Written by Ashley E. Chappo, Video by Grete Suarez
In January 2014, the government of Nigeria passed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, a bill that criminalized same-sex marriage and homosexuality. And with that, Audu’s work became illegal, and his life was under threat.
Audu, who has a wife and two children, was an advocate for HIV patients, as well as for gay people in Abuja, the Nigerian capitol. Once the law was passed, Audu began to receive death threats. Within a month, Audu fled his home and family, arriving in the United States by February.
He already possessed a valid visa from prior speaking engagements at humanitarian conferences in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. He also had connections in Chicago and New York who were able to help him get to New York City after he had arrived in Atlanta.
But in New York, Audu began to worry about how he was going to fit in to such a new and, for him, unusual place. He was anxious about his strong accent and whether people would be able to understand him. He wondered how he would survive in such a large and complex city.
And then there was his wife and daughters back in Nigeria. He did not know when he would see them again.
“When I came here and realized how long it will be before I see them again, it was an emotional experience for me,” he says. “Even now, I am not alright because I miss them so much.”
Audu keeps moving and working. He is currently an intern at the Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm through a partnership with the Refugee and Immigrant Fund. At the end of September, when his internship ends, Audu is applying for jobs in public health and humanitarian services.
“I really am planning to relocate,” he says. “New York is too busy for me. I was in Pittsburgh. I saw the serene and quiet. That is the kind of place I would like to be and bring up my children. But of course, this is New York and this is my first point of call. I want to get my two feet on the ground and then I can decide where I want to go.”
He has applied for asylum. As he waits, he tries to adjust to life in New York.
“Lagos is just like New York,” he says of Nigeria’s biggest city. “The crowds and the traffic. The difference here is that things are well planned and organized, unlike in Lagos. This kind of life is too rough, but it is a good place to start. And hopefully, if I get my status— my asylum — I of course want my family to join me.”