A Nigerian court judge dismissed a case against 47 men accused of public displays of affection towards members of the same sex, putting an end to what had been seen as evidence of the country’s laws prohibiting homosexual relations.
Nigerian law banning gay marriage, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and “same-sex love affairs” triggered an international outcry when it came into effect under former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.
The men were arrested in a police raid in a Lagos hotel in the Egbeda district of the city in 2018. Police said the men had been initiated in a gay club, but the defendants said they were attending a birthday party.
The prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case had told the Reuters news agency that no one had been convicted under the law yet, which meant the men’s case was widely regarded as a test case that could help establish the burden of proof.
The prosecutors did not attend Tuesday’s hearing at the Lagos Federal High Court because they had previously failed to present some of their witnesses in a case that had been postponed several times.
Judge Rilwan Aikawa dismissed the case and said he did so for “lack of diligence in the prosecution”.
The specific charge against the men, relating to public displays of affection, carries the penalty of imprisonment of 10 years.
Outside the courtroom, many men smiled and applauded, including the dancer James Brown, who smiled and said, “I am free. It means a lot of good things.
Under Nigerian law, defendants in a case that is dismissed can be arrested and tried on the same charge, whereas this is not possible in cases that are dismissed.
Taxi driver Onyeka Oguaghamba, father of four children, who said he only brought people to the party, said he was happy that the case was dismissed, but disappointed that it was not completely dismissed.
“I’m not happy, because I’m trying to end the matter so that people will see me and believe what I said from the beginning,” he said, adding that the decision meant he could be charged again.