There was a time when the red-light districts of Lagos like Allen Avenue, Opebi, Ojuelegba and CMS, among others, bustled with human traffic of customers and s*x traders who paraded their ‘flesh wares’ under the glare of traffic lights in the night.
Those days, when young women in various stages of undress walked up to any vehicle that pulled over beside them and made seductive gestures to male occupants in a relaxed manner, seem to have passed.
Now, as Saturday PUNCH investigation revealed, a new desperation has descended on the sex traders of Lagos, one with a hungry intent to make quick cash, any amount of cash even, just to survive the hard times, as fewer customers visit the sex hubs.
There is no doubt that the economic crunch in the country has made these young women hungrier. As companies are developing strategies to survive hard times, Lagos prostitutes have re-strategised their operations in order to cope.
In one of the “fact-finding missions” of our correspondents to Allen Avenue, Tania, a young woman, whose youthful but heavily made up face suggested she could be between the ages of 22 and 26, told one of our correspondents, who posed as a prospective customer, that she would prefer an overnight service.
Asked why, as all her negotiations tended towards the fact that she did not like the popular “short-time”, favoured by men who simply want to “get in and get out”, Tania explained the economic sense in her strategy.
“I won’t have to pay for the daily room charge to Sisi Mi (apparently, the sobriquet of her madam). Even if I do short-time and I don’t use the room, we do it beside a wall or on the boot of your car, so far as I go back to the room this night, I will still have to pay,” she said.
Before the dark cloud of economic crisis descended on the sex trade in Lagos, sex workers in the city charged between N10,000 and N20,000 for an overnight service depending on a customer’s bargaining power.
Tania readily agreed to N5,000 but she added the caveat that our correspondent must buy her a plate of food on the way home.
Despite efforts by Tania to mask the desperation showing in her voice, it was clear the young lady did not want to get through the night with an empty pocket in a season when customers are not forthcoming.
Our correspondents learnt that in the days of plenty customers, Lagos sex workers hardly showed patience with any customer, whom they suspected did not have any interest in obtaining their service.
Commercial sex workers are aware that many young men simply derive satisfaction from engaging them, discussing prices, telling them to show enticing body parts, only to walk away from the bargain. These are fools prostitutes do not suffer gladly.
But that night, Tania was unusually patient, another evidence of the desperation in the trade.
When our correspondent later discharged her with an excuse that instantly brought an expression of disappointment on her face, she turned back a moment later as she made to walk away.
One might have concluded that she wanted to say something to make her bargain more enticing.
But she simply brought out her phone.
“Can you give me your number? I will give you mine too,” Tania said.
The inquiring eyebrow she saw made her explain further.
“If you know anyone who needs a cleaner or housemaid, please let me know. I am good at such jobs. I am only doing this to survive,” she said.
It was a frank explanation, one that laid bare the underlying financial struggle that sometimes pushes many of the young women into the sex trade.
At Allen Roundabout, one of our correspondents was relaxed with a bottle of drink at Pekas, a popular bar known to host many ladies of the night.
It was instantly noticed that the spot, which used to be thronged by numerous sex traders, was no longer what it used to be in terms of human traffic.
A light-skinned young lady, who seemed to be in her 20s, strolled by immediately and introduced herself as Ruth, desperate to strike up a conversation with the man sitting all alone.
In the middle of the conversation, she pointed out that it was quite impolite of the gentleman not to offer her a drink.
She then took it upon herself to call one of the waiters who evidently knew her and ordered a bottle of beer.
During the conversation, she could not help complaining about how unprofitable the trade had become as she tried to explain why so many of her colleagues who used to parade the streets were not available.
She simply could not hide the fact that she was desperate to spend the night with our correspondent.
“How much this job dey pay?” “You know the risk involved in this job?” switching to fluent English she continued, “Most of us on the streets are not happy to be here. If you are lucky, you meet a decent man and he takes you off the street. Girls are becoming fewer here because they are looking for greener pastures,” she said.
The lady, who later identified herself as Ruth, further shared a story of her colleague who had become a business owner courtesy of a man whom she serviced regularly.
“Sade is lucky,” Ruth said, as she made a sympathetic gesture to another young lady on the side of the road, who had just been rebuffed by a motorist passing by.
She said, “Like play, like play, Sade don leave us waka. I was there when a young man she called Richie first came to pick her. Later, he began visiting monthly. To cut the long story short, the bobo began to tell Sade he liked her because she is really beautiful.
“She told him that she would love to stop this job and he helped her out. As we speak, Sade is a shop owner somewhere in Ogba, Lagos, and she sells wine and other drinks.”
When Ruth noticed that the correspondent was not willing to play ball, she rounded off the conversation with a prayer.
“I pray that the Lord that took Sade out of the street would also favour me,” she said.
When asked how much would be needed to take her off the street, her eyes suddenly lit up and she said, “Bros, If I see a job that pays N45,000, I’ll stop this hustle.”
But it turned out that like others met earlier, many if the ladies shared the same feeling.
At a brothel situated at the top floor of a three-storey building around the Ojuelegba Bus Stop, at least 15 sex workers mill around the place per night.
It was learnt that the preference of these young ladies was “short-time” for which they charge between N1,000 and N1,500.
When one of our correspondents paid a visit, the ladies swarmed the prospective customer like a swarm of bees as usual, showering him with compliments.
Sitting in the bar of the brothel, a young woman, who had been making seductive moves almost broke into a run just to come over when she was beckoned on.
The ensuing conversation revealed her trade name to be Gift and she further explained that she lived in Ikeja and came to the brothel daily. How true this was could not be ascertained.
Gift initially said she charged N1,500 for a “short-time but when one of our correspondents told her that he had only N500, she pleaded that he should make it N700.
Gift obliged to have some drinks and once she started drinking, she sang like a minstrel.
Gift said that “market” was very poor at the moment and all the girls were feeling it. Like most of her colleagues, her reason for getting into the trade was financial desperation.
“If I get a good job like this ehn? I don commot be that,” she said in pidgin English.
According to Gift, she is a secondary school dropout and this has been affecting her chances of getting the kind of jobs that are good enough to take her out of the sex trade.
She told Saturday PUNCH that before she became a commercial sex worker, she worked in a factory that paid her a salary that could barely feed her, even though she was used like a slave.
She said to make matter worse, the expatriates who ran the factory made life unbearable and whenever she complained to her friends, she was always advised to quit her job and join them on the street.
So, after working in the factory for about two years as a contract employee without any savings, she threw in the towel and joined her friends.
Gift said, “I have been in this job for about three years now. I am not ashamed because I need to survive. But every day, I pray to God for any helper because I know I cannot get a good job with my qualification but with the right connection, anything can happen.
“I don’t mind being a receptionist because I am pretty and I speak well but God has not given me that opportunity.”
When asked if she was the only one who had the desire to quit the profession, she simply said, “Ask any of the girls here, almost everyone would tell you they want a decent job. I don’t know anybody who wants to do this till she dies,” she said.
But when a s*x worker whom our correspondents met at Empire Street, Ojuelegba, Surulere, another hub for the sex trade in Lagos, voiced her opinion about why customers were scarce, her explanation was even more serious.
S*x workers certainly know how to choose simple trade names that customers might find pleasing to the ear.
For this s*x worker, a dark complexioned lady with tired eyes and lips that sent out a plume of cigarette smoke each time she talked, the name of choice was Rose.
Sex workers like Rose would readily engage any young man in a conversation as long as they believe that the end result would be that their services would be sought.
“When money no dey, how prick wan stand?” she said in pidgin English, in response to an earlier question that it seemed she and her colleagues were no longer getting customers like before.
Her explanation that when there is no money, men are not likely to think of sex, may sound simple and funny but has an underlying truth.
In fact, experts suggest that financial trouble that brings stress is one of the psychological causes of lack of erection or erectile dysfunction.
“The brain plays a key role in triggering the series of physical events that cause an erection. A number of things can interfere with sexual feelings and cause or worsen erectile dysfunction like depression, anxiety and stress,” doctors and researchers at global health care organisation, Mayo Clinic, said.
Apart from this, it is unlikely that a man who has no money to eat would have any to purchase sex.
To find out why Rose already looked tired that night, one of our correspondents asked her how many customers she had already attended to in order to get a sense of how often customers still seek her services.
“Two” she held up two fingers. The time was almost midnight. Suspicion crept over her face a moment later and she said, “Why you dey ask?”
It seemed her tired face might be from parading the streets endlessly without finding many customers after all.
But she did agree to a “short-time” (one round) of N500.
“You sef know say that price too small. Market no dey at all, now you dey get am almost free, you still dey consider am? Rose said, when she sensed some hesitation.
Even though there was no doubt that Rose’s colleagues would have taken the same price slash, she bluffed and pointed to her friends.
“See those girls, even though nothing dey their body like my own, dem go vex if dem hear say I dey call this kain price for you. Dem go say I dey spoil market for them, But me I just dey consider una,” she added.
One of our correspondents decided to take the conversation further and asked why she did not quit altogether if the trade had become that unprofitable.
To this, Rose shook her head as if disbelieving the ignorance behind such a question.
She explained that since the time she started the trade, no time had been this worse.
According to her, she had done all she could to find a job but had got nothing.
“As you see me, I finished secondary school. What do you do? Maybe you can help me find work?” she switched from pidgin to proper English in an effort to support her level of education.
Asked what she could do, Rose explained that she could work in a business centre and operate a computer. She added that when she finished secondary school and there was no way for her to proceed for higher learning, she learnt how to make beads in Umuahia.
It was also gathered that business is dull at a popular brothel called Jolly Friends, in Ikeja too. The ladies in this establishment looked older compared to the various establishments visited by our correspondents.
They seemed to be in their late 20s and early 30s and unlike the other brothels visited, these ladies seemed to be out for business strictly and no time for talking.
The two ladies that spoke to our correspondents only divulged scanty information after they felt the way their wares were bargained was ridiculous. They did not bother to give their names because they had seemingly detected that the young men in front of them were not interested in entering “the other room” with them.
One said, “See the way you dey price us. You think say na like that dem dey talk. If no be say things hard, I suppose don leave you enter room. How you go dey price me for N500? Wetin go cost you to make am N1,000?” she queried.
Her colleague was quick to chip in. In her statement, she made it known that the only reason they seemed desperate was because of the hardship experienced in the country.
“If no be the way things be, you fit come dey price us like this before. This time last year, if you no get 5k, wetin you for dey find for here. I no blame you, na the economy I blame,” she said.