On 17 May, Nigerian writer, poet, and photographer Chibuihe Obi published an essay for Brittle Paper about the queerphobia he experienced in Nigeria. Since then, Obi has gone missing.
According to a Facebook post, those close with Obi believe he was kidnapped by a group of ‘homophobic thieves.’ Last heard from on 1 June, they believe Obi is being held for ransom.
The group allegedly responsible for the kidnapping is also targeting other LGBTI writers, threatening to ‘hunt them down and kill them.’
A friend who did not wish to be named told GSN, ‘The last time a friend of mine spoke with him, he was in Umuahia where his mother lives. But someone said he was in Owerri on 1 June, the day we lost contact with him. This second info is speculation; we use it because nobody knew his movement for sure.’
He said that the kidnappers had contacted several people connected with Obi. ‘Three of those people happened to be with us when they got the messages – that’s when we knew what had happened. Half of their messages are homophobic, death threats, promises to hunt down other queer writers.’
He said police in Nsukka had been notified of Obi’s disappearance.
‘I’ve longed to find the queer body in Nigerian literature documented with dignity, with respect. To find the queer body portrayed as being wronged, as deserving justice,’ Obi wrote in that essay for Brittle Paper.
‘For to search for one’s self in literature and not find it or to find it perpetually twisted and shunned and vilified is also violence, a different kind of violence. Nigeria’s literary scene has not been fair to the queer body. It has not been fair to the queer narrative. There are holes and gaps, gullies even, that no one is willing to close.’
Indeed, Nigeria’s queerphobia extends beyond the literary scene. The Nigerian government’s 2014 law prohibiting same-sex marriage also criminalized public displays of affection between same-sex couples and halts the work of organizations looking to help LGBTI individuals.
According to Human Rights Watch, ‘The law imposes a 14-year prison sentence on anyone who “[enters] into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union,” and a 10-year sentence on individuals or groups, including religious leaders, who “witness, abet, and aid the solemnization of a same-sex marriage or union.”
It imposes a 10-year prison sentence on those who “directly or indirectly make [a] public show of [a] same-sex amorous relationship” and anyone who “registers, operates, or participates in gay clubs, societies, and organizations,” including supporters of those groups.’
‘I am shocked and the increase of abuse against the LGBT people in Nigeria,’ says Reverend Jide Macaulay, an openly gay African theologian and founder of House of Rainbow.
‘The LGBTQ people are suffering and now there is a new crime of kidnapping those who dare to speak up, especially activists like Chibuihe Obi who use the media platform and blog to write about the abuses of LGBTQ people in Nigeria.’
‘This is not good, he states. ‘LGBTQ people in Nigeria deserves the full protection of the law, and not be terrified. It’s time to challenge the homophobia and ignorance of the society on the existence of lesbians and gays.’
GSN has reached out to Brittle Paper as well as Nigerian Senators Ben Murray-Bruce and Sola Adeyeye for comment.