On Wednesday, 47 men went on trial in a court in Nigeria. Their supposed crime? Public displays of affection with members of the same sex. If convicted, the men could be sentenced to up to a decade in prison.
The case is the first prosecution under the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which bans gay marriage in Nigeria. The Act was signed into law in 2014 by President Goodluck Jonathan, and has been used to persecute and harass queer people.
As the head of a local nongovernmental organisation said in a 2016 Human Rights Watch report: “Basically, because of this law, the police treat people in any way that they please. They torture, force people to confess, and when they hear about a gathering of men, they just head over to make arrests.”
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country. It is also arguably its most culturally significant: Nollywood movies and series are watched across the continent, while Afrobeats is the dominant musical genre.
In other words, what happens in Nigeria matters for the rest of us. Social mores and prejudices forged in Lagos are echoed in the intimate spaces of people all over the continent — in their living rooms, on their headphones, in their social gatherings — and as such are disproportionately influential.
We cannot stand by silently as Nigeria criminalises queer people. Nobody should ever be discriminated against for whom they choose to love. The real criminals here are not the 47 men on trial, but those that seek to persecute them.