “like I’ve never been beaten before” before they stripped him naked and placed him into a cell with a concrete floor with his hands handcuffed behind his back “like a criminal.”

Duke said his cellmate, who had been arrested in a gay club, died the next day from a combination of a lack of medication to treat his asthma and injuries he suffered when officers beat him.

Duke said they left the man’s body in the cell for three days before removing it – and they accused him of killing his cellmate.

The officers released him only after he signed a written confession that said the man died while he and Duke were having sex. Duke told the Blade they told him to report to local authorities a few days later, but he instead fled to Canada where he has lived since June 2012.

“If you go back these guys are going to kill you or they’re going to send you to jail,” he said during an interview earlier this month from Toronto, recalling the conversation he said he had with a friend before he left Nigeria.

Duke is one of four LGBT Nigerian asylum seekers in the U.S. and Canada with whom the Blade recently spoke.

O.T., a 27-year-old man who lives in Tenleytown, arrived in D.C. last November after he fled Lagos.

He told the Blade during a Feb. 17 interview that he has been arrested three times after police raided gay parties. O.T. said the officers charged them with sodomy – they also threatened, abused and treated him and others “like a criminal” while in custody.

O.T. told the Blade a man whom he met through a friend blackmailed and extorted money from him – he said he once threatened to stab him with a broken bottle in his own bedroom. O.T. said he fled Nigeria after the man threatened to tell the police he was having sex with him.

“I love my life,” said O.T. “I don’t want anything to happen to me, so I gave him some money. Unfortunately he kept coming back for more.”

A 49-year-old gay Nigerian lawyer who currently lives in Montgomery County told the Blade he was living in a village outside Abuja, the country’s capital, in September 2012 when a mob attacked him. He said he spent a week in the hospital after the police arrested him and beat him.

“This is why I came to America,” said the man who asked to remain anonymous.

A 21-year-old lesbian Nigerian woman told the Blade from Toronto she moved in with her aunt in Lagos as a teenager after her father kicked her out of her family’s home because of her sexual orientation.

She fled to Canada in 2012 after her girlfriend’s boyfriend caught them together.

“It didn’t end up very well,” she said. “He was threatening to expose us to everybody and all of that, so I had to leave.”

Asylum seeker returned to Nigeria in spite of danger

Nigeria is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized. Those found guilty of homosexuality in the northern part of the African country under Shari’a law face the death penalty.

Duke told the Blade he fled to Gambia, a small West African country sandwiched between Senegal, in 2000 after his classmates caught him having sex with his boyfriend and attacked him.

Duke said he was “quiet about whatever I was doing” while in the predominantly Muslim nation because he “was aware of the dangers in case something happened.”

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh described gay men as “vermin” during a Feb. 18 speech on state television that commemorated the 49th anniversary of the country’s independence from the U.K. as Reuters reported. He said in separate remarks at the U.N. General Assembly last September that homosexuality is among the three “biggest threats to human existence.”

Duke told the Blade he and his boyfriend in late 2011 had a heated argument about having sex with his girlfriend before he was to have traveled to Ghana to apply for a work visa that would have allowed him to travel to Canada. He said a neighbor called the police after the two men began fighting.

Duke quickly left for the airport and flew to Accra, the Ghanaian capital, as scheduled.

He told the Blade he tried to call his boyfriend’s cell phone from Ghana several times, but he did not answer. Duke said he eventually spoke with a Gambian friend who told him “not to come back” to the country because the police had arrested his boyfriend and taken him to an unknown location.

Duke remained in Ghana for four more days before he reluctantly returned to his homeland.

“I sensed the danger in Nigeria, but that was many years ago,” he said. “I left Accra and went to Nigeria.”

Every entity in Nigeria ‘detests homosexuality’

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan last month signed a draconian bill into law that punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison. The statute also prohibits anyone from officiating a gay union, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

“We regret that this bill was passed by Nigeria’s Assembly and signed by the president,” Aaron Jensen, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, told the Blade on Wednesday. “This law goes far beyond prohibiting same-sex marriage.”

Jensen also dismissed claims the law’s supporters have made that homosexuality is something the West brought to Nigeria.

“Gay people and being gay is not a Western privilege; it’s a reality,” he said.

The Nigerian government did not return the Blade’s request for comment on the law or the reports of systematic anti-LGBT violence that have emerged from the country since Jonathan signed the statute.

The LGBT asylum seekers with whom the Blade spoke said they feel the Nigerian president signed the anti-gay bill into law because he wanted to bolster his re-election chances in the country’s 2015 presidential elections.

“I could not believe that he would actually approve that,” said the 21-year-old lesbian Nigerian who has applied for asylum in Canada. “I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen.”

O.T. told the Blade the statute has made things “more complicated for gay people in Nigeria.” He added he feels Jonathan should instead focus on reducing poverty and fighting Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group that has killed an estimated 10,000 people in attacks throughout the northern part of the country since launching a violent insurgency in 2009.

“Unfortunately he signed the bill once it got to his desk,” said O.T. “The only thing that can bring the Muslim and Christian community to sit at one table and [talk] is the gay issue… two enemies that really want to kill each other can agree on this particular issue.”

Duke, who told the Blade he narrowly escaped a group of men in 2012 before they beat his partner unconscious in his home, made a similar point.

“If you look at Nigeria from left to right, east to west, north to south, every entity in that country detests homosexuality,” he said. “Every single group has given [Jonathan] a thumbs up.”

The 21-year-old lesbian Nigerian woman with whom the Blade spoke in Toronto said she has begun the Canadian asylum process, but it has not gone “so good” because she wasn’t able to receive her passport and other documents from her family. Duke’s first hearing took place last September, but the lawyer who originally represented him was Nigerian.

“The 21-year-old lesbian Nigerian woman with whom the Blade spoke in Toronto said she has begun the Canadian asylum process, but it has not gone “so good” because she wasn’t able to receive her passport and other documents from her family. Duke’s first hearing was to have taken place last September, but his current lawyer who is Jewish asked the judge to postpone it because it coincided with religious holiday.

Duke said he hired him because he felt his original lawyer, who is Nigerian, “detests LGBTQ” people like “those back home.”

O.T. said he filed his application for asylum in the U.S. two weeks ago.

The 49-year-old gay Nigerian man told the Blade his final hearing is scheduled to take place in October 2015. He said he is currently applying for a permit that will allow him to legally work in the U.S.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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