It's the sacred bond between patient and doctor where you can be honest about your health and life. Yet, in Nigeria, the privacy of some patients is routinely ignored leading them into grave danger.
It’s not just in the doctor’s survey where certain groups, who have done nothing untoward by Australian standards, have to be concerned.
Take Ifeanyi Orazulike; he was in the middle of his birthday party when he was arrested.
As friends and colleagues cheered and wished him well, the police stormed in and dragged him away. They held him for six hours before we was released without charge.
It’s was depressingly familiar event.
“I had the secret service invade my office a few weeks ago, they just keep on coming, over and over,” he tells news.com.au.
“I’ve been attacked physically, had my head broken, had my home invaded by mobs. It’s very scary.”
The harassment has forced Ifeanyi, who lives in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja,, to retreat to a walled compound with heavy gates to ensure his own safety.
How does he feel about being a prisoner in his own home? “I feel awful but I don’t have a choice.”
Ifeanyi’s crime is that he is gay. And unlike most gay people in the west African nation, he makes no attempt to hide it.
It’s a bold move in a country where homosexuality is not only illegal, in the north of the country, where sharia Islamic law applies, it can be a death sentence.
|Ifeanyi Orazulike, an LGBTI gay rights campaigner from Nigeria pictured at the AIDS 2016 conference.|
A 2015 Pew Research Centre survey found 87 per cent of Nigerians opposed gay rights. Despite being so high, it was a figure LGBTI campaigners rejoiced in as it was a significant reduction from the 96 per cent of people who opposed gay people just five years previously.
Last weekend, the BBC reported Nigerian police raided a suspected same-sex wedding in the northern city of Sokoto.
Police said they were looking to charge two people for being involved in “unnatural” conduct, and falling foul of both Nigeria’s secular constitution and Islamic law.
The country, which is split between a Christian dominated south and Islamic north, has some of the most draconian laws in Africa when it comes to gay rights and is one of three nations on the continent where death by stoning can be a legal punishment for homosexuality.
In 2014, the former president Goodluck Jonathan signed a new law criminalising same-sex marriages, gay groups and public displays of affection by gay people.
‘NOT CONSIDERED HUMAN”
Across the continent’s more than 50 countries, only South Africa has legalised same-sex marriage.
“Homosexuals are not considered as human beings. People only think about how we have sex but first we are human,” says Ifeanyi who knows he risks jail by speaking out.
“It’s 14 years imprisonment for anyone who’s gay and 10 years imprisonment for anyone ‘aiding and abetting’ (gay people) so I’m going to go to jail for 10 years for providing services and then another 14 years for being gay, so that 24 years for people like me.”
The only reason Ifeanyi isn’t behind bars, he suspects, is because he is widely known for his work running the International Centre for Advocacy on Rights for Health (ICARH).
The organisation, which receives no support from the Nigerian Government is instead funded directly by the US Government and the Global Fund. It provides services for gay Nigerians including access to HIV treatments, still one of the biggest killers in Africa.
RATHER DIE, THAN GO TO HOSPITAL
The excuses the authorities give when they raid the clinic are getting boring, he tells news.com.au.
“They say they have got complaints about young boys coming or there are ‘worries about security issues’ and (Islamist terrorist group) Boko Haram could be setting up here. But these are very obviously a lie because you can’t keep coming back and keep saying the same thing.”
ICARH’s work is vital, Ifeanyi says, because going to the neighbourhood doctors runs a huge risk.
“If you tell a doctor you are gay they won’t even know what to do. They might make a joke of you or laugh sometimes,” he says. “I don’t even blame them because they’ve not seen a gay man before.”
But that’s a best-case scenario.
“Sometimes you’ll get arrested because (the doctor) might report you to the police.” People have even been beaten up after opening up to their local GP, Ifeanyi claims. And arrest could mean jail or death.
“Gay men are scared they will be arrested so you have trouble convincing them they need to access services. You say, ‘your life matters, if you stay at home you won’t get (HIV) treatment’.
“But we’ve had cases of people who said they would rather go back to their village and die because the hospital are making a mockery of them and they can’t go back there,” he says.
“People will die because we will not be able to put people on treatment.”
Ifeanyi is angry that while the international community pumps money into Government coffers to fight HIV in low-income African countries, often that money doesn’t reach ‘key populations’ groups such as gay men.
“On the one hand the Government is saying ‘oh yes, we want to work with key populations, make sure everyone’s gets treated and tested.’ then the Ministry of Justice is on the other had saying ‘we need to jail all them gay people, we need to kill them all’.”
Many gay Nigerians, like Bisi Alimi, have simply fled.
In 2004, he rocked the country when he came out on a popular TV chat show, becoming the first gay Nigerian to make such a public declaration.
Dodging danger and harassment was par for the course in Nigeria’s gay community. But in 2007, things went up a notch for Bisi when he was kidnapped, tortured, beaten and had a gun held to his head.
“I wonder how they feel that they almost killed me,” he told the UK’s Voice newspaper last year. “I felt that leaving was never a choice until my mother said, ‘Do you still have reason (to stay)? I think you should leave’.”
Bisi now lives in Britain and champions LGBTI rights in Africa but said on a “daily basis” he gets death threats from Nigeria and has even been followed in London.
“I love Nigeria but I have to make a wise decision to either go back and risk my life or stay away completely.”
For now, Ifeanyi has remained in Nigeria, although he fears if the direct funding for ICARH dries up, and the organisation’s profile drops, the police will do more than just detain him once every few months.
He wants Nigeria to roll back its anti-gay laws and is preparing to take the Government to court to make it happen.
“I’ve been arrested, I’ve been harassed, I’ve been beaten up but that won’t deter me because I’m passionate because people are dying every day.”
The happiest birthday present for Ifeanyi would simply be for gay people to be able to go to the doctor without being in fear of their lives.