Nigeria parades a number of red light districts across the country. In this special report, TITILOPE FADARE reports on the plight single mothers face in the prostitution trade.
“When I step out of my room and try my luck with men, they come easily to me. You know that many of them (her counterparts), use ‘juju’. They believe in all those ‘babalawo’ but me, I focus on God. I go for fasting every Tuesday.”
Sunshine, a 35-year-old single mother from Oron local government area of Akwa Ibom state, narrates her experience in the life of prostitution.
Although, Sunshine is one of many prostitutes operating in the country, thousands of others leave the country’s shores yearly in a bid to engage in the world’s oldest trade abroad in search of greener pastures. The global prostitution trade is reportedly worth $150 billion.
According to a 2018 report, Nigeria is a source, transit and a destination country when speaking of human trafficking. The report said prostitution remains the largest category for Nigerian female trafficking victims which is followed by the category of children trafficked for labour.
The Nigerian criminal code frowns at the trade. Section 225B (c) (i) (ii) stipulates a fine of N100 or imprisonment for six months as punitive measure to offenders. But this deterrent has been disregarded by those who ply the trade in a bid to provide for their daily meals and needs.
Sunshine resides at Green Coven, a brothel located around Ketu/Mile 12 area of Lagos state. This brothel is now her home where she struggles amongst other ladies to get men to sleep with her. She says this is one way she could fend for her daughter, whose father is at large.
Apart from the stiff competition, Sunshine also has to contend with the rather condescending views of those who look down on single mothers who find themselves in this trade.
However, she has resorted to this trade in other to make ends meet.
Christianity and Prostitution…
It’s a Friday evening and Sunshine is ready for the day’s activities when I enter the brothel.
She is eager to have clients patronize her for ‘short time’, ‘pull off’ or those willing to spend the night with her for good money.
Full of smiles, she approached me and a male companion. She saw him as a potential customer. After a conversation ensued, she opens up on her experiences in the life of prostitution.
“I am Sunshine by name. I love that name so much so I gave myself because I don’t want to be dark. I don’t want any darkness,” she said.
“I go to church, like tomorrow I will and If I invite you and you come, you will tell me ‘silver or gold, I don’t have anything to give you but I love you so much’ because you will be amazed at what God will do.
“However, whenever I go to church and return to the brothel, I lose interest in this place. I mean nothing will interest me in this place again and I will become tired but then hustle must continue.”
Not only does she claim to believe in God, she tried preaching the gospel to us and also shared a testimony of how God repaired her broken relationship.
“I have a very serious relationship. My man had promised to marry me but there was a day he called and said he doesn’t want to marry me again. He said because a woman told him that I have married someone and the person threatened to kill him if he does not leave me,” Sunshine said.
“I told my pastor. My pastor asked me if I like and want to marry him, I said yes. So he prayed for me and said my guy will call me back. On my way coming home, I saw his call and he begged me to forgive him that he cannot marry anybody else but me.
“You see this man in heaven is very powerful than anything on earth and I will continue to worship him. What a father or mother cannot do, he has done for me.”
She said she got into prostitution after her hair saloon folded up. Sunshine explained that she needed an income not to only survive but pay for her daughter’s tuition fees. She also said she charges according to client’s demand.
“Depending on what my client wants, I charge him like N1000, N1500 or N500 for short time. There is pull off which is N5000 but I can beat it down to N3000 if he does not have enough money. But if the money does not favour me, I won’t do it. If ihn wan do for back (referring to anal sex), he would pay more than that.
“If he wants to sleep over for the night, he can pay N4000 or N3000 and he will just go two rounds. If he wants another round, he will pay more. So that’s how I save money till it reaches my target of expenditure.”
‘Money made from prostitution doesn’t work for other businesses’
Sarah is standing at a corner in Wuse 2, Abuja. She speaks with me after I had paid for her time.
Like Sunshine, Sarah is a former hair stylist who has been in the profession for 13 years before choosing prostitution.
“The business is by luck and God gives me luck. Before leaving the house every day, I pray to God to link me up with someone that will favour me. There are a lot of my peers who have received favour from this business. There was a lady that was given N100,000 and the man did not sleep with her, he just told her to go off the street. She has even gotten married.”
Although, Sarah is not a single mother, she went through a painful miscarriage which resulted from previous sexcapades. She caters for her siblings and mum who was laid off with several others by the Kaduna state government.
Recounting her experience, she said that monies gotten from prostitution “does not work for other businesses.”
“I will like to do business. But you know in prostitution, it is not like we don’t see money but the money won’t work. You cannot carry this kind of money to do another business, it will not last,” she said.
“The money is like ritual money. You know that ritual money does not last, so this does not as well. We just use it to settle immediate needs. I have tried it before by investing in plastics but it didn’t work.”
This hazy Saturday evening, along the popular Ring road in Ibadan, Oyo state, flashy fleet of cars are parked at both sides of the road while men and women are seen haggling on prices for the night.
On this road there are several pubs that have existed for over five years but this one visited by the reporter stood out for its deafening blare of Wizkid’s Hip-hop song, ‘soco’, accompanied by swaying bodies to the tune of the rendition from the Disc Jockey.
Hiding from acquaintances and family, a dark-skinned tall lady in a blue top and flowery palazzo pants sat in a secluded spot while munching a plate of white rice- a technique used to keep away from her counterparts as she awaits the night’s ‘chosen one’.
Unlike Sunshine’s daily grind, Tolani works only weekends to pay bills.
“I don’t come here every day but weekends. I don’t even come here on Sundays. If I come here every day, mumsi mi a ti fun ra. (translated in Yoruba language to mean ‘my mum would have been suspicious and she would know.’)
This lady, 25, from Ondo State is about completing a fashion designing course and also saving to get a shop. She is the last born and only female child of a family of seven.
Aside the rent for her shop, she struggles to earn more in order to fend for her 10 year old daughter who is in junior secondary school 1: the child is a product of one of her sexual ‘hustle’ in the past.
With over 10 years in this business, she has journeyed the length and breadth of Nigeria to keep up with being a single mother faced with the country’s harsh economic reality.
“You know nobody wants to give you money for free. They would always want to have sex with you,” she said.
While Sunshine charges as low as N500, Tolani can only manage N5,000 despite the recent dawdle in the trade.
“Where I am, I don’t get money a lot but in Apollos you will see big boys. But here just 5,000 or 4,000. Luckily, yesterday, someone gave me 8,000 and depends on the way you dress and look. The lowest money I can collect is N5, 000 and that is if time has gone like say 2.00am.”
Offer of marriage and N2 million as capital to set up her tailoring business will make Tolani bid farewell to her fellow sisters of the night.
‘I know this thing we are doing is not good but…’
Lagos street, Garki, located in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is a known red light district. On the day I visited, a mother of two from Southern Kaduna was sitting on a pavement alone in front of a commercial bank at about 12 am, hoping she makes a deal for the night.
Patience, whose husband is late, was uneasy when I first approached but she eventually eased into narrating her fair share of skirmishes she undergoes in order to survive and cater for her two kids: one in secondary school and the other a five year old. She had suffered a setback in her fashion design business.
“I know that this thing we are doing is not good, selling our bodies on the street. You know in life, whether you do good or bad, people will still talk about you. I know it is a matter of time,” she said.
The sex trade and ritualist scare…
In this line of work, call girls, parenting or not, are faced with the increasing threat of being exposed to ritual attacks from unsuspecting clients but as it appears, the “hustle” must continue, damning the danger.
Sarah discloses the predominant hazard of sex workers- the fear of being used for ritual purposes.
In recent times, across the country, cases of increasing menace by fraudsters, popularly known as Yahoo Plus have shifted from gullible foreigners or harvesting of human parts and taken a new dimension of retrieving female undies and or other diabolical means, all in a bid to satisfy their extreme thirst for money. In this new crave, sex workers are seen as an easy catch.
For Sarah, she has a hunch when she meets a customer with an ulterior motive and shares her experience with a pant thief: “There was a time when I had finished business and was looking for my panties. Then I confronted and threatened him that he would die or go insane if he doesn’t return it. The man became scared. It also depends on the way you confront these issues.
“I am not a witch but I can’t suffer such predicament because I put my trust in God. I can’t narrate the amount of times that I have encountered such encounters but they could not do anything.”
To prevent such, Sarah consciously cherry picks her clients and prefers using hotels than going to their homes. Some of her colleagues use talisman to protect themselves from falling victims.
‘I swore to stop the trade but…’
On a botched attempt by the men of the underworld, Patience had agreed on a day’s job and was taken to a hotel.
“You made me remember an incident. That day, I regretted venturing into prostitution but here I am again. When I got to the location, I was not comfortable, I could not even sleep. Right from when I stepped into the environment, my heart was beating fast,” she said.
Unable to continue with the agreement, she asked that she was dropped off immediately. While returning, her client passed through a hidden route in a bush and that was all she could remember.
“That day, I swore never to be a sex worker again. You see this our business, it is very risky. Do you know how many girls they have killed even in the hotel? I pray one day, this is going to be a story.”
‘To protect yourself, go spiritual’- Coordinator
From all indications, it appears the sisters of the night are stranded and left to fight for their lives because the only association backing them can only but hope they do not fall victim of spiritual or physical attacks.
Speaking with the National Coordinator of Sex Workers Association, Amaka Eneao, she blatantly said: “We are not doing anything. We cannot reach ritualists. They should go spiritual. What we just do is to protect the health and right of sex workers. We have always had security training so they can leverage on that.”
But the security training sessions are held on self-defence and premonitions.
Eneao advised that in the case they are left with no choice but to leave their comfort zone, they must ensure their colleagues get the contact of the client and address of the location.
On provisions for single moms with difficulty in training their children, specialized skills and training are offered although this offer cuts across all members of the association with the aim of curbing desperation and to serve as another source of income.