The trial of 47 Nigerian men charged with homosexuality, punishable by 14 years in jail in the West African country, stalled again on Wednesday as their accusers failed to produce a witness.
The men, who were arrested in a Lagos hotel during a police raid in August 2018, have pleaded not guilty in the case before the High Federal Court.
They were accused of “committing homosexual acts” in a “gay initiation party” and “permitting male persons to have carnal knowledge of themselves against the order of nature”.
The national police, a civil plaintiff, has repeatedly failed to produce witnesses to support their accusations in the case, which is being closely watched by Nigeria’s LGBT community.
On Wednesday, a witness who was set to testify failed to appear because he was abroad, the prosecution said.
Visibly exasperated, the judge adjourned the hearing to March 3 for what he called a “final chance”.
“If you do not present a witness next time I will strike the case out,” Rilwan Aikawa said.
“You are treating this case in a very lacklustre manner and I am tired of it. The way you are taking this case is like a joke.”
Lead defence lawyer Israel Obi said he was “not happy” about the adjournment but praised the judge for being “very strict on the prosecution”.
Obi added however: “My fear is that they will go and contrive something now.”
The defendants’ lawyers said they were attending a birthday party where both men and women were present, but that the police let the women go and kept the men in custody.
A law passed in 2014 banned gay marriage as well as “same sex cohabitation” in 2014. The law also called for 10 to 14 years in jail for public demonstrations of “amorous relations between persons of the same sex”.
As in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, homosexuality is illegal in religiously conservative Nigeria, which is almost evenly split between a Muslim-majority north and a largely Christian south.
Lengthy jail terms exist under federal law and homosexuality carries the death sentence in the parallel Islamic system in northern states, although it has not been carried out.