Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Life in the closet in Nigeria

Lagos, NigeriaImage by airpanther via Flickr
Source: 234next.com

By Ben Ezeamalu and Esther Alidu

Kenneth Odunlami (not his real name) was engrossed in an activity on his mobile phone when this reporter walked into KFC, an eatery in the City Mall, Onikan. He had been waiting for 10 minutes, though he was an hour and a half late.

We were scheduled to meet at noon and, after waiting for one hour, I got tired of sitting down at the café and had to take a stroll. He had sent me his description in a text message and so when I walked in, I recognised him at first sight - neatly trimmed afro hair, well ironed shirt, light complexioned.

Mr. Odunlami, in his late 20s, is a graduate of Abia State University, hails from Delta State; and is a homosexual.

He is one of the numerous males and females who had scribbled their mobile phone numbers behind toilet doors at The Palms Shopping Mall at Lekki, Lagos, soliciting various kinds of services.

The wall post on the door

In the male toilets, graffiti-like scrawling advertising various businesses and services, ranging from sponsorship endorsements to the outright obscene, adorn all the four toilet doors; a sharp contrast with the spotless walls.

Some of the inscriptions read: "If you want to buy a gun, call John"; "Am a talented comedian"; "If you need gun, cocaine"; "Am a defensive driver, God's Power by name"; "I need a sponsor on music"; "Need a strong d**k to get your wife pregnant"; "You need a gay friend"; "If you need long time sex"; and "Need a laundry, computer engineer, private tutor," among others. Each inscription carries the writer's name and contact phone number for whosoever is interested.

"A friend of mine who was working with Shoprite told me that they (Shoprite) were planning to open a new outlet and were collecting applications. So when I went to submit my CV, I noticed people were writing their numbers on the door in the toilet," said Mr. Odunlami, a Biochemistry graduate.

He revealed he started exhibiting homosexual traits at 13, and that he had been receiving countless phone calls from gay partners in Lagos since his post on the door. "I got calls from Festac, Surulere, Ikeja, everywhere. My phone could not stop ringing. I met with one of the callers, a short young guy with pot belly. He was not my type so I cut him off," he said.

Another male who identified himself simply as Buddy said that the need to expand his network of gay friends made him advertise himself. "The response has been unbelievable. I went with a friend to watch a movie when I noticed that people write their numbers on the door. Ever since I wrote my mine, I'd been busy shuttling from Benin and Lagos to meet with new friends," said the 26-year-old University of Benin undergraduate.

The girls do have ‘em

The female toilets share a similar fate, but while the males say they advertise with the intention of elevating their financial status, the females use it as an avenue to give vent to frustrations in their relationships. Twenty-five-year-old Sandra Oduyemi said she decided to participate in the ‘toilet adverts' three months ago when a friend intimated her of the trend.

"I had a boyfriend before, but we broke up after he left me pregnant. After having my son, I lost interest in guys," she said. "I will never have anything to do with guys; they are not faithful and you cannot trust them. But women, you don't expect too much from them; they are not like all these men. The man abandoned me and my son."

For Tosin Raphael, it was curiosity that prompted her to put her contacts out, for the first time since she discovered her bisexuality in secondary school, in a public domain.

"The reason why I wrote my name was because I saw people writing their names. When I entered I was surprised but I wanted to give it a try so I wrote my number," said the 22-year-old Lagos State University undergraduate. "I was tired of my boyfriend, always flirting around with other women. But to me women are easier to be in a relationship with."

Well kept secrets

The society's perception of homosexuals and lesbians has caused most of the respondents to keep their activities in the closet. Mr. Odunlami said that as a spiritual leader he always ensures he does not run foul of expected standards.

"I was the vice president of the campus fellowship in school and so I had to be very careful. Even my twin brother does not know I'm gay. If he ever finds out, he will die," said Mr. Odunlami, stroking a copy of ‘Spiritual Leadership for the New Millennium' by David Yonggi Cho, a book he says he has been reading the past few weeks.

"There are a lot of us (homosexuals) in this Lagos. But I don't want to join any of the associations; I prefer to do my thing on my own. And again, if the government should legalise (homosexuality) in Nigeria, you would be surprised at the number of people around you that are doing it."

Sarah Johnson, another ‘advertiser', said that she had to take full advantage of the opportunity presented by the wall scribbles. "Well, it's free advert and a free world. It is public in other countries. I don't think it will ever get public because we have a strong culture," said Ms. Johnson.

Mr. Odunlami said he does not have any immediate plans for a girlfriend; he still prefers the men.

Thirty minutes after he left the eatery, he sent a text message. "Thanks for the drinks. I do appreciate your kind of person.... Do you like what you saw? Cheers!"

(The real names of the respondents in this story have been changed for the purpose of confidentiality)
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