Micha / Nigeria
“I am a gay man From nigeria, living in nigeria is very hard right from childhood till you grow up, i have been beaten, kicked and Sexually abused, my friends have died, and suffered punishments from the police.”
In Nigeria, there was and is such intense hatred and violence against actual or suspected homosexuals by the government, its police, death squads and society that I had to flee to the United States. As a gay man, I suffered public ridicule, beatings, and sexual abuse by police and the society. I struggled through my childhood and adolescence to hide my homosexuality, fearing rejection, violence and abuse from the police and others merely because I was different.
I am the second of four brothers and sisters. My father is a Businessman and my mother, a teacher. I was more effeminate than most young boys growing up. As a kid, my classmates ridiculed me at school and on the streets shouting “homo” (“gay”) or faggot. They’d sometimes shove me when we were at the playground.
I remember one incident in particular. When I was maybe nine or ten years old, around 2002, I was walking home from a school and a group of boys were playing soccer. When I was walking by they stopped playing and whispered to each other and then asked me if I wanted to play with them. I was nervous because I wasn’t a very good player, but I was so happy to be asked to join in, that I put down my books and ran over to join them. As soon as I made it over to the players, one of them pushed me to the ground and said that soccer wasn’t a game for “homo” and that if wanted to join the game, I could be the ball. Then they all started kicking me, and I curled up to avoid getting hit on the head, and they were all laughing, “look he even looks like a ball.” At one point they were all laughing so hard, I had the chance to get up and run away.
I ran all the way home. I remember trying so hard not to cry in front of the boys when they were kicking me, but as soon as I got away, I couldn’t help crying and crying. In my rush to escape, I left my books behind. I was too ashamed to tell my family what had happened and I lied to my teacher about losing my books.
I was too young to understand why I was different but knew that I was not as masculine as other boys my age. I had no friends as a boy since the other boys insulted me and didn’t want to be seen with me. I didn’t tell my family about these painful episodes because I didn’t want to alarm them and call more attention to the ways that I was different from other boys. My family avoided discussing my difference.
In 2005, when I was around thirteen or fourteen years old, I started to realize that I was physically attracted to other guys. I had always known that I was different from the other boys, and I’d always heard the name “faggot,” but it wasn’t until I was in my teens that I began to have real feelings for other guys and began to understand just what my “difference” meant.
In 2008, when I was sixteen years old, a man by the name of Austin moved into town from a larger city. In or around May, 2008, I was in the garden (park) when Austin approached me and persuaded me to have sexual relations with him in a dead end street. I say “persuaded” because he was much older and came from a big city and said that he was married. I felt uncomfortable having sex with someone I’d just met, but I was sixteen and had never had any sexual contact with anyone. I remember feeling really scared, but at the same time, feeling kind of relieved to finally confirm for myself that I was gay and that that’s why I’d always felt so different.
While I knew that this encounter in the garden wasn’t going to become a lasting relationship, I never imagined what Austin would do. After we had our encounter, Austin told a classmate of mine, Wale, that I had had sex with him.
Wale began to blackmail me, threatening to tell everyone in school how I was in fact a “homo” (“faggot”) unless I bribed him. I had no choice but to do what he told me because I was so afraid of how much worse my life would be if he told more of my classmates that I truly was homosexual.
Although wale never did tell my classmates, I spent the next two years in that school in constant fear. I was afraid of how much worse my life would be if everyone at school knew for sure that I was gay. I was also afraid to explain to my parents why I never saved any money they give me or ever bought nice things for myself, they never knew I was bribing wale with the money they give to me.
I remember one occasion when I got into the classroom late, but still before the teacher came into the room. As soon as I entered the classroom, all of the other students burst into laughter. I took my seat, and tried not to look at them. Instead I looked at the board in the front of the room, where there was a drawing of a man with an erect penis having sex with a goat. An arrow pointed to the man with my name.
I remember opening a book and pretending to read so that I could try to ignore the other students. When the teacher came in, he started yelling at me, asking me if I’d drawn this picture, and the students all began laughing again. I was so humiliated; I just left the classroom without saying anything.
There were other times that I would remain in the classroom to avoid being publicly humiliated by the other students when I went outside. I actually complain to the headmaster. Instead of disciplining the other students, the headmaster told me that if I would act more like a man, I would not have these problems with the other students.
In 2007 I graduated from secondary school was relieved to be away from the abusive environment of the school at last, though I also felt depressed about my future. This was a hard time because I was still living with my family. I got admission into the university that same year.
In 2010, I was in Madonna university okija, ihiala anambra state, I had been able to meet up with different people from different cultures and I met a group of gay young men that were proud and I felt secured for once in my life, because I rarely met people like me, talk more of a group, so we tried different things and had fun as much as we could, we even developed a code way we could talk so people around us would understand what we were saying and report to school officials, but because of the way we walked and talked some people started to understand us.
The school was a closed environment in which all student lived in school and needed certain permissions to go outside the school, In the handbook of the school, which was usually signed by all incoming students into the university certain rules were mentioned that were not to be broken and when this rules were broken certain punishments were attached, for example sex was not permitted on campus and the punishment for having sex would be a year suspension and an expulsion if the sex involved the same sex, gay and lesbian rights were not permitted in the school, due to the high amount of people in the school most of this rules were broken and people were rarely caught.
Unfortunately for me I was caught with a male friend of mine, we were beaten, disgraced and taken to the school panel of judges who acted swiftly because of the nature of the case, normally because of the long line of people waiting for trial it normally took some weeks before you could get a trial in school, but ours was the next morning, we both got a year suspension even without asking us any questions, due to the connections my friends parent had in school and in Nigeria, we both got our suspensions overturned.
From that time on i was constantly harassed in by my roommates, course mates and friends because of my sexuality, most people would laugh and point fingers and my name was widespread in school as ‘the gay boy’. I graduated from the university in august 2011.
National Youth Service Corps (NYSC)
In 2012 I started my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) it is a mandatory one year service every Nigerian graduate has to pass through, I was posted to Markudi, Benue State, my life changed for the better. I met a young man, through one of my other friends Esther, immediately I felt a connection with him. I could sense him looking at me longer than he needed to and I felt nervous talking to him.
He told me his name was Elvis and he asked me to meet him at a bar later. I remember feeling like I could barely breathe when I wrote down the address of the bar.
I met Elvis later that night at a bar that was filled with men. It was the first time I’d been to a gay bar. I felt scared going in there because I knew these bars were sometimes raided by the police, but I also felt elated seeing all these gay men who were so comfortable being together.
As soon as I saw what kind of bar this was, I knew for sure that Elvis was interested in me in the same way I was interested in him. We went to his apartment from the bar. This was an amazing night for me, to be with someone close to my age (Elvis was 22), who seemed like he really liked me and was comfortable with being gay himself.
After that, Elvis and I started to see each other regularly. This was an amazing period for me. After spending my whole life feeling like there was something wrong with me and like I’d never fit in, I finally found a person who was like me and who accepted me as I was. I served with The Nigerian Air force as a teacher for the Nigerian Air Force Secondary school, we were assigned apartments and his apartment was two buildings from mine.
We were together all the time. I started coming home very late, and sometimes not at all. And when we weren’t together we were talking on the phone. We were finally free to be ourselves together without having to worry about when I’d get home or what my family might think because markudi was far away from where my parents lived. Knowing someone who had been “out” longer than I had was also very good for me. Elvis introduced me to his other gay friends, and I soon had a whole circle of gay friends.
First Incidence with Police
Even though my life was improving, however, this didn’t mean that as a gay man I was free to live without fear in Nigeria. Same sex relationships are illegal in Nigeria and the penalties for same sex relationships is either death in the northern part of Nigeria where Markudi Benue state was or 14 years in prison for other parts of Nigeria.
My friends and I never found peace on the streets since young heterosexual men would approach, insult and even attack us as homo (“faggots”) and AIDS carriers. Even then there were gangs of men who would drive by us in the plaza and throw rotten eggs, water balloons, sticks, and rocks at us shouting that we were faggots.
The police in Nigeria, who are supposed to protect people, instead were often the most abusive towards gay people. We gay people could not defend ourselves against the police but only held our heads down and listened to them in silence. We always knew that if we made them angry, they had this special mistreatment where they pour tear gas in your eyes and kicked you constantly.
I recall one night in 2012 that the police applied this special mistreatment to my friend Tony because they claimed that he was homosexual, out late at night and should be home and he spoke back to them.
Elvis and I were at home at around 11:00 when Tony called Elvis that he was in the police station and he had been beaten by the police. We had to run to meet Esther who had a boyfriend that was in the Nigerian Air force Base to take us to the station and help release Tony, before we got there he had already been freed, his shirt was torn and he looked visibly shaken. I asked him what happened but he wouldn’t talk about it. It wasn’t until the next morning that he told us what the police had done and about the special treatment he had received.
Second Incidence with Police
I had finished with my youth service corps and had found a job in Lagos, been living on my own and had been working for a year plus. I had several experiences with different men including the one that robbed me off some of my possessions. These experiences made me distance from the world
it wasn’t possible for me to live my life completely without human contact, however, so one night in December, 2014, it was the Christmas period and we were all on Christmas break, everyone was out partying and having fun, a gay cousin called Chinonso Ebube of mine invited me to a party at Elegushi beach in Lagos. It was a bar called Vertigo Bar. Everyone knew that gay people met each other at this bar, so at about 11:00 we were drunk and partying and the next thing we knew the bar was been raided by the police, there was several gunshots and people were climbing other people to escape, I was so afraid, I started running. I remember that I could hardly see while I was running because I couldn’t stop myself from crying. I really believed that I was going to be shot in the back for running away from them, but at that point I decided that I’d rather be killed than be forced to go to jail, I ran far away from that place and I couldn’t find my cousin, I was lucky because I ran away without any scratch, the next morning I heard my cousin had been severely injured and had been shot, he died two days later from the injuries and bleeding. I was devastated and even now when I think about it I remember how I felt that night, scared, angry, humiliated, and completely powerless to protect my rights in a country where the police are free to attack us. The night he died I decided that whatever it took, I had to get out of Nigeria.”