Because homosexual activity is criminalized in Nigeria and gay relationships and friendships have to be conducted in secrecy, LGB&T people in Nigeria, particularly gay men, are vulnerable to extortion and blackmail. Such criminal acts are seen as a hazard of life by gay men in cities such as Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja.
A new task force of concerned individuals has set up an organisation to expose blackmailers and extortionists. They have established a web site which exposes the criminals and their strategies. The blog is regularly updated and provides safer dating tips for visiting gay people.
The modus operandi of blackmailers and extortionists in Nigeria is generally consistent and often related to online dating. Perpetrators will steal possessions such as laptops and mobile phones from victims, either disappearing with the items or getting in touch later, promising to return the items in exchange for money.
The perpetrators rely on fear in their victims. Victims are afraid to report the case to the police as they cannot be sure if it might backfire and that they will end up being arrested for having engaged in homosexual acts. LGB&T rights activists have recently argued that blackmail and extortion are exacerbated by the criminalization of same-sex relationships. Blackmail is most common in countries where homosexuality is illegal.
The Initiative for Equal Rights, an NGO based in Lagos also documents these abuses. Behind the Mask was recently given access to these as yet unpublished documents and selected three case scenarios:
Clinton: Clinton is a businessman and lives in Lagos state with his uncle, who works for a law enforcement agency in Ejigbo, Lagos state. On arrival in Lagos he searched for ways to meet other gay men and found an online gay dating site where he met another subscriber. After chatting for a while with him, Clinton invited the other subscriber to a hotel.
At the hotel after the two men had sex, Clinton visited the bathroom. Upon his return to the room, his “friend” was no longer in the room and Clinton realised that he had been locked in the room. Clinton tried to find his mobile phones but realised that both of them had been stolen by his “friend.” He also found the sum of 50,000 Naira (about US$350) missing.
When he eventually managed to escape from the hotel room Clinton reported that reaching the perpetrator of the crime had become impossible.
Mr Okey: Okey is a bisexual man in a heterosexual marriage. He is concurrently in a committed relationship with a male lover, who always complains about not getting enough attention from Okey. Once the male partner demanded that Okey spend more time with him but it was difficult for Okey to oblige. Okey said that he could not abandon his wife and kid for his lover.
Shortly afterwards the male lover began to threaten that he would disclose the relationship to Okey’s wife. Okey begged him not to and he asked his male lover what he wanted by way of compensation. The man demanded 150,000 Naira (US$1,000), which Okey obliged. The relationship ended a few weeks after.
Seye Ola’s story: “Extortion and blackmail is what I have been facing at the hands of gay men like me. The very first encounter was with a guy who I met somewhere and took to my house. After we had sex he demanded I pay him the sum of 40,000 Naira (about US$245). I told him I had not picked him up as a prostitute but as a fellow gay man. After we argued I decided to pay him 20,000 Naira (about US$120) and he also took my phone.
“I gave him the money because, where I live, friends and neighbours have suspected me of being gay. I decided to pay him off so that he would not alert the neighbours.
“On the July 15, 2009, while I was at the office, someone called to inform me that a friend of mine in the UK had given him my number to call me. This was strange as I had not spoken to the UK friend in many years and did not even have his number. Nevertheless I was curious and arranged to meet the caller at a spot in my neighbourhood.
“I asked him how he got my number and he insisted my friend who is in the UK had given it to him. I believed him as he sounded so innocent like someone who would not harm a fly, let alone blackmail me.
“We made a date to meet at the same place three nights later and after we met again, I took him to my house. In the middle of the night I woke up at about 2am and saw him lying awake on the couch. I called him to bed and asked why he was not sleeping. He told me that he had received a call telling him that his brother had been hospitalised and he needed to leave urgently. It was about 2am and I felt if he left it would not be safe and proper for him, so I persuaded him to wait until morning. While I was having my bath he stole my phone and wallet.”