‘Enslaved for Life’: An Encounter With Underage Girls Coerced Into Prostitution in Ilorin
Home to one of the largest central mosques in North-central Nigeria, Ilorin is greatly revered for its devout religiosity. However, amid the imperious Islamic abidance that pervades the city lies a cabal of night traders; brothels, teeming with young, underage girls. For four days, I scoured two brothels in Ilorin in Ilorin West Local Government Area of Kwara State, investigating the circumstances behind the initiation of these young girls into the egregious trade; and importantly, how they have been surviving. I found that many of the young prostitutes operating from these brothels were lured from far villages, with promises of better jobs. Sadly, today, many of them see no hope of returning home to their loved ones. It looks like they have been enslaved, for life.
Located in the heart of Ilorin, Unity Road is famous for its boisterous nature of fish and perishable good peddlers during the day. However, beyond the consumables being sold during the day, this environment at night transforms into a conclave for lewd activities. Arriving the area on the on the evening of March 30, I got skeptical on what to do and how to make my approach, considering the long assembly of skimpily dressed young girls gracing the road side under dimly-lit blue and yellow light bulbs. They were of varying complexion, ages and sizes, but surely bonded by the oldest trade on earth—prostitution. As I made my parade though the queue of girls, one thing which struck me was the fact that, they all spoke with an intonation that belonged only to a part of the country—the South-east Nigeria
As I proceeded, void of whom to approach or how to start a conversation with a sex hawker, I sighted a young lady, standing right beside a parked van. Unlike others, she was unassuming and carried an aura of reticence. With my heart speeding, I approached her, talked a few seconds, negotiated the price and trailed her as we made for her room, occasionally interrogating her as we marched. Part of the questions I asked as we journeyed on was her age, to which she responded, gleefully, sixteen.
Dimly lit, housing a 4 by 4 mattress, a portable standing fan, a big roll of tissue paper, some ragged cloths hanging on from the window and a few visible pills on the table, the lanky, dark girl’s—who later revealed her name to be Mirian—room was quite impressive; at least, more than what I had daydreamt of. Who would believe a road-side prostitute’s room had a carpet? Well, Mirian’s own had a fine blue one.
We entered and the first thing she did was to stretch her hand for fees. Feigning ignorance, I gave her a wryly smile and whisper I’d pay after the service. She declined and explained to me that the ‘Madam’ has enforced a pay-before-service order, as several customers, had in the past, taken to their heels, after having their way with some of the girls. Well, I made the payment and she hurriedly scuffled the money in her revealing brassiere with her right hand, while uncovering a Gold Circle condom with the other. Of course, the Nigerian law prescribes 18 years as the age of consent, and provides that anyone who has carnal knowledge of a child less than eighteen risks life imprisonment; but before me was a 16-year-old Mirian, half-naked, already.
As Mirian made her way into my trousers, I halted her abruptly; “I am not here for this,” was the first sentence that came out of my mouth. She looked up to my eyes and I explained to her that all I wanted was to become her friend and particularly hear her story. I teased her for a few minutes, occasionally assessing the room and its contents. Without allowing her utter a word, I stretched my phone to her on which she hurriedly typed her phone number, dialed it and gave it back. I promised to call her the next day and then rose up to leave.
On what seemed like an easy mission, well, maybe because myself being a very fine young man, I let out a sigh of relief as I stepped out of the room to find my way home. The look of surprise on her face was very evident; perhaps she wondered what kind of man would pay a prostitute and not have his way with her.
Like I had promised, I called Amarachi the next day and booked an appointment so I could have a face-to-face chat with her. Well, we agreed on meeting the next day at a bar, right along her street.
When the D-day finally arrived, I carried my national identity card, as well as my smart phone—my only means of voice recording—and set out. When I arrived at the bar, Mirian was already waiting for me, this time, together with one of her friends.
Interestingly, as we discussed, I noticed on Loveth an alarming countenance of fright. Unlike the gregarious girl I met a day before, before me was a more taciturn, shy girl. During our conversation, Loveth revealed to me that she joined the trade at the age of fifteen. She added that she and the other girls were each given the target amount to make every month for the ‘Madam’ who brought them there. According to her, “I sleep with around 6 men in one day, depending on how lively the day go (sic). We receive more customers here during Christmas. During Christmas season, I make as much as that 12 thousand a day. We used to collect N1,000 for short services, but we had to bring down the amount to N500 because of Covid-19.”
When asked how she found herself there, Mirian narrated that, “One of my friends who had travelled to the city came to the village to celebrate Christmas some years back. When she came, she dressed so well and used the latest Android phone. So I approached her and requested to follow her while returning to the city. She refused, but promised to introduce me to a man who would help me. When she travelled back, she sent me the man’s number and I called him. The man said he would help me get a job and that I should send him ten thousand naira (N10,000), which I did. When I arrived Ilorin, he took me to a woman who made me swear never to tell my family members and that as long as I do everything she commands, I would be fine. That was how I began the trade.”
When I asked her if truly she has kept it a secret from her relatives, she averred that “I can’t tell anyone, especially my mother. Telling my mother now will surely send her to an early grave. I have been lying to her through the phone that I work as a house girl to a big madam here in Ilorin. It is from the gains I make here I send something to her and my other younger sister. And trust me, I have started saving. Once I save a few more months, I will leave this job and open a supermarket for myself; a supermarket where I will sell baby clothing.”
Before I left that day, Loveth narrated to me the story of her close friend, Martha, 17, whom she came with.
“I sleep with around 6 men in one day, depending on how lively the day go (sic). We receive more customers here during Christmas. During Christmas season, I make as much as that 12 thousand a day. We used to collect N1,000 for short services, but we had to bring down the amount to N500 because of Covid-19.”
According to her, Martha lost both her parents in a car accident and came down here to live with her maternal uncle. After a while, she came under the abuse of her uncle who would occasionally lock her outside the house whenever she didn’t allow him have his way. When the troubles got unbearable, she was forced to find succor at the brothel, after a friend took pity on her and introduced her to their “Madam”.
Amarachi, 17, dressed in a short light blue gown, sat among two other skimpily-dressed girls on a wooden bench in front of a kiosk, staring vaguely at passersby, with wraps of what looked like marijuana on their hands. By my conjecture, the oldest amongst the girls could not be more than eighteen years.
As I drew closer, the dull appearance on their faces screamed of drunkenness. I needed no prophet to tell me they had taken a considerable dose of Alcohol and smoke. Around them also were empty bottles of Dry Gin (a very strong spirit drink, popular among touts). Beside them, four lanky women in their late 30s and two men were discussing over wrapped marijuana and countless green bottles of beer. As I approached Amarachi, the other girls immediately advanced towards me. Disappointment gathered on their faces when, with a wave of my hand, I pointed at Amarachi who was seated, and probably didn’t expect that.
“Me?” she asked. I nodded in affirmation with a smile; and the rest, they say, is history.
The walls of her room were dingy from what looked like oil stains. As I sat down, I noticed the mattress was really neat and hefty as against what the walls of the room portrayed. Before could say a thing, I quickly chipped in that I was there to make friends with her and nothing more. I also added that I was in haste to somewhere and would want to see and discuss later, maybe the next day. With her mouth widely opened in utter shock, I slipped a few note of naira palm and dashed out of the shanty.
The second day, I returned in a dark blue jean and a black T-shirt. As I approached the building, Amarachi sighted me from afar and jogged straight towards me, with her breasts, jiggling left and right.
“Fine boy, you are here again?” she asked in a friendly tone as she gave me a big grin.
“Yes ooo, I am here. How are you?” I retorted.
After the exchange of pleasantries, we located a cool spot and sat to devour some snacks I came with, and then the conversation began after a few bites on her pie.
“This is my third year here. I came here since I was 15 years old. I came from Enugu to Ilorin with my friend’s uncle. He promised me a lot of things before we left for Ilorin that year. He said that he would give me a job as a sales representative in one of the big shops he owned but this is where he brought me. For three years, this place has been my home. Life is very tough here. If we do not sleep with men, we will not eat,” she said, almost in tears. Pointing to her upper lap where there was a fresh, squeamish scar, Amarachi told me it was from a machete cut she got for attempting to run away; “I wanted to go home. The night I tried escaping here, I was captured, beaten and cut across various parts of my body. They said that that would serve as a reminder that I am now owned and as a warning to never try escaping again.” She added with now teary eyes.
Amarachi told me about another girl, Juliana, who had been brought to the brothel for over eight years.
“This is my third year here. I came here since I was 15 years old. I came from Enugu to Ilorin with my friend’s uncle. He promised me a lot of things before we left for Ilorin that year. He said that he would give me a job as a sales representative in one of the big shops he owned but this is where he brought me. For three years, this place has been my home. Life is very tough here. If we do not sleep with men, we will not eat.”
When I asked her why she hasn’t gone to the police station to report, since the A Division Police Station is just a 4-minutes’ walk from her, she forced a bitter smile and said, in tears, “The police? She asked rhetorically. I tried to put her words in context. Could it mean that the police were not unaware of the atrocity being perpetrated around them?
There is no law against prostitution in Nigeria. In fact, in December 2019, a court ruled against the arrest of commercial sex workers in Abuja by law enforcement officials.
A social commentator, Adisa Promise, told me the act of prostitution will be greatly reduced, only if laws punishing child traffickers are enforced. He also berated the lackadaisical stance of the government at issues that pertain to the girl-child, especially in this part of Nigeria.
Featured Image Credit: Samuel Adewumi
As a graduate of English and Literary Studies, Samuel Adewumi is a nascent investigative journalist with an untamed penchant for reporting women-related issues, which has slung him into various critical and analytical reportages. His other works have been featured on Brittle Paper, Tell Magazine, GermaneToMinds, and on other literature publishing platforms. He hopes, one day, his works will be of self-rejuvenation for all socially reprobated homo sapiens.
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