Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, is a city with its own unique allure – the promise of a good or better life. For some, these dreams come true easily, for others maybe not. Margaret, a graduate of Economics from a university in the North Central zone is one girl who came to this city of dreams with a lot of expectations. But she soon found out that there were no free meals here and soon the seamy side of urban life presented itself as a viable alternative after three years in fruitless search for the good of the land.
“Abuja is a merciless city and I have to survive. Job, I no see; husband, I no see. Wetin person go do?,” she lamented a few weeks ago while speaking to our reporter.
Her story is the same with many young girls now strutting the streets of the Abuja.
‘I came into Abuja on invitation to come and get a job. The person disappointed me. I have walked this town for years looking for employment… no show. That’s why I’m in this business”, said Margaret, explaining her foray into commercial sex.
A tall, dark and beautiful twenty-four year old lady, she had perfected the art of coquetry. But then, according to her, men had always flooded her doorsteps right from school.
When the reporter asked how much her business fetched nightly, she was evasive at first. “Why you dey ask? You wan do?” she threw back at him. It was necessary to encourage her to think that the reporter was a prospective client, so negotiations were opened with a bottle of cheap wine which encouraged her to sit with him and a pimp who posed as a friend.
Welcome to Sodom
The scene was a middle class nocturnal hangout on Aminu Kano Crescent in Wuse 2 area of the federal capital. It was past 11.00 pm and business was in full swing. Margaret was impatient to land a client for the night, so her eyes darted furtively scanning the new comers. Another lady, Favour, sat to this reporter’s left with Sege, the escort pimp, whose services had been solicited as a guide.
Fair skinned Favour is a 200-Level Pharmacy student at the same university as Margaret when she wasn’t working the streets of Abuja. Two bottles of wine later, the reporter confided in Margaret that he was a journalist researching the commercial sex industry in Abuja and their run-ins with the law enforcement agencies.
At first she was hesitant but she later loosened up when she learnt that she would get paid for every minute spent talking instead of hustling. In answer to the question posed earlier, she replied, “It depends on how business is. On a good night, I fit get as much as 15,000 (about $90) or N20,000 (nearly $120). When market is slow I can collect like N5,000 or N7,000 for all-night.”
The location used for these trysts is varied. For short-time sessions, she had a curious arrangement with the security guards of some banks in Wuse 2 and they often ‘rented’ their guard houses to her for a ‘quickie’. The ‘rent’ is usually paid by the client along with her fee. For a quickie, how much? Margaret answered “about N3,000 to N4,000”.
Welcome to the world of prostitution, historically the oldest trade on earth which is now termed commercial sex work for political correctness. In Abuja, prostitution is a business that has been redefined and made more sophisticated; with practitioners adapting to the times and deploying all that technology can offer to ply their trade.
Prostitution in this city is booming. The availability of big money from the political elite, top civil servants and government contractors guarantees the ladies of the night a handsome income. From the high brow areas of Maitama and Wuse II to the satellite suburbs of Karu, Kubwa, Lugbe and Kuchin Goro, the commercial sex trade continues to flourish in what is reportedly Africa’s fastest growing city in spite of measures by the city officials to clamp down on its practitioners.
Despite what the media handlers of the capital city’s administration churn out in the press about winning the war against prostitution, it remains a booming, ever evolving business.
Most evenings, as early as 8.00 pm until the wee hours of the morning, a drive along many streets in Wuse 11, particularly Aminu Kano Crescent and Ademola Adetokunbo Avenue puts a lie to official claptrap.
At a popular watering hole off Aminu Kano Crescent, the reporter meets and engages in conversation Olivia, a chirpy call girl.
She claimed to be an undergraduate in University of Benin but confessed that three-quarters of school time is spent in Abuja hustling as a commercial sex worker.
Olivia, known as Delicious O to her clients and colleagues in the business, is just one among hundreds of the young ladies who ply their trade at the lounge.
It was Friday night and the reporter watched several scantily clad young ladies prance about outside while some proceeded to the dance floor to gyrate to the sound of Nigerian crooner K-Cee’s latest hit ‘Limpopo’. After about thirty minutes and two free cans of beer, Olivia sneaked away, obviously concluding that nothing more promising than drinks would be forthcoming from our end.
Earlier that afternoon, Sege had observed that the Abuja commercial sex industry is a highly sophisticated and organised one.
There are prostitutes to service every taste and class. All a willing client had to do is locate his level according to his financial capacity.
The top of the line hookers are university graduates and undergraduates who throng the numerous lounges and nightclubs in the city. Veteran pimp that he is, Sege reeled out the names of the notable red-light spots in Wuse 2 and Maitama.
The patrons of these places are the big men or upwardly mobile rich young men – government officials, contractors, estate realtors, politicians, including federal legislators and their hangers on – aides, special assistants, and personal assistants.
It was evident that Sege prided himself in his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Abuja night life and its trappings. He points out that some joints are not as highbrow as the ones he mentioned earlier. These low-end hangouts cater to the semi-literate hookers who, by virtue of their limited exposure and panache, would not be admitted to the classy halls of Wuse II and Maitama.
He identified some low-end hooker spots in the Garki area of the city. Patrons of these joints, he said, consisted of low-income earners such as artisans, minimum wage earners, transport workers etc.
The popular lounge in Wuse 2 trumps all the others as a meeting point for both the girls and their clientele. This is due to the fact that it operated special packages for the girls who run their hustle from there – protection money was often paid to the police on their behalf, they also get quick and profitable connections there. The teeming population of girls on the prowl for business proved his assertion right.
Sege was not a stranger to the girls; a few came around to say hello and to flaunt ill-concealed wares – many were clad in the skimpiest of clothes. But we were not interested. We were waiting for Joyce, Sege’s contact.
About thirty minutes and half a few drinks after, a vivacious, busty and light complexioned young girl rushed to our table, screaming happily at the sight of Sege.
The Age Of Social Media
Social media networks including Twitter, Skype, Facebook, Blackberry Messenger and, more recently, Badoo and Tagged, have revolutionized our world and the way we establish and maintain contacts with other people regardless of the distance. It has effectively neutralized the distance barrier.
Commercial sex workers in Abuja, like their counterparts in Lagos and Port Harcourt and other big cities, have harnessed this technology to optimize business. This reporter learnt from Joyce that prostitutes often conduct commercial sex trade via social media. For Joyce, her preferred social media platforms for commercial sex business are Badoo and Blackberry Messenger, BBM. She showed her own near nude pictures on her iPhone where she had her phone numbers and a ‘Call Me’ sign printed at the top corner of the pictures. These, she said, she often broadcast on her Badoo page and to her clients on BBM.
This means that a vibrant marketing via social media would help the girls give up the street hustle. They could now remain in their homes until a client calls their phone for services.
The incident led the reporter to the Badoo website where he found a teeming nest of call girls grouped by city location. Debby O., Sunita A., Franca A., Jacqueline N., Josephine A. and many others are profiles of young Abuja-based ladies who work the social media circuit as commercial sex workers. Their nude pictures act are cached in private albums for pay-per view.
How does the customer pay? The answer was intriguing and says a lot about the ingenuity of the young, business – minded ladies. The potential viewer is required to buy GSM recharge cards and send via sms to a given number. Subsequently, he is given access to the private albums which is another step in the direction of soliciting sex for cash from the profile owners.
A comb-through the Twitter also revealed that the same ladies are active there, soliciting clients with messages like “Who wants a freaky girl for the weekend in Gwarinmpa?”, ‘I want an Abuja big boy for dinner”, “You will leave your girlfriend/wife if you taste me for the night; call 080XXXXXXXX”, etc. The potential for marketing that this girls wield with the power of social media is astounding.
It is indeed unimaginable the extent to which a call girl with Skype and Badoo can take her business. Gloria, a twenty-three year old prostitute, recounted how she landed a “big fish” and got an all-expense paid trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to service a rich client all through the power of social media.
According to her, she was introduced to the new trend by a Simisola, who goes by the handle @Simisola_xxx on Twitter. A visit to Sumisola’s Twitter account reveals that she is based in Lagos from where she runs a busy trade, providing tips on how to run a profitable commercial sex business with the power of social media, handling a network of new entrants into the business who she diligently mentored and also maintaining a particularly vibrant engagement with numerous fans and client online.
Following tips from Gloria, the reporter established contact with another call girl whose Twitter handle is @Iyabooloyannla who offered sexual services for a fee. Her terms included payment of a two thousand naira introductory fee into her bank account as a down payment to indicate a prospective client’s seriousness.
In spite of all the allure and benefits of social media, many call girls still ply their trade the old fashioned traditional way – by waiting on the streets or living in brothels where prospective clients come to patronise them.
Sege led the reporter to a retro-styled brothel somewhere in the heart of Wuse. Half-clad ladies blatantly solicited patronage by grabbing at male visitors. The brothel is next to a guesthouse kept by one of the para military forces and, according to Lucy, one of the ladies of easy virtue, many of their clients are off – duty officers of the service.
Interestingly, in other brothels visited in Lugbe, Jabbi, Mararaba, Nyanya and Kubwa, it was discovered that the biggest clients of the prostitutes are uniformed men, who often times became regulars, providing both cash and protection from arrests.
The biggest irony about the booming business of prostitution in Abuja is that is appears to grow in the proportion of the funds devoted to fighting it by both the FCT administration and non-governmental organisations, NGOs.
The City Fights Back
A report on the official website of the FCTA indicates that some N150 million was budgeted for evacuation and rehabilitation of apprehended prostitutes in 2013. However, in the budget submitted and eventually approved by the National Assembly for the FCT, a total of N5 billion is earmarked for the purpose.
In 2011, the FCTA launched what was called a total war against prostitution. Adopting catchy slogans like “Zero tolerance for prostitution” and armed with Section 35 sub section 1 of the Abuja Environment Protection Board, AEPB, Act of 1997 which makes it unlawful for anyone to engage in or patronize commercial sex industry, city officials swung into action with a simple plan – to prowl the streets at night, identify prostitutes at work, apprehend them and rehabilitate them.
The first signs of trouble emerged when young ladies in Abuja started complaining of harassment by AEPB officials on duty.
At around 2.00 am on the June 3, 2011, a female youth corper, Abimbola Ojo, was heading back from a birthday party at Wuse 2. Standing on the kerb awaiting a cab ride back home, she suddenly found herself apprehended by members of the AEPB who accused her of soliciting clients for her commercial sex trade. All efforts to identify herself as a corper were rebuffed and she was bundled into a waiting Society Against Prostitution and Child Labour in Nigeria, SAPCLN, van which drove her in the company of other girls, some of them stark naked, to the board’s holding office at Area 3, Garki.
There, the girls were allegedly harassed by gun-wielding mobile policemen who tried to force Abimbola and other ladies to confess that they were indeed prostitutes. Efforts made by Abimbola’s friends, Mariam Olofu and others, who had traced her whereabouts to Area 3, to establish their friend’s innocence was met with brute force as Mariam and the others were seriously beaten and their car tires slashed.
Intervention by a Policeman only led to even more harassment as the irate mobile policemen started firing shots indiscriminately in the air. In the days that followed, the ladies were charged to court for prostitution. The efforts of Dorothy Njemanze, an entrepreneur who was also present at the party, helped them in securing a defence attorney who represented them in court and won and acquittal of the said charges.
On August 11, 2011, the Magistrate Court in Zone 2, Abuja threw out the case, asserting that the women had no cases to answer and exonerating them of all charges leveled against them. Lead counsel for the defence, Abang Odok-Ogar, took the matter a level further as his clients, Abimbola and Mariam, sued the AEPB, FCTA, IG of Police, and the Attorney-General of the Federation for libel and malicious prosecution. The plaintiffs asked for four Hundred and twelve billion naira in damages.
On September 2011, around 10.00 pm, Funmi Osuntuyi, a young Abuja-based legal practitioner who lives along Ademola Adetokunbo Crescent was awaiting a cab on her way to a Law School dinner when she was accosted by AEPB officials in the company of armed policemen.
She was accused of prostitution and taken to a holding facility at the Old Parade Ground, Area 10, Garki. But for the intervention of her employer, Bolaji Ayorinde, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, she would have been bundled down to Sabon Lugbe for rehabilitation.
Incensed by her experience, Osuntuyi filed a complaint against the FCTA with the Abuja High Court. A wave of similar complaints flooded the courts as NGOs such as the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund, NWTF, also raised an outcry over the unlawful abductions of ladies by the men of the AEPB.
According to Ayisha Osori, the chief executive officer of the NWTF, unidentified armed men under the authority of the AEPB have brutalized women in Abuja on the pretext of “eradicating commercial sex workers in Abuja”.
According to her, law students attending mandatory Law School dinners, employees of a big telecom provider attending a birthday party, a banker exiting a shopping mall, people sitting inside or exiting their cars, and even women standing in front of offices or residences at all hours of the evening have been more or less abducted and taken to purported facilities of law enforcement agencies such as the Area 10 Sports Complex.
A Lost Battle?
With the numerous legal battles and the outrage from civil society groups, the FCTA appears to have lost the initial vigour with which the war on prostitution started.
Ukairo informed our reporter that the FCT minister, Bala Mohammed, has reversed the initial mandate that he gave the board to rid Abuja’s streets of prostitutes. This, according to him, was subsequent to an Abuja High Court ruling that only the Police had the constitutional mandate to address the issue of prostitution. The minister then relieved the AEPB and the Social Development Secretariat of the responsibilities.
Besides the legal battles, FCTA officials who spoke to icirnigeria.org, said that the many challenges that confront social workers in the battle against commercial sex in Nigeria’s capital city make it nearly impossible to deal with the social malaise. .
One of the biggest tasks for social workers, according to one official who prefers to be anonymous as he is not officially allowed to speak to the press, is identifying who is a sex worker.