Somewhere in Maitama, Abuja, Usman (not real name) was walking down the street and having a phone conversation when he was accosted by two young women dressed in skimpy clothing. Usman asked the other person on the line to hold on while he attended to the ladies standing in front of him.
â€œHow far, Alhaji? Do you want a good time,â€ one of them purred demurely. The young man, realizing that he was talking to commercial sex workers, also known as â€˜hookersâ€™, hurriedly left the spot, even as the provocatively-attired duo stepped up their strides. Usman eventually bolted in a run and dashed into a neighbourâ€™s house, panting. â€œWhen I told my friend about it, he wasnâ€™t even surprised. Instead, he made jokes about the prostitutesâ€™ â€˜aggressive marketingâ€™,â€ Usman told Weekly Trust. â€œApparently, he had encountered them before, and he said he was in the company of his wife, for Godâ€™s sake!â€
In Wuse II, the story is not much different, and actually a bit more alarming. A banker who preferred to go by the name Segun said whenever he closes early from work, which is rare, he usually enjoys an evening stroll along Ademola Adetokumbo Street, a fairly busy area. Segun said: â€œBut I had to stop, as some weeks ago, a small gang of indecently dressed women loitering around a major supermarket where whistling to me and making sexual offers, in-between chewing gum. There were about four of them and even a child would know that their dressing is not proper.â€ Segun said he walked on and has never taken an evening stroll since. â€œImagine what would happen if, at the exact moment Iâ€™m passing them and theyâ€™re heckling me, someone I know sees the interaction? You know us, it would be re-interpreted that I was soliciting for their services. My wife-to-be would kill me!â€
In Area 11, Garki, prostitutes are normal fixtures, perhaps due to the fact that it remains one of the staunchest red light areas in the capital. Strewn with dozens of â€˜joints,â€™ the streets of Area 11 provide shelter and recreation for commercial sex workers, as well as much-needed clientele. There, it is clear that roadside prostitution in Abuja is at its peak. Reports from Wuse Zone 4, Central Area and others paint a picture where residents are regularly harassed by desperate sex workers.
If itâ€™s a crime, how come no positive action has been taken against it? A police source told Weekly Trust that while men of the force carry out arrests, it is not easy as some of the sex workers pose as decent girls simply out to have fun. â€œThereâ€™s an instance when some of my colleagues arrested some girls â€“ obviously prostitutes â€“ and in the morning their people came to bail them, threatening to sue us,â€ he said. There is a blurry line which makes arrests rather tricky, as â€˜normalâ€™ girls also dress like hookers due to latest fashion trends from America and the rest. â€œThe society rejects it, yet its practice refuses to be ignored. The rate at which young girls are being recruited into the business everyday is alarming,â€ added our source.
Then DSP Moshood Jimoh, FCT PPRO told Weekly Trust that it is not easy to curb the alarming trend, as some of the arrested prostitutes actually have normal day jobs and only moonlight as hookers. He said: â€œWhen we arrest them, the charge is Public Nuisance, which is usually furthered in court if it involves someone not gainfully employed. But these girls, as it would turn out, lead double lives and actually have jobs, and that gets them off the hook.â€
A legal practitioner, Nnena, commented thusly: â€œI donâ€™t think it is a crime because there is no written law about prostitution being a crime, there could be but, I havenâ€™t come across any particular law that states that prostitution is a crime. I think they get harassed because of indecent dressing. Morally speaking, prostitution cannot be justified, however you look at it.â€
Poverty seems to be the key propeller of prostitution. A majority of the sex workers Weekly Trust spoke to are from the lower class of the society. A resident of Wuse Zone 6, who gave her name as Amina, said: â€œTo think that in this lot is oneâ€™s dear sister, aunty and worse even, someoneâ€™s assumed innocent daughter, is an unthinkable thought.â€
It doesnâ€™t end there. After a little back-and-forth, Weekly Trust was able to gather from a hooker who preferred to be unnamed. She said: â€œI am a student of University of Abuja. I need the money to help myself. In a week, I make at least N30,000. It is the only way to survive.â€ But prostitution gets more serious for the provider and the solicitor, because there are lots of risks involved. For instance, sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are numerous and rampant.
Curiously, some of the prostitutes claim to be assaulted by policemen. â€œAt times, we get arrested by policemen, though the customers donâ€™t get arrested with us. But we always bail ourselves, at times with money, but most times by performing sexual favours on the policemen,â€ said one of the hookers. â€œThat is not true,â€ DSP Jimoh said. â€œThey will naturally want to soil the image of the police in order to gain public sympathy and to be left to continue their trade,â€ he told Weekly Trust.
Back in Maitama, Usman wanted to stroll out to a neighbourhood shopping centre to buy fruits, so he asked his fiancÃ©e to accompany him, in hopes that the prowling call-girls would not harass him again because of his female escort. Blocks away, a bevy of colourfully dressed young women are loitering, waiting for a potential male customer, female companion or not.