"I was in JSS3 at the time, and I was too young to understand anything. So, when I became pregnant, I told my boyfriend about it, but he denied it and ran away. That was how I stopped going to school. After about two years, I came to Lagos to hustle. One aunty then introduced me to this business."
Martha is a 15-year-old girl endowed with beauty but...
She faces a very bleak future as she is held captive in a brothel in Gbagada, a suburb of Lagos, where she has to sleep with men old enough to be her father and surrender her entire earnings to a woman designated as her aunty. In return, the aunty gives Martha a sum she deems sufficient to cater for her basic needs.
The more than two decades old brothel is located close to Sawmill Bus-stop in Gbagada. In it resides a cartel of mature prostitutes called aunties, to whom younger girls like Martha are responsible. The older prostitutes act as guardians to the younger ones aged between 14 and 19 years. Most of the girls are said to have been lured to Lagos from Edo and Delta states by their aunties. With a promise of the good life, the girls follow the aunties to Lagos only to be lured into prostitution.
The cartel’s mode of operation is similar to those that have been reported about innocent Nigerian girls lured into prostitution in Europe. The girls, who are mostly from poor parental backgrounds and broken homes, serve their aunties for as long as two years before they are deemed matured enough to stand on their own.
A source in the hotel told our correspondent that for a newly recruited girl to become a member of the prostitution ring, her aunty has to pay the sum of N50,0000 to the proprietor of the brothel as registration fee. After that, the aunty makes the young girl to sleep with older men. All the proceeds from her sexual activities go to the aunty who decides how much is returned to the young girl as “pocket money”.
Our correspondent visited the hotel on a sunny day last week and met one of the girls named Martha, an indigene of Delta State. She was decked in a gown that barely covered her backside. Like a famished tigress, she rushed towards the reporter, offering him sex. After a brief discussion, she led the reporter to the brothel’s bar and was quickly joined by three of her colleagues.
Martha was the first to order for a bottle of a popular herbal drink called Alomo Bitters. With promise of a long-term friendship from the reporter, she opened up on her past and her dreams, narrating how she became a sex worker in the hotel.
Surprisingly, she doubles as an apprentice hairdresser, hoping to settle down into hairdressing business someday. But for now, she is under contract to serve her aunty for 11 more months, during which she must hand over her entire earnings.
Martha said: “My aunty is very nice. She gives me money, depending on how much I make in a day. I am from Delta State, and I am learning to become a hairdresser. I will leave next year after my service. After that, I will open a shop and become a businesswoman.”
It took her no time to finish her drink and order for another bottle. At this stage, the discussion became livelier, as the four girls freely talked about their lives as prostitutes in the brothel.
“I am very brave,” said Martha, beating her chest as she spoke. “I can take on as many men as are available at a time.”
But going by her confessions, she is an endangered species. Besides the meager nature of her income, she is daily exposed to the danger of being defrauded or physically assaulted by the men that patronise her. Only a few days earlier, she lost her cell phone, which she said she bought for N32, 000, to a client from whom she had only reaped N2,000.
She said: “The man stole my phone after paying me N2,000. I called the number and he picked it, but claimed that the phone belonged to him.”
Asked if she was not afraid of contracting HIV/AIDS, she said she had received enough lessons on how to protect herself against sexually transmitted diseases and other dangers that come with her trade. She said apart from insisting that her clients must wear condom, she had been taught not to get carried away when entertaining them.
“The first thing they taught us was that men are cunning, and that we should be very careful with them. We also go for medical check-ups regularly. But one thing is that we don’t sleep with men without condoms,” she said.
Martha is not alone in this modern day slavery. She has a partner in soft-spoken Janet, an indigene of Edo State. At 17, the second child in a family of seven says she took to prostitution because she wanted to make a success of her life.
In her barely audible voice, she said she was forced to go into prostitution because her elder sister was not discharging her responsibilities towards their parents. She is expected to gain her freedom in November, when she would have served her aunty for more than one year.
She told a pathetic story of the events that led her into prostitution, saying that unlike Martha, she plans to go back to school.
“I want to go back to school. I came here because there was nothing else for me to do. But once I finish serving my aunty, I will leave this place completely and make sure that I go back to school,” she said.
Interestingly, Janet is in the business with her cousin, 15-year-old Pat. Evidently more daring and outspoken than her two other colleagues, Pat declared that she wanted the reporter to have a relationship with the three of them. “I like you. If you no mind, all of us fit be your friend,” she said, her colleagues nodding in affirmation while she continued to do justice to the bottles of Climax energy drink in front of her.
A quick tour of the brothel revealed that it contained 54 rooms, each allocated to an aunty. While a first-time visitor would only notice the front gate and the rear gates, a closer observation would reveal other entry and exit points.
The arrangement of the rooms makes it difficult for a non-regular visitor to master the terrain. The source at the hotel said the arrangement was meant to conceal the activities of the prostitutes.
According to the source, 14 of the rooms are allocated to teenage prostitutes while the rest are occupied by their older and more experienced aunties.
At Room 19, a busty lady, probably in her 30s, sat on a stool by the door. Asked why she was idle at that time of the day, she said she was waiting for prospective clients, adding that business had been dull because of the Ramadan period.
She jumped up at the reporter’s suggestion of a deal. After a quick negotiation, she agreed to take N750, down by N250 from the N1,0000 she demanded initially.
A visit to Room 32 revealed that the occupant was one of the aunties named Faith, from Edo State. She agreed to give a younger girl to the reporter for a fee to be agreed. But she argued that she was capable of anything the younger girls could offer.
Upon the reporter’s insistence, she dashed to Room 30, where some of her girls were sleeping at the time. The lot fell on 19-year-old Sarah, who quickly went to another room to prepare the bed.
The innocent-looking girl felt disappointed when she returned moments later and was told that the reporter had changed his mind, but with a promise to come back later in the evening. She ran back into the room, ostensibly to steal a few minutes of sleep before another client would come knocking.
Such has been the lot of the young girls in the brothel. They take care of the sexual needs of their clients at night and give the proceeds to the aunties. Yet the little time they have to rest or in the day time is repeatedly punctuated by clients who stroll in, in the day.
A funny incident had occurred at the brothel the previous night. Encouraged by the hotel source, the reporter had stormed the hotel at exactly 8:30 pm, hoping to take pictures of the girls’ activities. One needed no one to tell him that one had stepped into an ‘unholy’ ground. From one room to the other, both the young and the old prostitutes showcased their ‘wares’ with skimpy dresses.
One of them named Jessica said she had been expecting a customer for more than two hours without luck. The reporter’s arrival therefore gave her the hope of making some money, which she said had been scarce since the commencement of Ramaddan. Jessica, who claims to be a mother of one, lamented the lull that had occasioned the fasting period. She also said she had been unlucky with her love life.
According to her, she had her child, who is now 11 years old, after she was put in the family way by her boyfriend. The man later denied the pregnancy, leaving her and her poor family to cater for the boy.
She said: “I was in JSS3 at the time, and I was too young to understand anything. So, when I became pregnant, I told my boyfriend about it, but he denied it and ran away. That was how I stopped going to school. After about two years, I came to Lagos to hustle. One aunty then introduced me to this business.”
But in spite of all that she has been through, Jessica insists she has no regrets about her past. “What is there for me to regret now?” she asked rhetorically.
It is now more than a decade that Jessica took the unholy path of selling her body for money, but both joy and wealth, the twin reasons she opted for prostitution, have eluded her. Rather she has had an unsettled life, with no decent home or man to call her own.
While denied having any regret, it was obvious that Jessica was not the happiest of women. Her expectations from the trade were far from being met. Unfortunately, she has no other profession to turn to.
She said: “Let me confess, I thought I would have made it more than this. At a point, I even tried to travel to Italy, but the aunty who wanted to help me stole all the money that I saved. She asked me to bring N500, 000, promising to take me to Italy. I was able to raise about N400, 000, which I gave to her. But after that day, I never saw her again. If I didn’t lose that money, I might have stopped this business by now.”
For Jessica and the other young girls in the brothel, the future looks bleak. What with their meager daily earnings, most of which they spend on feeding, medicals and fairly used clothes. Whatever is left in the end cannot guarantee the flashy lifestyle that prompted them to go into the trade.
It is no longer a secret that more than one thousand Nigerian girls are trafficked to different countries by prostitution rings in Europe every month. The unholy trade has assumed a height never seen before in the last decade, with Italy as choice destination.
However, recent investigation has shown that the crime is gradually declining in Western Europe following strict laws on illegal migration and the efforts of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).
But while the fight against the international prostitution rings may be gaining momentum, with relative success, locally-based prostitution rings are devising a model fashioned after the Europe-based rings to lure young and innocent girls into the world’s oldest profession.