The trial of 47 Nigerian men charged with public displays of affection with members of the same sex, seen as a test of a law criminalizing homosexuality, was delayed for a third time on Wednesday after a lead witness did not appear.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa at the Lagos court warned prosecutors that the adjournment, to March 3, would be the last he granted them. The case was previously adjourned twice after the prosecution failed to produce witnesses.
Homosexuality is outlawed in many socially conservative African societies where some religious groups brand it a corrupting Western import.
On Tuesday, the prosecution opened its case by producing a police inspector witness who shared only his name, rank and that he knew the defendants from “anti-cultism” work.
The lead witness was due to appear on Wednesday but Prosecutor Joseph Eboseremen said the witness had not received a court summons on time.
The men, who face a 10-year jail term if convicted, were arrested in an August 2018 police raid on a Lagos hotel. Police said they were being “initiated” into a gay club, but the men said they were attending a birthday party.
Police paraded the accused in front of journalists at a press conference held by the state police commissioner the day after the raid.
The men pleaded not guilty to the charge last November and said the prolonged case is causing financial and emotional distress.
“It’s affecting my life, it’s affecting my work,” defendant Onyeka Oghuaghamba, 43, told Reuters, adding: “I am not coping.”
He said he had been forced to take out loans to support his four children and wife because the appearances forced him to skip his work as a long-haul driver. Still, he said he had faith in the court.
“I want to prove that my hand is clean,” he said.
The trial is a test case for a law banning gay marriage, punishable by a 14-year jail term, and same-sex “amorous relationships”. It caused an international outcry when it came into force under former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.
Nobody has yet been convicted under the law, prosecution and defense lawyers in the case told Reuters.
But Human Rights Watch and other activists say it has been used to extort bribes from suspects in exchange for not pursuing charges.