In 2014, during his fourth year in office as the 14th President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan signed and ushered the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill (SSMPA) into law, suppressing the freedom and self-expression of LGBTQ+ persons in the country. The SSMPA Bill came with the imposition of 10-14 years of jail time for individuals found partaking in any queer-related activities in the form of same-sex marriage, parties, and cohabitation, amongst others. Since then, the country has witnessed several inhuman treatments of LGBTQ+ persons, fromunlawful arrest and detaining of 57 young men accused of homosexual activities in Lagos, Nigeria, to another arraignment of 53 people charged with attending a gay marriage in the northern Nigerian state Kaduna. More recently, three men were sentenced to death by stoning over allegations of being gay in Bauchi, another state in the northern part of Nigeria.
But, despite harsh and insidious measures that threaten the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Nigeria, safe spaces for the queer community have sprung up, aided by the advancement of technology. These safe places are mostly non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and individually owned. One such platform is PrideTV.
PrideTV is an indie virtual digital platform for the LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria. Its inception came with the rise in popularity of “WhatsApp TV” around 2020, a feature of the instant messaging application WhatsApp that allows the profile owner to post content for viewers.
“Our goal was to make a virtual space and a safe space for the queer community and also to entertain, educate queer folks on different kinds of queer content in every aspect through the status feature on WhatsApp,” PrideTV co-founder Farouk Kareem tells me.
Our goal was to make a virtual space and a safe space for the queer community and also to entertain, educate queer folks on different kinds of queer content in every aspect through the status feature on WhatsApp.
Due to a significant absence of queer representation in Nigeria’s mainstream media, incorrect, and often harmful, assumptions and stereotypes have become associated with being queer in the country. Here, PrideTV fills this gap with one of its aims by constantly demystifying ideas relating to sexuality and queer identity and starting necessary conversations.
To fully streamline the features of a digital platform of this kind, PrideTV uses an anonymous operator called “Bot”. Bot runs the platform’s daily activity, including taking messages and special requests from the platform’s 7,000+ status viewers. The status viewers are similar to the way YouTube makes use of subscribers. To access PrideTV’s status on WhatsApp, queer individuals must fill out an online questionnaire, which collects the individual’s personal information. This questionnaire is then used to run a quick background check, verify the person, and to reinstate access if the user is accidentally locked out of their account.
Alongside taking messages and special requests, the platform’s Bot also posts job listings, advertises queer-owned businesses, and helps raise the alarm concerning queer-posing individuals known as “kito.” A kito is a homophobe who catfishes as a queer individual and targets members of the LGBTQ+ community to exploit, extort, and out them – and in some cases, hurt or kill them. They often use LGBTQ-specific social networking and online dating apps, like Grindr, to seek out their victims, making such apps unsafe for the community in Nigeria.
Thus, along with protecting others by raising the alarm concerning kitos, PrideTV also provides queer individuals with the opportunity to meet others more safely on a romantic or sexual level.
While Kareem has been successfully realising his dream to ideate different ways to help the LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria, he, and the other brains behind the indie platform, have faced a number of hindrances along the way.
“Firstly, when we started, there was the challenge of getting people to trust us. It was one of our biggest challenges, but, as time went on, people started inviting and referring their queer friends to the platform,” adds Kareem.
“Another challenge we faced was acquiring a stable device and gadget coupled with an internet connection. However, we were fortunate to have started the platform in 2020, because a pandemic resulted in many people working from home. This made it possible to get many volunteers, from medical practitioners who helped respond to any health-related issues to a therapist who provided mental health sessions.”
Funding is another challenge the platform faces; however, its pioneers constantly find loopholes when raising funds to keep PrideTV afloat.
Despite these barriers, PrideTV has not fallen short of its aims – to provide a sense of community while also rendering aid to vulnerable members of a marginalised group like the LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria. In fact, for many, it has been truly life-changing.
I’ve gotten a job through the platform. But not only that, I also made a friend who is now my best friend and has been there for me through thick and thin. For the first time in my life, I can say I’m part of a big family.
“I’ve gotten a job through the platform. But not only that, I also made a friend who is now my best friend and has been there for me through thick and thin. For the first time in my life, I can say I’m part of a big family,” Gabriel says.
Gabriel is only one of the thousands of people who feel this way about PrideTV. Another dedicated follower of the indie platform has developed a beneficial relationship with PrideTV. 24-year-old lesbian Victoria Augustine is one of PrideTV’s first followers/subscribers on WhatsApp.
In 2020, at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the platform helped Victoria secure emergency foodstuffs donated by the Women’s Health and Equal Rights Initiative and emergency funding. Since then, she has received several emergency fundings through networks formed via PrideTV.
Since the platform’s inception, Whatsapp has been the most conducive and accessible way to actively reach the broadest demographic of LGBTQ+ people. But, Kareem tells me that it is becoming a chore to constantly keep up with the daily activities required from the contacts/subscribers on the instant messaging apps. Now, PrideTV’s co-founders are hatching a solution that will help to keep up with the platform’s rapidly increasing demand.
“We are looking forward to having a website which will help us to meet the demands of our thousands of contacts. It’s one of the few things we are trying to put together,” Farouk states. “Right now we don’t have a long-term plan, just like we didn’t have any plans when we started, but it’s been two years since and we’re still standing strong. I’m definitely sure we’re still going to be here in 10 years.”
Despite Nigeria’s anti-gay laws and hostile environment, the LGBTQ+ community continues to thrive wherever and however it can. Beyond PrideTV’s virtual place in the queer community, the country witnessed its first ever Pride event this June with various celebratory activities. And as the country prepares for its forthcoming general presidential election – an election that has the potential to decide how the lives, rights, and freedoms of the LGBTQ+ community could evolve over the next four years – the queer community in the country can only continue to stand together, show resistance, and keep fighting to be visible.
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