Nigeria has a poor record on human rights and, by some measures, is one of the world’s most discriminatory anti-gay countries. According to Human Rights Watch, “Criminal and penal codes punish consensual homosexual conduct with up to 14 years in prison. Sharia penal codes in many northern Nigerian states criminalize consensual homosexual conduct with caning, imprisonment, or death by stoning.”
In November 2011, legislation was introduced to the Nigerian Senate to criminalize those who assist a same-sex marriage or support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights or groups. In response, John Adeniyi, a 26-year-old Nigerian working with an LGBTI and health advocacy group supported by NED, presented a position paper in person to the Senate, representing a coalition of human rights groups challenging the legislation. Although the Nigerian House of Representatives and Senate both passed the bill in 2013, John’s coalition and other human rights groups continue to pressure President Jonathan not to sign the bill into law.
While conviction for homosexual conduct is exceedingly rare, police regularly arrest those whom they suspect of being gay. Beyond the legal implications, those who identify as LGBTI are often subject to physical harassment, blackmail, evictions and dismissal from employment due to a homophobic culture that rarely discusses sexual orientation or gender identity.
Harassment and arrest have increased in the wake of the recent anti-LGBTI legislation. Those who work in LGBTI advocacy are particularly at risk; some activists and openly gay Nigerians, who survive vicious homophobic attacks, seek asylum in other countries.
But John Adeniyi, who is openly gay, chose to stay in Nigeria to continue his advocacy work for the LGBTI community. He braves constant threats to his life as the program officer for the International Center for Advocacy on Right to Health (ICARH), led by Ifeanyi Orazulike.
“I am passionate about making positive change through the provision of intervention and support for gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities in Nigeria.”
“My vision for Nigeria,” he said, “is a country free of religious and political oppression where the LGBTI community and other marginalized populations have the adequate power, skill and capacity to promote and defend fundamental rights.”
Through his work at ICARH, he counsels victims of discrimination, visits LGBTI prisoners who have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, and supports those accused of homosexual ‘crimes’ in court hearings. John also acts as an ambassador by ensuring LGBTI issues are represented in the efforts of other human rights organizations in Nigeria.
“All people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity should enjoy freedom,” he said. “I am passionate about making positive change through the provision of intervention and support for gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities in Nigeria.”