In the wake of stringent anti-homosexuality laws passed in Nigeria, some of the harshest in Africa, the internet has become a lifeline for the country’s marginalized LGBT community. However, this digital refuge is now marred by peril as criminal entities have started exploiting this safe haven, posing as potential romantic interests on popular dating platforms, only to blackmail, assault, and even kidnap unsuspecting victims.
A Web of Deception and Fear
Living a concealed life as a gay man in Nigeria, Mohammed (name changed) experienced first-hand the terrifying repercussions of this digital menace. He met Jamal online and after developing a trust, agreed to meet him in person. To his horror, the meeting was a setup. Once he arrived, a group of men attacked him, demanding money and filming him in his most vulnerable state. When the video was shared online, Mohammed’s carefully guarded secret was exposed, shattering his life. This harrowing story is, unfortunately, not unique. Activists working with Nigeria’s LGBT community report similar cases of digital entrapment, known locally as ‘kito’, with alarming frequency.
The Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act of 2014, widely supported according to surveys, positioned Nigeria amongst countries with the most stringent laws against homosexuality. Punishments range from 14-year prison sentences for same-sex unions to 10-year sentences for public displays of affection between same-sex couples. This legal framework also bans gay clubs, societies, and organizations, further isolating an already marginalized community. The law, as per Human Rights Watch, has “officially authorized abuses against LGBT people,” exacerbating an already dire situation.
Despite the high stakes, there are some within Nigeria’s law enforcement working alongside activists to combat these digital blackmailers. A group of activists, in collaboration with the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, have started posing as potential partners online with the aim to trap and expose the culprits. However, the prospect of testifying in court against the blackmailers is daunting for victims, given the severe penalties associated with homosexuality in Nigeria, resulting in few prosecutions.
The Human Cost: Lives Forever Altered
Victims of these blackmail schemes have faced job loss, eviction, and estrangement from their families. The mental health toll is immense, with some, like Mohammed, even considering ending their lives. Yet, amid the fear and stigma, there are stories of resilience and courage. Mohammed was saved from suicide by a call to his son, who expressed unconditional love for his father. These stories highlight the urgent need for change and underscore the importance of creating safe spaces for all members of society, regardless of their sexual orientation.