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Having worked the streets for years, hawking their bodies with nothing to show but pain, anguish and emptiness, they have decided to change their ways, but, first, they need help to make their dream of quitting come true. Gboyega Alaka who had an audience with six determined women, reports.
THEY are six young women; well, nine. But only six could summon the courage to voice out their pain- a pain they’ve borne for years, submitting themselves, albeit unwillingly, to men, for survival. Their names: Jennifer, Joy1, Joy2, Gift, Peace, Aminat and Chichi, with age ranging between 18 and 26. They all sounded used, defeated empty and gasping for lifeline. A common decimal factor, if one were to assess them mathematically, would be regret. Regret for years badly spent, wasted; with nothing to show, except hurtful memories of brutalisation, rape, gang-rape; memories of being cheated and exploited by sundry men who capitalise on their vulnerability to sexually exploit them, while reneging on prior agreements; memories of misery, of poverty, of nothingness and uncertainty of a next meal.

 

It is for this reasons that they’ve all gathered in Etiennete Ajoluje’s apartment in Idasho, Ibeju-Lekki, not too far from the springing Dangote Refinery. Ajoluje, by the way, is a young social worker fast making a name for herself, rescuing and rehabilitating the destitute and people in need. And their resolve is to quit the murky waters of commercial sex trade and start a new life. But they need help, as it is the only means of making money that they know and they fear they may be forced to go back when hunger and hardship comes calling.
Said Ajoluje, who runs the NGO, Harriett Majemite Foundation: “I was on my way home one day, when one of them stopped me. Apparently, she had got wind of what I do, coupled with the inscription on the top I was wearing, which had the inscription: Help A Stranger. She approached me and started telling me this is what she does, that she needed help to quit. She said she had other friends in the same trade who are also willing to quit, but no way out, because it is their only means of livelihood.”
To shield their identity, this writer has opted to stick with just their first names ad avoid physical description as much as possible.
Jennifer, Warri girl
According to Jennifer, 26, her journey into the murky world of sex trade took roots back in Warri, Delta State, where the poverty in her home was excruciating.
“My parents were poor and there was nobody to take care of me.”
To make matters worse, her father died when she was a mere 15-year-old. Inevitably, she dropped out of school in SS1. Her attempt to learn tailoring and arm herself with a skill also met with frustration in the hands of her boss.
“I was being maltreated. My boss practically turned me into a house-help. She loaded me with all sorts of house chores. I was the one who washed her clothes, her children’s clothes, cleaned the house and did all her dirty house chores. The whole thing became so frustrating and I had to quit.”
If only she knew what laid in wait for her.

She tried her hand on a salesgirl’s job in a restaurant, and though she got meagre cash reward of 500 naira per day, Jennifer recalled that it was not enough for her upkeep. Her only compensation was that the restaurant doubled as her accommodation.
Life was becoming more excruciating by the day, as she claimed the pay was not regular and nobody to lean on for survival.
It didn’t take long for her to be introduced into prostitution. “A group of girls used to patronise us; gradually I became friends with them and one of them introduced me into the business.”
Recalling that she was a virgin at the time, she said she felt deep pain that she had to lose such valuable possession literally for free.
“Let me not lie to you, it wasn’t in any way a better life. Sometimes, they just gave you food money; sometimes, just noodles and egg. And they would use you anyhow. Sometimes, they would camp you for days and eventually throw you out with nothing. On the best of days, the highest money I ever got paid was 500 naira.”
Eventually she got wind of Lagos. There, she was told, money flowed and she would make real good money in the trade. Pronto, she borrowed money and relocated in 2015. But did her fortune change?
Jennifer’s answer was a grim ‘No’.
“I’d say nothing has changed. There is nothing in this prostitution work, nothing at all. Sometimes, you would be picked by men who would use you and chase you out with a knife. On other occasions, one man would pick you but you will end up sleeping with three or four, sometimes, five additional men, without any additional pay. On some very bad occasions, some would even pick you up with the sole purpose of raping and robbing you. I have been robbed of my phone in the course of this job. And there is nobody to help you fight your battle, not even the police. So my advice is, let no innocent girl be lured into this trade. Like they say, ‘Ashewo no be work.”
She has even been pregnant once, but aborted it because she was not ready to bring a baby without a father to the world.
It is for this reason that she made up her mind to quit. “I am tired of this life. It is a life of torture. All I want now is to learn a trade and start a meaningful life, preferably tailoring; I’ll be very happy if I can get help.”
Wouldn’t she be tempted to go back to the streets while learning the tailoring, especially when hunger comes knocking?
Her answer: “Nothing can bring me back to this job.”
Joy1, It’s a life of ruin
Because there are two Joys in the group, we shall call her Joy1. However, her case is far from being joyful.
A mere 20-year-old, Joy1 claimed she has been in the commercial sex trade since she was 14. Her friend, she said, introduced her to six years ago.
“She was doing it and I saw that she was making money, taking care of herself and looking good; at least much better than I was. Anytime she came around, she would be regaling me with stories of how she was making money and taking care of herself.”
So she became jealous or envious?
“No, not jealousy; it all boiled down to my condition at the time. I wanted to have money like her, to be able to take care of myself.”
Didn’t she have parents? Opting to go into prostitution at 14 based on her reasons seemed weird.
“I had but my father didn’t care about taking care of any child. He is late now. All he cared about was that I should go and make money, go and get married. Mum tried her best but she was not strong enough.”
Consequently, Joy1, who said she was born and bred in Ibeju-Lekki area of Lagos, said she dropped out of school in JSS3.
Asked to recall some of her horrible experience on the job, Joy1 said, “All. Everything I have experienced on the job has been bad. I have never enjoyed it one bit.”
When reminded that this negates the impression most people who see them standing by the roadside hawking their trade have, she shook her head in disagreement.
“Not at all. There is nothing to enjoy on this job. It is a job full of regret. I usually feel very bad whenever I come back from a job. To make matters worse, some men would even finish with you and not give you anything. Sometimes, they will only buy you food, and when you wake up in the morning and demand for your money, they would just change it for you and start threatening to beat you up or kill. Sometimes, the crazy ones would actually beat you up and throw you out, if you as much as put up any resistance.”
Asked how many men she gets to service per day, she sighed and delved into a diatribe: ” It’s not about the number of me that pick you. There are days you carry ten me and only two will give you money. It’s a world of cheats, dehumanisation and torture. It’s a life of ruin, where you watch your life evading you, yet you go back the next day, all because you need to put something in your mouth. Yes, a few may have been lucky, but the truth is, it is not and can never be a lucrative job.”
Even though she said most of her clients use condom as protection, which is why she has never had any STD nor got infected with HIV, she admitted to having her horror moments, when the condoms break. On such occasions, she said she immediately takes drugs to flush her system.

 

In summary, Joy1 feels she has been ruining her life and wants out. She is 20 and knows she’s still young enough to make a better life for herself but she’s hampered by finance.
Her plea: “Please, if you know any good Samaritan or NGO willing to help, an ready to quit and never go back to the streets. I would love to learn fashion designing.”
Joy2, All I get’s feeding money
Joy2’s case isn’t much different from Joy1’s. Reason? She is also young, a mere 19-year-old and has been on the job for five years. This also means she has been in the trade since she was 14, like her namesake. But she said these are all coincident, as they only recently met for the first time at Ajoluje’s.
With her thick Niger-Delta accent, she announced, “I just changed to Lagos from Bayelsa because I learnt there is more money to be made here. Back in Bayelsa, they would even beat you and chase you away like a criminal or as if you’re worth nothing, after using you.”
However, she says not much have changed. “In fact, things have turned worse. The highest money I have been paid per job is N1000; 700 naira; sometimes 500. And on such days, you would be very happy because it is such a big money on the job.”
To underline how badly her Lagos experience has turned out, she said, “Even the money I borrowed to come to Lagos, I have not been able to pay back. I’m even regretting coming because that side (Bayelsa) is better, as you can get somebody to pay you N1,000. Whereas before you get somebody to pay you N1000 in Lagos here…. In short, no way.”
Asked if she sometimes comes across men who use sex-enhancing drugs to last long duration on her, Joy2 sniggered and replied:
“Bros, if you jam that type, you would even be happy nah, because some of the very bad ones are like a gang. They will deceive you and once you go into the room with them, you’re finished. In some cases, they would be up to five on top of you alone, and at the end of the day, you would not even be able to stand up. The worst is that sometimes, they would not even pay you after putting you through such horror. Instead, you would even receive beating.”
On top of this, she said she has to pay the manager of the hotel, where she operates. “Most of the time, what we make is feeding money. So on days when I don’t get anybody to tell me, How are you?, I have to go and sleep with the manager or owe him. ”
So much horror indeed for a 19-year-old, who said she didn’t grow up to know her dad. Her mum back in Bayelsa told her he died when she was pregnant with her.
It is for this reason that she summed up her experience in three words. “I am tired.”
And then she goes: “If I see the opportunity, I will gladly leave this job. I will like to learn Catering and Hotel Management and would gladly accept a lifeline from any Nigerian or organisation willing to help take me out of this hole.
Chichi, Awaiting motherhood
21-year-old heavily pregnant Chichi should put to bed anytime soon. But for her, it’s not such a thing of joy, as she claimed she does not know who impregnated her. Well, maybe more like, the man responsible has denied it.
“He deceived me. He told me he loved me, that he would marry me. As a result, I gave him my body and never charged him for sex, like I did other men. I also stopped using condom with him and that was why I got pregnant. But when it happened, he denied it and ran away, saying he was not responsible.”
Asked if this could be because he was aware of her profession, Chichi said, “Maybe; he’s aware I operate from a hotel and actually came to sleep with me there. He claimed he worked at Dangote Refinery.”
Was he generous to her while their relationship lasted?
“Not much. Sometimes, he gave N1000, sometimes N2000; sometimes, N500; sometimes he bought me clothes. And he never made out that he was ashamed of me, as we sometimes took strolls together. He even took me to his friend’s place. Unfortunately, that one does not reside there again; and he never took me to his house.”
How then does she manage to feed, especially as she declared that the pregnancy is in its ninth month? Or do men still find her desirable in her state?
“No, the last time I had any customer was when it was three months and hadn’t started showing. Right now, my friends pull resources together to make sure I don’t go hungry. I need help. I met Madam Etiennete (Ajoluje) through friends who told me that she helps people in difficult situations. Although I still live in the hotel (brothel), I am tired and ready to quit. Even in my situation, they still require me to pay for my accommodation. I’ve met Madam Etiennete for over a week now and she has been trying to get us help. Please (turning to this reporter), if there is any way you can get help for me, I would be happy.
Peace, pushed by condition
At 25, you want to ask Peace what prompted her into the profession, seeing that she’s not a young girl and should have made a better choice for herself.
However, her calm reply of, “The matter plenty o, bros. Na condition for house carry me enter street o,” in street pidgin, got this reporter pondering.
As the first of eight children of her parents, Peace said making ends meet back home in Port Harcourt was tough, as her parents were not making enough money.
“I think it boils down to the kind of friends I had at the time. I was in secondary school and things became really difficult for my parents, my siblings and I; so I just decided to leave home to hustle and ease the burden at home. It was about that time that my friends introduced me to the job.”
Yes, she had a boyfriend at the time and wasn’t even a virgin, but she left him. “He had nothing to offer; so I left him to start going out with men who could give me money.”
Did she at any time find fulfillment?
Her reaction said it all.
“The highest I’ve made on this job is N4,000 (overnight service), but the condition at home made sure I was never able to save any part of it.
She also admitted that the men can be brutal while sleeping with then, some going as far as using drugs.
“My last experience isn’t too far from this. The guy picked me up and promised to give me N10,000 to start a business and leave this prostitution job, so I gladly gave myself to him. I put all my hope on him and even over-reached myself, trying to satisfy him in the two days I spent with him; but what did I get at the end of the day? Disappointment. He didn’t give me a kobo; he said I should be grateful that I even had food to eat in the two days I spent with him. He chased me out and started calling me all sorts of names and asking if I didn’t know where to go and stand if indeed needed N10,000.”
Would that be her worst experience?
“Not quite; I have had several bad experiences, where I was gang-raped for free and even beaten up. There was this place where I was hustling in Ajah; somebody picked me, saying he was taking me to his boss. But when we got there, I met three different men; they all said they would sleep with me and pay me N5,000 each; I was not happy and refused because that was not the agreement. However, when I refused, they changed it for me and took me by force. At the end of the day, the three of them gave me N8,000. Of course, I felt sad and cheated. It is dangerous, risky job, full of uncertainties, brutalisation and pain.”
Expatiating more on her decision to quit, Peace said, “I actually took the decision to quit a long time ago. I even engage in petty jobs, such as cleaning, washing and taking care of shops for stipends. I find peace in those jobs than selling my body. I will like to go back to my hairdressing job, if I can get help.”
She had tried her hand at hairdressing in the past, when she was staying with her aunty; but left when things started getting complicated.
“I wasn’t getting good care; on top of it, I suffered abuse in the hand of my aunty’s boyfriend, who constantly lured into his bed. Unfortunately, when I told her, she told me off, saying it is not easy to make it in Lagos and that she also went through hell to make it. It dawned on me that her way was not straight, so I left.
Aminat, Forced into sex slavery
Of the five, only 18-year-old Aminat qualifies as the true victim, having been forced into sex slavery by her aunt.
“My aunty came to take me from my mother in Ughelli, Delta State on the pretext that she needed me in Lagos to help attend to her business. In exchange, she promised to take care of me and train me through school. But when we got to Lagos, it was a different story.
“First, she made me take an oath that whatever I encountered, I would not tell anybody, not even my parents. It was a kind of red liquid that tasted like alcohol. She said if I told anyone, I would die. Thereafter, she started sending me to men who came to her beer parlour for sex. She would collect money from the men and send me to their hotel room. In exchange, she only bought me clothes and shoes.”
Recalling her first experience, Aminat said, “I was a virgin. The man, about 50 years old, beat me up and tied me before forcing himself into me. It was a most painful experience for me as a 12-year-old child. Thereafter, he kept coming for me. Sometimes, he would give me alcohol to make me drunk before sleeping with me. Other men soon joined the queue but this particular man never stopped requesting for me. Most of the men used condoms except this man. Meanwhile, my aunty was making money and the routine continued for four years. Every time I protested or refused to go with the men, she would beat me and lock me up in a room. We were about four girls under her care. We were based in Ajegunle but I can’t remember the area. We rarely went out except when men came to take us away.”
Finally, she summoned the courage and ran away. At Oshodi, she shared her story with a lady, who offered to help her. She told me that my aunty was cheating me and that I could make a better life for myself. Aminat found herself in Ibeju-Lekki, where she joined her new friend in prostitution proper. The only difference here was that she collected her money herself.
Nonetheless, she said it has been a meaningless life. “The highest money I’ve ever made is N3,000. On occasions like that, I would be extremely happy because good money is not easy to come by on this job. It is from the money I make that I contribute for our collective feeding – we are five in the room, and accommodation.”
Asked why she wants to quit, Aminat said, “I’m just tired. Don’t forget I was forced into it and it’s not a job I enjoy. I just want to walk away from the whole sex slavery and be an independent person. I will like to learn hair dressing, if I can get help

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