Ijora Badia: still Lagos bursting “sex centre”
Walking through the railway line in Ijora Badia, a Lagos slum located in Apapa-Iganmu Local Council Development, one may not need to be told how bad the area really is. Apart from the filthy atmosphere, coupled with the swampy nature of the environment, the community is a beehive of activities 24 hours of the day.
While the peddlers of so called legitimate businesses display their wares, ranging from foodstuff, used clothes, water, sweets, cigarettes and the likes, women of easy virtues also in the broad day light do not fail to ‘display their own wares,’ in a business atmosphere patronised by all manner of customers.
Although sex work has become so lucrative and heavily patronised in the metropolis for many years, the extent of patronage and the daring nature of the prostitutes, who now wish to be called and addressed as commercial sex workers, plying their trade in Ijora is on a different and terrible dimension.
Virtually every house in the community houses sex workers and the large number of sex workers in the community, made up of young girls and women can only be shocking.
Sampling the opinions of some of the sex workers, not many of them were interested in the talk about the dangers of contracting HIV/AIDS. They were quick however to say ‘they take necessary precautions’ and that ‘they need the money they get to survive.’
Sex work is not legalised in Nigeria but many indulge in it across the country. However, there have been attempts by the sex workers to talk the powers that be into a possible legalisation of the trade in Africa’s largest population.
For some of the sex workers, situation of life lured them into the trade while some were recruited into the dangerous but ‘lucrative’ trade by relatives.
Lucy Sampson is a resident of one of the brothels in Ijora, who volunteered to speak with Sunday Newswatch. “My name is Lucy Sampson, I was a secondary school student in Delta State but when my sister called me to come and join her in her restaurant for us to raise money for my tertiary education, I was happy, thinking that after one or two years, I would be able to raise enough money for my tertiary education,” she narrated. Lucy’s story is similar to that of many other girls. She stated that she has been an orphan at a tender age, since when she and her siblings had lived with families from one place to the other.
She continued that, “when the suffering was much, my sister followed some of her friends to Lagos and after some time she called that she had started a business. Later she sent for me to join her in the business and on getting to Lagos, she said, to survive in Lagos, I have to use what I have, that was how I ended up here,” she said.
With virtually insufficient infrastructure, Ijora Badia is home to hundreds of commercial sex workers, who ply their trade day and night.
Femi Harrison has worked in Ijora for many years as a volunteer worker, who runs the International Mobile Educator Organisation, involved in sensitising residents against the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Harrison observes that as far back as 2009, there are no fewer than 40 brothels in the community with each having at least 22 rooms and the largest 120.
Apart from buildings deliberately erected to house the sex workers, there are many other make-shift structures made of planks and zinc, where all kinds of sexual transactions go on, especially at night.
“Sex is big business here” admits Benson, the barman at one of the hotels, where sex workers pay N300 for a room per night but charge between N400 and N1,500 depending on the “service rendered to the customers.”
Rita, one of the sex workers in the community said she took to the trade following the loss of her shop in a fire incident some years ago. “I am in this trade so that I won’t die of hunger” says Rita who explained she and other sex workers try to take necessary precautions, especially insisting on use of condom to avoid getting infected.
Another sex worker, 56 years old woman who simply introduced herself as Linda told Sunday Newswatch how she resulted to prostitution. “I am from Benue State. I am a single parent with three children. Two of them are in higher institution and there is no helper, I had to move down to Lagos to do business,” she said. When asked if she told her children the nature of her business, she asked: “How can I tell them that I am doing this kind of business?” “I cannot tell them o, I just told them I am trading and I do send money to them, in fact, I just returned from home some few weeks ago, it is my decision to do the sex work, it brings fast money though there are health and police danger,” she confessed.
Not all sex workers in Ijora Badia are permanent residents. Some come from various parts of Lagos at night and leave in the morning. Others leave after some months or a few years. The fluctuating population of sex workers is one major challenge for advocacy work in the community, according to Harrison.
On the challenges faced by advocacy workers, Harrison has this to say. “The traffic of people here fluctuates from time to time. If you call a female sex worker now and ask her what she knows about HIV/AIDS or condom, she may display near total ignorance, because she is new in the community. They move in and move out and that is why our work is a mobile one. We keep drumming the message as new people move in hoping that they will take necessary precautions”.
HIV test conducted by International Mobile Educator Organisation on several volunteers in the previous years revealed a high rate of infection among the sex workers. Twenty five out of the 100 persons tested were positive.
While some of those who tested positive have quit sex work, Harrison noted that “others are still engaged in it with their customers risking being infected, particularly those who are willing to pay the high fees charged for sex without condom called flesh to flesh.”
Much as they are not too happy with the bad image the activities of the sex workers as far back as 2009 have given the area, the Head of the Community, Chief Titus Aworetan says there is not much that can be done to curb the sex trade.
“We can’t dictate to people what they should do or not but we as much as possible we expect people to live responsibly and take the various campaigns against HIV/AIDS more seriously.
“Considering that many of the sex workers claim they are in it to survive, the government may need to provide necessary amenities and avenues for people to be gainfully employed.”
According to the social workers in the area, the community of sex workers in Ijora is divided into two major parts; the young girls and the older women. While the younger girls attract bigger customers, the old ladies are consolation for those with lean pockets.
Kamaru Ashimawu is a butcher who resides in the slums of Ijora. With a stick of cigarette in one hand, Kamaru pointed to what could be referred to as the highbrow of the area. “That side is for the younger girls and they charge about 1,500 while the other side is for the older ones, some of them in their 50s and 60s,” he said, pointing to the various buildings housing the prostitutes. Ashimawu stated further that when there is no job and no money in the pocket, we are forced to patronise the older women who charge between 300 and 600. Probing further what other factors are responsible for the disparity in prices, Sunday Newswatch gathered that apart from the satisfaction derived from sexual activities involving the older or the younger women, the house rents for the both categories vary. While the daily accommodation of the younger ladies stand between 800 and 1,000 per day, the daily house rent for the old women mostly do not exceed 300 per day and this is one of the factors controlling the charges.
According to Kamaru, a chain smoker, the girls also sizes up their customers and would often charge according to status. Another factor he did not fail to mention is the duration of the sexual activity and the choice of condom which are also responsible for the charges. “When we are bent on doing it without condoms for maximum satisfaction, the girls may charge higher and if it is going to be an all night thing which we call ‘day break’, it can go high up from 1,500 and above,” he explained.
However, a pastor with the Mountain of Fire and Miracles who runs an outreach ministry to the commercial sex workers narrates his experience among the sex workers. Pastor Frank Abang has experience ministering among commercial sex workers who he claims must also hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and must be rehabilitated. According to Abang, “prostitutes also need to hear the gospel and must see the love of Jesus Christ as well, that is why I had an outreach to them,” he said.
Abang stated further that “the strategy I adopted is to go to where they operate and sit down with them, sometimes, it costs me to buy them drinks before they can listen to me, besides they sometimes feel I was wasting their time, so sometimes too I pay for their time and that makes them comfortable to listen to the story I want to tell them,” the cleric, who testified that some of them had changed their trade and continued to live a positive life after series of counseling from the word of God remembered that “I once met a girl who hung a giant poster of a popular man of God, (whose name I will not mention) in his room. I asked her why she hung that postal and she confessed that she is a member of his church and she participates in all the church activities, I was shocked she had a Bible, a bottle of the anointing oil and all the things they use in the church and this confirms that with more prayers and counseling and financial support, some of these girls can have a change of heart”
With the recent demolition of parts of the slum for a proposed housing estate, a chunk of the sex workers may have relocated to other parts of Lagos State for a greener and more conducive pasture. The question whether prostitution can be stamped out in the society is one that would remain a rhetoric for a very long time to come, this is because apart from the fact that the business is not socially and openly accepted, being a defiant behaviour, it has also not become a criminal offense in the country.
Meanwhile parents and guardians should beware of the company their female children keep because evil communications would always corrupt good manner and they must also ensure that their children are well catered for to avoid a possible slip into crimes some of which can lead them into prostitution.