LAGOS, Nigeria — A Nigerian court on Tuesday threw out a case against 47 men charged with public displays of affection with members of same sex because of what the judge called the failure of prosecutors to appear in court and call witnesses.
The trial, heard in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city and commercial capital, was widely seen as a test case for a law introduced in 2014 that bans same-sex “amorous relationships.” The law carries a jail term of up to 10 years.
The men were arrested in a police raid on a Lagos hotel in the city’s Egbeda district in 2018. Police officers said the men were being initiated into a gay club, but the defendants said they were attending a birthday party.
Prosecutors failed to attend a hearing at the Federal High Court in Lagos, having previously failed to present witnesses in a case that had been adjourned on several occasions.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa said he was dismissing the case because of the “lack of diligent prosecution.”
The Nigerian law banning gay marriage, punishable by a 14-year prison term, and same-sex “amorous relationships,” stoked an international outcry when it came into force under Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s former president, in 2014.
Before the court’s judgment, prosecution and defense lawyers in the case told Reuters that nobody had yet been convicted under the law. Some of the men previously told Reuters they had been stigmatized because of the hotel raid and a televised news conference held by the police in which they were identified the day after their arrest.
Homosexuality is outlawed in many socially conservative African societies where some religious groups regard it a corrupting Western import. Gay sex is a crime in countries across the continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.