LAGOS, Nigeria – A Nigerian court on Tuesday opened a case against 47 men charged with public affection for members of the same sex because the judge cited prosecutors’ failure to appear and call witnesses.
The trial in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city and commercial capital, was widely viewed as a test case for a law introduced in 2014 banning same-sex “love-affairs”. The law provides for a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
The men were arrested in 2018 during a police raid on a hotel in Lagos in the Egbeda district. Police officers said the men would be inducted into a gay club, but the defendants said they would attend a birthday party.
The prosecution did not attend a hearing in the federal court in Lagos after failing to produce witnesses in a case that had been adjourned several times.
Judge Rilwan Aikawa said he had dismissed the case for “lack of careful prosecution”.
Nigeria’s gay marriage ban law, punishable by 14 years in prison and same-sex “amorous relationships,” sparked international outcry when it came into effect in 2014 under Goodluck Jonathan, former Nigerian President.
Prior to the court’s ruling, law enforcement and defense attorneys told Reuters that no one had yet been convicted under the law. Some of the men previously told Reuters they had been stigmatized over the hotel robbery and a television press conference held by the police that identified them the day after they were arrested.
Homosexuality is banned in many socially conservative African societies, where some religious groups consider it a corrupting Western meaning. Homosexual sex is a crime in countries across the continent. The sentences range from imprisonment to death.