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Many young women and girls are caught in the web of commercial sex trade in the nation’s seat of power, Abuja, daring the attendant dangers, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.

Every night, thousands of women and girls in Nigeria stand the risk of numerous dangers and even death in the practice of trading their bodies for money to total strangers they meet on the streets.

According to a 2020 Statista online report, the estimated number of sex workers in 10 states of Nigeria was about 874,000. These figures represent only a fraction of the total across 36 states and the Federal capital Territory.

In Abuja, the nation’s capital, though there are no official records of the number of sex workers that roam the streets at night; reports indicate an increase in their activities in major areas like Gwarimpa, Kubwa, Utako, Jabi, Wuse Zone 4, Wuse 2, Garki II, among other places.

In this report, Daily Trust on Sunday examined the dangers of commercial sex trade as an interview with some commercial sex workers in Abuja’s Garki II area revealed fearful and regretful experiences.

Tales of woe on Lagos Street

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Located in the Garki II area of Abuja, the Lagos Street vicinity is known for its bubbling commercial activities in the daytime, as well as a pulsating night life. But beyond the mercantile lies another trade that is perfectly masked in the darkness of night.

Joy (not her real name) is a 32-year-old dark skinned single mother of one, who lives at Lungun Gurguwa, one of the sub streets that branches off from Lagos Street.

Being in the commercial sex trade for about eight years, Joy recounts years of regrets and pain as she spoke about near death experiences encountered in the hands of clients she met on Lagos Street, as well as recounting how one of the sex workers on the street sadly lost her life in the process.

While brushing off tears from her eyes, Joy narrated how a client had picked her up one evening from Lagos Street, on their way to Gwarimpa but drove to Apo Roundabout.

“When we reached the transformer location, after finishing everything in his car; he removed his pistol and wanted to shoot me. He then asked me to get down from his car and it was at midnight. Since I had nobody to help me, I just got off the car,” she said.

Narrating a second encounter, she added that “Around Zone 4, early one morning between 4 and 5am, the man that carried me was taking me to Wuse 2 and when we reached Zone 4 bridge, the guy parked and while I was thinking that he stopped to remove something, he pulled out a knife and told me to bring all the money I had if not he was going to kill me.

“I told him that I am out here looking for my son’s school fees and that I had not made any money throughout the night. That was the only thing that made the guy pity me and he told me to leave his car, adding that he let me go only because of that son I said I have, if not he was going to kill me even if I didn’t have any money.”

Seeming to be in constant contact with dangers, Binta and Grace (not their real names) also live in fear as they trade with strangers daily.

While 28-year-old Grace, from the Eastern part of Nigeria says she banks on her luck not to lose her life to this practice one day; she has however sustained bruises on her body, which she said came from an accident.

On her part, 34-year-old Binta who hails from the far North says due to the hazards involved in the trade, “There’s something that I wear on my body; if something bad is going to happen then that thing will show me.”

In spite of life-threatening experiences like that of Joy and stories of those that actually lost their lives in the course of commercial sex trade, many still cling to the practice.

Caught between hard drugs, pimps and death

According to a 2018 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), one out of every four people who use drugs in Nigeria is a woman.

For many women who engage in sex trade, hard drugs embolden them, taking the edge off their horrible experiences.

The euphoric feeling of hard drugs often dulls their conscience and suppresses the anxieties of the horrors of life on the streets.

Joy confirmed by saying that her worst experience was when she started taking drugs. “Every day I wake up and see myself on the streets, I shed tears because bad friends are the reason I got introduced to drugs.”

Aliyu (not his real name) is a pimp, whose activities include arranging clients for these ladies. While speaking in Hausa, he corroborated that those in the sex trade are unable to “do their work without drugs, saying some of the women depend on cigarettes or weed while others will make use of tramadol alongside other hard drugs.”

He confessed taking drugs himself, adding that he is also a conduit through which these girls get drug supplies.

As a pimp, Aliyu said that some of the sex workers meet him to arrange clients for them at a price while “clients sometimes come to us and demand for girls. We get girls within the ages of 16, 17, 18 and more; so, we arrange and take the girl to the person and when the girl comes back, she will give us some tips. You can take a girl to someone and he gives you N2,000, another might give you N3,000, but if you get a big man, he can give up to N5,000.”

Aliyu added that in the course of business, there are girls who face terrible experiences as he recalled an episode that happened not more than a year ago.

He said, “A girl I knew was picked up by an unknown client who offered N10,000 to her, but before leaving, she gave me N2,000. The next morning, we heard that her dead body was found on the bridge, badly mutilated.”

‘Our families ignorant of what we do’

While it is considered an act of responsibility for older children to move out of their parents’ homes and make a living as well as care for their parents in return, some parents have no idea what their wards actually do.

One narrative is consistent with these girls, that their parents are completely ignorant of what they do in Abuja.

Known for her saloon business while with her father and a son in the Eastern part of Nigeria, single mother of two, Blessing says her father thinks she is still running her saloon business in Abuja. “My father thinks I make hair,” she said.

Meanwhile, Binta who left her family in the North after a misunderstanding with her step mother says that none of her family members knows what she does.

With impenitence in her voice, Binta says she currently owns a saloon in Abuja but still engages in commercial sex trade. Though Binta expressed future plans to focus on her saloon business and leave the streets, she cautiously warns that her parents must never know what she does in Abuja.

Evident health hazards

“A friend of mine who is also into this trade has now become a thing of pity because she is currently so sick. Though they say she has been infected with different kinds of diseases, the two I know of is HIV and paralysis,” says Binta.

Besides the fear of being killed in the process, these commercial sex workers face health and psychological dangers, most of which they said they are well aware of.

Dr Tochukwu, a physician at the Rouz Hospital in Abuja, during an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday spoke about some health risks to include sexually transmitted diseases like Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), genital warts, cervical cancer, among other diseases.

Speaking on more hazards associated with commercial sex trade, Dr Tochukwu recalled an experience at the hospital. “A lady was rushed in at about 1am bleeding profusely from her privates; through further questioning, we found out that she was engaging in sexual activity with someone. On exploration of the injured part, we found out there was a serious cervical injury which took us time to repair properly; the restoration was aggressive but the good news is that it all ended well.”

Meanwhile, besides the unwanted pregnancies and complications that may follow termination of such pregnancies; he added that physical abuse is prevalent which according to him could lead to depression, if not death.

Religious perspective to practice

Despite the prevalence of commercial sex trade in the country, the two main religions practiced in the country outrightly condemn their activities.

Sheik Muhammed Abubakar of the Apo Legislative Quarters Mosque in Abuja, said anything associated with fornication is abominable and considered haram. He added that “Allah SWT says in the holy Quran Surah Al-Isra (17:32) “Do not go near adultery; this shows that fornication is haram whether one is doing it for the purpose of earning a living or for the purpose of satisfying one’s desire it is still the same. It is totally haram and taking it as a means of livelihood is very wrong.

“Islamically, it is haram for one to engage in such act and it is the duty of the ummah, government and everybody to try and see that this thing stops; it must come to an end. We shouldn’t fold our arms and look at our women and girls roaming about streets engaging in this sinful act,” he said.

Speaking in a similar vein, Reverend Emmanuel Alex Bunka of the Anglican Church of the Resurrection, Maiduguri, said any form of sexual practice outside marriage is a sin. “Christianity as a religion highly condemns the practice of commercial sex and all forms of filthiness. The Bible said in the Book of Romans 12:1 that we should present our bodies unto God as living sacrifices holy and acceptable unto God.

“This simply means our body should be indwelled with the Holy Spirit, not to join our body with a harlot. (1 Cor 6:16) Also, the Bible said in 1 Cor 6:13; “Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord and the Lord for the body”; the Bible encourages all men to work with dignity and respect to earn a living rather than engaging in commercial sex,” he said.

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