Pretty like the mermaid, she stood there, occasionally pacing from one end of the road to another. She wore a dress that suited the moment and the business- a short gown that stopped far above her knee cap. Her lips were heavily painted in red to complement the attraction. It may take the combination of a very strong- willed, spirit-filled mind and long cultivated discipline for any man’s eyes to shift the other way.
That was Anthonia, a commercial sex worker who had taken her business to the streets of Abuja. She was standing, waiting for a customer when this undercover reporter arrived the scene that Monday night. For some five minutes, the reporter sat back in his car, observing the scene and pondering on the best way to engage her. But then, a look around the vicinity revealed other “mermaids” who come out only at night.
They littered the area. It didn’t matter if it was night. To them, the street lights, which shone on them, apparently added colour to the scene. Alighting from the car, the reporter was welcomed by scintillating music from a bar located nearby. The bar is called Eden Garden. It is indeed Eden as men and women in their numbers trooped in for recreation and fun. It then became obvious why the girls chose to lurk around there.
”Hello” was the word to get started. The conversation begins proper when the girl has approached your car otherwise a “come” sign or a sudden stop along the road brings sometimes more than one of the girls to your car. And so the reporter engaged Anthonia.
Her age was so sacred to her and for the minutes spent talking, she never divulged it. She only admitted being an adult. She disclosed her state of origin.
But she refused to mention the local government area or the village. Of course, it would be suspicious insisting on knowing the LGA or village. Anthonia is the second child in a family of eight. She claimed to be a Lagosian living in Ketu area. According to her, she searched for jobs after obtaining a National Diploma (ND) from Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State without success. Frustrated, she heeded the advice of a friend, Rose, resident in Abuja and who had apparently mature in prostitution by relocating to the federal capital territory last month.
Anthonia seemed a neophyte in the business and that, perhaps, accounted for why she spoke to a strange customer not knowing he was a journalist on undercover mission. She displayed the zeal to further her studies to the level of Higher National Diploma (HND) but for the lack of a sponsor. ”I am not proud doing what I am doing. But what do I do? It’s just to survive. I was not doing this in Lagos. I started in January when I came to Abuja. It is not really the best but I had to follow my friend, Rose, who advised me to come over to Abuja,”Anthonia said.
Evil men/godly worship
One impression you may have of the “street girls” is that they are neither afraid of any eventuality in the course of doing their business nor go to church to worship but Anthonia’s submission proved otherwise. ”Of course, I am always afraid and pray that I don’t meet evil men. Even when they take us to their hotel rooms or houses, there is always this fear in me. But I pray to God that I don’t meet any.
I only come to the street to look for money. That’s all…yes, I go to church. Why not?”, she stated. What happens when no customers come? ”I will go back home”, she said. ”You mean you have a house here?” ”Of course, I do. We all do.” Her pathetic story, the wasted “ time that she could have spent getting ‘good customers’, coupled with the “innocent” looks on her face could not but compel one to do what was both human and humane and so, some token was handed to her.
But then, she is willing to vacate the street business and go into trading. According to her, at least N200,000 would do her a world of good. One night Abuja is believed to be a city for the “Big Boys” and I am tempted to add “Big Girls” too. Many think, sometimes, erroneously, that the town is wet with money from politicians, contractors, suppliers of general goods, etc. Consequently, girls always try to look ravishingly attractive to suit the mood of the town.
This also determines the cost of `hiring’ them. Abuja Bulletin tried to ascertain the cost per night and the discovery was that the price is not fixed but there is a limit which has conditionalities. First, the commercial sex worker looks at the customer and the type of car he rides before stating her price. Against this backdrop, the bargaining starts from N20,000 and terminates at N8,000. At least, that is what Abuja Bulletin was told.
Outside Anthonia were three other girls who Abuja Bulletin encountered. There gave their names as CY, Precious and Kate. While CY and Kate hailed from Delta State, Precious is Igbo from Mbaise, Imo State. The trio looked young though ripe as women. Like Anthonia, they separately rushed to me at the screech of the car tyres, giggling. The meeting with CY was very fleeting but not without her placing her last price at N10,000 per night. There was, however, a promise to call her to another rendezvous to seal the deal, encouraging her to give out her cell phone number.
Then the light-skinned, chubby but petite Kate. Hers was a case of desperation. She needed a deal that night so badly. She was evidently broke, but against all odds, the harder she tried, the slimmer her chances were. She had approached my car, I guess with high hopes. She wore a short gown that left nothing to imagination. But in fairness to her, the appearance was the rave of the moment. ”How are you?” I asked. She replied, “I am fine?”
That set the tone for bargaining. But when it dawned on her that the deal wasn’t healthy for her as it all bordered on calling her for an invitation to a hotel later, she opted out. In the case of Precious, she claimed to be a second year student of a university around the FCT. Like others, she came prepared but disappointed. She didn’t even drop her telephone number but instead demanded mine.
The reason she advanced for being on the streets was the same as Anthonia’s. She needed money to survive in Abuja, pay school fees and be like every other happy girl. And to realize that dream, she has to, putting it in her language, “hustle”.
Jabi “Upstairs” is a popularly area in Jabi. It is located along Airport-Berger Round-about. It provides home for many of these girls. And that’s where Anthonia, CY, Kate and Precious live.
According to them, a self-contained room there goes for between N100,000 and N120,000 per annum. Of course, the place is boisterous with commercial activities in high gear. It is dominated by Hausa men who concurrently work as mai-guards and run confectionery shops. Investigations revealed that all manners of people reside in the area.
For a good idea of the environment, a night visit is recommended. A drive to Wuse 2, Area 11 and Lagos Street, Garki also indicated a long line of commercial sex workers on the streets.
The twin evils of joblessness and poverty ravage the land, beating many Nigerians below the belt. In fairness to Anthonia and co; that could be a good reason to hawk their bodies.
This is a sad commentary on government. But much as this holds, it does not qualify to say that able-bodied, healthy-looking young ladies like them should not opt for any other thing worthy of doing. There are such women who sell telephone recharge cards on the streets. There are others who indulge in jobs no matter how menial or meager to survive while waiting for “bigger” jobs.
Standing along the road, waiting for men could be one risk too many. Meanwhile, Abuja is a fast growing capital city which attracts all manners of persons from both within and outside the shores of Nigeria. Allowing prostitution to fester especially with the participation of young girls of school age may just be another way of jeopardizing the future of the country. A stitch in time saves nine.