Prostitutes in Abuja employ new technology to bring their trade up to date
By Adedayo Ogunleye
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.
Without any attempt at decorum, she deposited herself in his laps and stamped a kiss on the lips, her legs wide apart and giving onlookers an unhindered view of her lemon-coloured panties. Joyce had arrived and was in business for the night.
Like many of the other girls at the lounge, she was dressed to kill. She wore a denim jacket that covered what appeared to be just a bra and matching denim skirt, and stiletto heels.
“How you dey, naah? Long time o”, she gushed at Sege, grabbing his glass of Vodka and taking a sip. After small talk with her, the reporter was introduced as a friend just back from the United States.
“Ahhhh, Uncle, welcome o’” she said as the waiter brought her a glass of her own and then she really dug into the vodka, pouring a full glass. Sege explained to Joyce that, being a stranger to the Abuja social scene, his friend was finding it difficult to get a suitable girl for the night.
“Ahaa, dat one na small thing naah bros, no problem, which type u want”? Joyce brought out her phones – an expensive Blackberry Q1O and an iPhone – and navigated to the picture gallery on the former.
“Oga, choose your specs for dia; I go call am come now now’”.
The reporter was stunned as a digital photo album full of pretty young ladies of varying sizes – all in different degrees of nudity – was thrust in his face. He skimmed through until he spotted a dark-skinned girl and showed to her. Joyce glanced at the picture
“Oh, Amarachi; what a pity, she no dey o, she went to Port Harcourt. She go hustle.”
In the Abuja call girl lingo, to hustle is to go out of town in search of a client. The girls make as much as N50,000 to N80,000 on such trips.
“How do you go about the business?” the reporter asked innocently. The question elicited a ripple of laughter from Sege and Joyce.
“Network dey naa, she go don get connection before she even leave”, Sege volunteered. He was hinting at an innovative solution that the girls had devised for marketing their services through social media and new technology which has enabled them to reach out to a national and, sometimes, international clientele.
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.
According to the plan, the AEPB would be in charge of ridding the city of prostitutes while the Social Development Secretarial would see to their rehabilitation.
To effect the plan, two training and rehabilitation camps were set up in Lugbe and Bwari areas of the FCT. It sounded brilliant at first – many prostitutes were arrested, buses were filled and the Rehabilitation Centre in Sabon Lugbe had fresh intakes.
The public relations secretary of the Social Development Secretariat, Blessing Onuh, confirmed that over 1,000 of the girls have graduated from training and rehabilitation programmes at the centre.
“It was a godly mission, rehabilitating these girls. Many of them were in the trade just to keep body and soul together. The centre gave them a new lease on life and they can now hold their heads up high as responsible citizens of Nigeria,” Onuh said.
Girls who attended the training centre got empowerment and skill acquisition training; they learnt skills like tailoring, hairdressing, catering etc. to give them avenues of earning an income.
The FCTA also empowered them with financial assistance of N260, 000, which was made available to them in three trenches, while monitoring and evaluation mechanisms were also put in place.
All was well until allegations of abuse of the whole programme started renting the air. Apparently, the Nigerian factor had set in.
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.
She further alleged that victimized women are either forced to buy their freedom or tortured into confessing to being prostitutes and forcibly transferred to the rehabilitation camp for sex workers maintained by SAPCLN in Sabon Lugbe.
She said that her organization had submitted petitions to the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, about the illegality of the acts of the AEPB. Arguing that the officials had no legal basis or justification for such actions and that it constituted an unlawful invasion of the integrity of the Nigerian woman, she demanded that the rights commission rose up to the challenge and secure legal redress for the women in question.
Also piqued by the harassment of women in Abuja on the basis of their gender, the Lawyers Alert Association, led by Rommy Mom, instituted a case at the Federal High Court, Abuja seeking an order of perpetual injunction against the defendants – SAPCLN, AEPB, FCTA and the minister of the FCT, to restrain them from arresting women in Abuja on the suspicion of prostitution, as such act is unconstitutional, discriminatory, and a violation of the rights of women in Abuja.
Mom argued that “men go about freely at night” and that the only offence of the citizens arrested is the “simple fact that they are women”.
“It is shameful that the FCTA is carrying out such barbaric and discriminatory practice,” he continues although he conceded that the intention of the FCTA may have been noble.
Some victims of this nocturnal harassment have also alleged that it went beyond mere abductions to extortions for money and physical violation and rape. Commercial sex workers who have been interviewed by various media houses have alleged that security and law enforcement officials often demand sex from arrested girls as prerequisite for bail.
Three women had the courage to report through a Radio Nigeria programme how they were raped at a garden in Wuse 2 by four soldiers who arrested them for prostitution. Amaka, a commercial sex worker who also runs a garden in Jabi area of Abuja also alleged that she was raped on July 15, 2011 by policemen who claimed they were raiding the garden for women engaging in prostitution.
The official response from the AEPB has been riddled with half-baked diplomacy or dodging the issues. The director, department of social welfare of the Social Development Secretariat, Folashade Ayileka, insisted that “the ladies constitute a kind of embarrassment and nuisance” and that the secretariat had a verbal directive from the FCT Minister to rid the streets of prostitutes.
On the issue of a possibility of mistaken identities, she argued that it was not possible as an undercover staff would have been sent ahead to investigate the scene while the rest of the team will act on the information provided.
The public relations officer of the AEPB, Joe Ukairo, was more forthright in his response as he conceded that some members of the AEPB may indeed have been high handed and overtly aggressive in discharging of their duties.
“You know our people now; they like to have power and oppress”, he said. He, however, argued that it is not possible that staff of his organization could be rapists.
“I am not saying that every staff of the AEPB sent out will do the right thing. But it is not possible that someone will rape these girls. The entire operation is teamwork and people are not authorized to go on solo operations,” he argued.
Eye witness accounts of some of the abductions say otherwise. According to a night guard at the garden in Wuse 2 referred to earlier, he had witnessed not less than five rape incidents executed by men in the uniform who often come to harass the girls who walked the gardens as known commercial sex workers.
Other eye witnesses also identified the perpetrators as some soldiers assigned to a telecom services firm on Ademola Adetokunbo Crescent.
These arbitrary arrests and road sweeps with attendant brutalization and rape have driven some commercial sex workers to the suburbs of Kuchin Goro, Lugbe, Gwagwalada, and Mararaba. Here, safe from the harassment of officials of AEPB and FCTA/SAP-SCLN, they continue their hustle.
However, the steady influx of new migrants into Abuja as replacements for the exiting ones makes it very difficult for observers to notice. The new intakes brave the dangers of the AEPB while others innovate and conduct their hustle via their mobile devices.
But, it is not brutality in the hands of state officials alone that pose a danger to many prostitutes as they also have to contend with all manner of harassment in the hands of clients. Many have fallen into the hands of ritualists. Clients sometimes take them home for the night only to beat them up and throw them out without paying for their services. Joyce, the sex worker who volunteered insider information to our reporter, attested to this, saying that when she first started work as a prostitute in Abuja, she suffered several harrowing experiences in the hands of clients who would take her home and invite their flatmates and friends to have sex with her. “We call them osho-free” she said.
“They usually plan it by sending one person to bargain and bring a girl home. When they get home and the person don chop finish, he will now invite his friends. As many as six people fit sleep with one girl, and in the morning, she go lucky if she get ordinary taxi money”, she added.
For Sonia Okeke, an undergraduate at the University of Abuja, it meant a young life cut short at the hand of a ritualists as reported by Informationng.com, a news website, on October 6, 2012. She was the quintessential campus big girl, a slang for students who engage in part-time prostitution, until she died vomiting blood after marathon sex with her client who was said to have bought her a luxury car worth about N8 million.
Classmates and friends confirmed that her demise was preceded by manifestations of strange symptoms that led to a popular conclusion that she was the victim of money ritual.
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.
“How do you identify a prostitute”? he asked. “You cannot walk up to her and ask ‘Are you a prostitute’?” Differentiating between other young ladies who are resident in Abuja and the commercial sex workers may actually be a herculean task when one considers the fact that many ladies, in a bid to be trendy, dress scantily.
The official who works for the Social Development Secretariat also identified godfatherism, or what he dramatically described as the ‘Mafia Factor’, as a limiting factor that confronts government agents daily in their work. According to him, contrary to what the public thinks, the Abuja commercial sex industry is a complex syndicated enterprise partly sustained by powerful forces – government officials, politicians, and underworld dons who get the lion share of the proceeds, shady law enforcement officials who get kick backs from the patrons and the ladies and an army of pimps who ‘sell’ the ladies to an ever-willing and ever growing clientele.
In answer to enquiries about government’s apparent inability to shut down some houses dedicated solely to commercial sex work in Wuse 2, the official said that sometimes their attempts to shut down enterprises like that have met with stiff resistance from high places.
Sometimes, all it takes to unseal a shut-down house of carnal pleasures is “a call from the National Assembly or Defence Headquarters”, he said, adding that the unique geographical location of the FCT coupled with its political relevance also constitutes a challenge.
The FCT, as the political headquarters of the nation ensures that there is money readily in circulation. Added to this is the ease at which it is accessed by near and far flung states which guarantees constant influx of people from all over the federation.
What this means is that regardless of the rehabilitation work done by social workers, a fresh supply of new catches for the commercial sex work is constantly undermining the good work of the social development agents.
The efforts of NGOs to stamp out prostitution have also been thwarted. An employee of SAPCLN lamented the futility of its efforts so far to address the issue. Several strategies have been deployed in conjunction with officials of the AEPB, she said, yet it has not been able to record major successes.
She also put the blame for their ineffectiveness on high ranking government officials who engage the services of the commercial sex workers.
“You would be surprised to know that these girls are highly connected” she said. “They have big men as customers, so once they are apprehended, they just pull out their phones and make calls to their ‘chairmen’.