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Focus on Bisi Alimi
“My name is Bisi Alimi and I am from Nigeria. I live in London because I was forced to flee my home. My life was in danger and it wasn’t safe to stay.”
|Photo: Andrew Esiebo 2011
My story started in 2002. I was at university and standing for election. A magazine wrote about me and exposed me as being gay. It talked about students I had a relationship with in college. I hadn’t asked for this but it led the university to set up a disciplinary committee and I was very nearly dismissed.
When I did graduate people wanted to refuse me my certificate on the ground that I did not have good moral grounds to be an alumnus of the university. During this time then President Olusegun Obasanjo declared that there were no homosexuals in Nigeria and that such a thing would not be allowed in the country.
I talked with a friend of mine who is a famous Nigerian talk show host, about challenging the President’s opinion. Nobody had come out publicly before. So, in October 2004, I appeared on her breakfast show called New Dawn with Funmi Iyanda. I talked about my sexuality, the burden of the HIV epidemic in the gay community and many other things.
The reaction was immediate and violent. I was subjected to brutality from the police and the community. I was disowned by my family and lost many friends, including in the gay community. They were afraid to know me. I was isolated with no support and no job, always in constant fear of where the next abuse would come from. People came to my house to try to attack me many times. The TV show was taken off the air by the government. It led to the introduction of the Same Sex Prohibition Bill of 2006. All I had done was say who I was.
Three years later I was invited to the UK to a conference organised by the Terrence Higgins Trust. I appeared on the Network Africa show on BBC World Service. I repeated what I had said on television in Nigeria and suggested my government was using attacks on homosexuality to help cover up its own corruption.
On my arrival back to Nigeria, the backlash was bigger than I could have imagined. I was arrested, detained and beaten by the police. I was accused of being threat to the country and of spreading lies about the government. For a month, until I fled back to the UK in April 2007, my life was in constant danger.
One night while I was at home at around 9 pm, there was a knock on my door. When I opened it I was blinded by a slap across my face. I was tied up and beaten with my then boyfriend who was with me. We were subjected to many forms of abuse for over three hours. Even today he is still in hiding and in constant fear for his life. A gun was put to my head. That time was the first time I had come close to a gun in my entire life. I can still remember them saying they would not allow me spoil the country and would not permit people like me to destroy the moral and family values of the country.
Although I don’t really believe in miracles, it was some kind of miracle that we weren’t killed that night. I went into hiding immediately and two days later my mother, who was now reconciled with me, helped me get a ticket to Britain.
I don’t want what happened to me to happen to others, although I know it has and will continue to do so. I strongly believe that change has to come from within communities. But there has to be engagement with governments too. They have so much power.
This is where Kaleidoscope comes in. We would all love to live in a world without prejudice. The reason I am so happy to be associated with Kaleidoscope is because they want to engage and work in solidarity with community-based organisations, but they are also ready to engage with governments. My hope is that this will be an effective way of making change in Africa and in other places too.
Bisi Alimi now lives in London. He is not allowed to return home to Nigeria.
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