/ 28 May 2020

What it means to be kitoed

Graphic Nigerialgbtq Twitter
(John McCann/M&G)

Kevin, a 26-year-old lawyer in Abuja, describes himself as a late bloomer. “It took me a long time to come out to myself, then my friends. And even longer to have friends in the [gay]community. So that is probably why this happened to me.”

Last year, Kevin signed up to Grindr, the dating app. He started talking to someone and after a few weeks, they made plans to meet. Kevin’s date invited him to a friend’s house.

“I drove to [the house] and met his friend — who he told me was gay as well and so I felt comfortable with him. The friend took me inside and next thing I knew, my supposed date and another guy came out and started pushing me around calling me a lot of names. They had sticks but they didn’t use it on me, thankfully. Just threats and kicks. They made me transfer N80 000 (R3 600) to their account then kicked me out.

“I still think I was lucky because they could have called the neighbours on me and probably lynched me or something, or extorted a larger sum or taken my car or something.”

Kevin had just been kitoed.

‘‘I’m willing to bet anything that I’m not the first person they have done this to,’’ he said. ‘‘They must have derived some pleasure in beating my gay ass but it was the money they were after. And they’ll do it again to me and other queer men. It’s a hustle. It’s like fraud but directed at people in the LGBTQ+ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender plus] community.’’

No one is entirely sure where the word “kito” comes from, but it has become entrenched in Nigerian internet slang. A kito is a person who pretends they are queer on social media and dating apps. After building an online rapport with someone, they make plans to hook up or go on a date. But this is just a ruse to extort or physically harm their date.

Although this happens to all genders, it is gay and bisexual men who are targeted most frequently — sometimes with fatal consequences.

On 10 March 10, a video started circulating online. It featured a man in south-eastern Nigeria who claimed to have kitoed and then killed a gay man. The killer defended his actions to the crowd, repeatedly pointing out that his victim was a homosexual.

The crowd left the killer untouched.

Other videos that circulate online, show angry groups of people beating up queer Nigerians.

In 2014, legislators passed a law that criminalised many aspects of queer life. The rights of queer Nigerians to association and privacy were largely nullified. This further marginalised an already-vulnerable group, making it much harder to be queer in public. Bars and clubs that previously catered for them closed down or became much harder to get into. The risk of prosecution or attack increased.

This forced Nigeria’s queer community to go online. Social media and the internet became places where they could connect with other queer people in relative safety. But as the LGBTQ+ community went digital, so did the homophobes.

Fred, a 32-year-old editor living in Lagos, has been kitoed three times. Each time, he thought he might die.

‘‘I have the actual worst luck,’’ Fred says, laughing over the phone. ‘‘It’s not even funny, I had to delete the Grindr app from my phone because I started developing really bad anxiety. I couldn’t text or reply to anyone because I was so scared of it happening again and this time I wouldn’t make it.’’

In 2015, the first time Fred was kitoed, he had just returned to Nigeria. “I knew that the country wasn’t progressive and homophobia was rife but I don’t know why I assumed that the gay dating apps, our apps you know, at least would be safe.”

His assumption was wrong. Fred was assaulted by a man he had met on Grindr, along with two accomplices. They took his shoes and his phone and all his money.

The next time it happened, Fred was extorted rather than assaulted, with his attackers threatening to expose his sexuality to his family if he did not pay up.

It happened again this year. “I met someone off Grindr and he stayed on the mainland. Even though my friends told me it was a bad idea, I took an Uber all the way to the mainland and almost got lynched. But I’ve been in Nigeria for half a decade, I’m no longer an ajebo. I ran with everything in me.’’

An ajebo is someone from a wealthy family and has not experienced the harshness of life.

Being kitoed — and the ever present threat of being kitoed — is a shared Nigerian LGBTQ+ experience. But the queer community is fighting back. Digital wars require digital weapons.

Queer Nigerians are posting photographs of kito attackers, and the locations of these attacks.

Kito Diaries, an online platform, has taken this up a notch. By collating images, locations and stories from numerous sources, the site has created an online database of alleged kito attackers.

Walter Ude, the administrator behind Kito Diaries, told the online news site African Arguments in a 2019 interview that he created the platform to help queer people who ‘‘are not assisted by law enforcement in this battle to survive targeted anti-gay crimes”.

Kito Diaries has saved many queer Nigerians from being kitoed. But it doesn’t always work. Kevin, the Abuja lawyer, said there were no pictures of his attacker on the site.

He is nervous of connecting with anyone in the queer community — either online or in the real world.

‘‘‘I want to. I want to make more queer friends and go for hookups and find love and all that stuff at least,” Kevin said.

“But I can’t lie. Being in that situation again is way too scary. I could be killed or outed to my family and I cannot risk that at the moment. It makes me sad because I really would like more friends in the community, but I don’t want to be killed.’’