Nigeria: Calls for Release of Trans Celebrity Bobrisky

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Bobrisky boasts millions of followers on social media (Photo: Facebook)

Calls are growing for the Nigerian authorities to release Bobrisky, one of Nigeria’s most visible transgender public figures, who supporters claim was unfairly jailed.

Bobrisky (Okuneye Idris Olanrewaju) was arrested for throwing naira banknotes in the air at several events, including at a March film premiere.

The practice of “spraying” money is a popular and longstanding expression of celebration in Nigeria at events such as weddings and parties. However, it is officially deemed illegal mutilation or defacement of the currency by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as the notes may be stood on once they fall on the floor.

During the trial, a repentant Bobrisky pled guilty and insisted that she didn’t know the act was illegal. “I am a social media influencer with 5 million followers … I wish I can be given a second chance to use my platform to educate my followers against the abuse of the naira,” she told the judge, reported The Associated Press.

Her attorney asked the judge to impose a fine but he instead sentenced her to six months in jail, the maximum penalty.

In February, Nigerian actress Oluwadarasimi Omoseyin was also sentenced to six months in prison for a similar act but was given the option to instead pay a fine, which Bobrisky was not.

Claims of Unfair Treatment by the Court

Chidi Odinkalu, the former chair of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, suggested that by arresting and prosecuting Bobrisky, the EFCC had “weaponised” their power “for the persecution of those whom they don’t like”.

Activists and supporters of the social media celebrity also insist that Bobrisky has been harshly treated because of her transgender identity. A petition has been set up calling for her release while also condemning the law against spraying as “unfairly targeting a cultural practice many Nigerians and individuals across the African Diaspora embrace.”

According to the petition, started by Reuniting of African Descendants (ROAD) Inc, “Bobrisky’s incarceration highlights the systemic discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in Nigeria. It is evident by the selective enforcement of a rarely implemented law that she has been unfairly targeted due to her gender identity and expression.”

“This targeted discrimination not only violates Bobrisky’s fundamental human rights but also sends a chilling message to Nigerians, particularly LGBTQ+ individuals facing compounded marginalisation, the authorities will not respect their rights,” states the organisation.

Bobrisky’s attorney has filed an appeal, urging the court to replace the prison sentence with a fine.

Nigeria a Hostile Environment for LGBTIQ+ People

The celebrity has been the subject of considerable controversy over the years, including being arrested after coming out. In 2021, the Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture proclaimed that Bobrisky was a threat to African values and the youth.

Despite the queerphobic opposition, Bobrisky has gone on to make a name for herself on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, garnering millions of followers.

Nigeria enforces some of the world’s most severe anti-LGBTIQ+ laws. These laws, rooted in colonial-era legislation, stipulate a 14-year prison sentence for anyone found guilty of engaging in homosexual acts.

Additionally, the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, passed into law in 2014, further criminalises same-sex marriages and relationships, carrying potential penalties of up to 14 years in prison.

The law also mandates a 10-year jail term for public displays of same-sex affection and individuals involved with or supporting LGBTIQ+ groups.

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