Ozioma Ubabukoh, Enugu
Otigba Street in Enugu is a known red-light district where students and non-students ply their trades at sunset. OZIOMA UBABUKOH explores the area and reports Night fall in Otigba, Enugu, is like summer season when visitors pour into the streets, ready for pleasurable moments. The hosts, with inviting cleavages and heavy backsides, dart for the best of their willing guests. Who are these guests? Joy, a mother of one, responds, "They are guys who are willing and can pay to have us all night."
Better, she says, "If he can't muster the strength, or he is not financially buoyant to keep us till the next morning, then we can do short time. It all depends on the person's pocket." 'Short time' for commercial sex workers can mean quick sex, or sharp-sharp in Pidgin.
As gathered from Joy, if it is a short time deal, it could be done quickly in the client's hotel room or apartment, or in a dark corner on one of the streets off Ogui Road or Ebeano Housing Estate, which are both linked with Otigba Roundabout.
Short time, she says, can go for between N500 and N1,000 in the dark spot, and between N1,500 and N2,000 in the client's hotel room or residence.
"Sometimes we are usually scared going with the person to his house so that we don't get raped, kidnapped or used for rituals, which is why we always insist on hotels, especially when it has to be an all-night exercise.
"But when we see the prospective customer as responsible or he is known to us, we won't hesitate following him to the house," she quips.
In impeccable English, she notes, "A till-dawn deal could go for as low as N3,000 and as high as N8,000, or higher, depending on the class of the girl to the client, or her bargaining power."
Joy, a secondary school drop-out, showed our correspondent the hang-outs. "Our hang-out points are Ogui Junction and the adjoining streets around it. When you move down, you will see some us standing by the road up to Nwodo Lane, which is opposite the Fire Service. Then you get to Otigba Roundabout which is central and our meeting point," she explains.
"You can also find some of us at the other end, which are the streets that take you either into Ebeano Estate or Bisala Road on Independence Layout.
"Above all, Eight Hours, a bar at the heart of Otigba, where you cand find the majority of us, while some others tilt towards the other bars and supermarkets beside it."
Ironically, Eight Hours is situated in front of the British Council building with a message on the wall - 'Stay away from unprotected sex. AIDS no dey show for face.'
This message, however, does not seem to perturb these ladies. Virtually all of them carry a condom pack and ensure that the client uses it to protect them from HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, or pregnancy.
But why would a 25-year-old mother be involved in trading her body for money? Joy answers, "I don't have any means of livelihood and I can't go to steal, so I do this to survive."
Worse, her friend, Chinonye, who is married with two children and trades her body for money, says that Joy isn't her real name but Ezinne Ohakwe whom, she adds, is currently living with the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus, presumably acquired from the father of her child whose whereabouts is not known.
"Her child is with her mother in Mgbidi, Imo State. She had him in 2005 as a result of an affair with her boyfriend who after five years agreed to marry her. But then, the marriage did not happen as medical tests showed her to be HIV positive. The man took off when he heard it and has refused to show up for a test. Till date, nobody knows his whereabouts," Chinonye says.
She adds, "With a feeling of dejection and no means of livelihood, she started coming out to Otigba early this year (2010) and from the proceeds, she enrolled at a catering school in Achara Layout, close to Uwani, where she resides. She hopes to stop the Otigba runs when she rounds off her programme at the catering school, then get a job or start a catering business."
For Chinonye, her "evening must start at Otigba Roundabout" because her husband cannot afford to cater for her and the children.
She says, "I have been married for five years now and we live in Abakpa. If I don't do this, my children will die of hunger."
SATURDAY PUNCH traced her to where she lives on Mabia Street in Abakpa, a suburb in Enugu.The testimonies of her neighbours were shocking: her husband is aware of her activities at Otigba, but dare not question her or he will go hungry.
The Enugu State correspondent of a national daily, who lives in her neighbourhood, states, "The money she makes from the trade is what the family feeds on. Her dear husband dares not question her. Moreover, he is already a frustrated man.
"We began to monitor her activities when we noticed a change in her lifestyle. Sometime last year, we noticed that during the day, she was always at home but once night sets in, she cleans up, gets dressed and leaves the house.
"When some of her contemporaries tried to question her nocturnal activities, she simply told them she got a hotel job, which required her leaving the house in the evening. She even feigned being unhappy with the work schedule but said she had no option until she gets something better.
With her excuse, she probably succeeded in working on their minds, at least to get them to stop nosing around her. But her trick wouldn't last for long as she was given out by another neighbour, Samuel.
"I am not married and I have to keep body and soul together since I am not a wood. So once in a while, after a hard day's job as a driver of one of the Sullivan taxis, I stop by Eight Hours, the joint where most of these girls hang out while waiting for calls from men who have come to drink and unwind," Samuel says.
"Over time, I noticed that so many ladies, mostly mistaken for responsible people in Enugu, are in this business. Some even dress religiously to Eight Hours and about 11 pm, the peak time, they go into the inner bar and change into shorts, spaghetti wear, or mini and handless tops.
"So you could see a girl you know and probably think she's there for a harmless outing. You would only know her true intention if she came in company of someone, or doesn't go to stand on the road, or remains in that same dress till she leaves.
"On that fateful day, I had passed through the inner bar to urinate when I saw a girl changing from and a revealing top. I, however, became more interested when I noticed that what she wore was as good as being naked.
"I religiously tiptoed behind her, studying her moves, with the intention of having her for the night. But then I was in for surprise when she crossed to the other side of the road. She waved at potential patrons. "From the glittering street lights, I saw her face clearly and that ended my night for that day."
However, single mothers and married women alone, like Joy and Chinonye, do not form the bulk of Otigba night girls. The common culprits are students and jobless young ladies.
"It boils down to the fact that Enugu is a haven for vacation seekers and tourists. Since there are more than five higher institutions in Enugu, whenever male tourists or vacation seekers come to the city, they aim for the opposite sex to keep them company.
"When they can't easily come by any, they are directed from where they are lodged to head towards Otigba," Gift divulges.
Mincing no words, she says, "People like us who have not been to school will definitely claim studentship of one school or the order so that we don't lose out.
"I can't come all the way from PortHarcourt, and then go back empty-handed. Ordinarily, I could stay in PH and do my thing but the class there is too high; I can't fit in. Enugu is best, anyone can fit in here.
"Besides that, Enugu is best for us due to its centrality, serenity and cosmopolitan nature. People want to visit here. It is a London of its own. The noise that there is no money in Enugu is a farce because more hotels keep springing up by the day and they keep making profit.
Apart from the students of tertiary institutions in Enugu State, some of these commercial sex workers are bona fide students of Imo State University; Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Imo State; Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri, Imo State; Anambra State University; Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka; and Ebonyi State University.
A report exclusively released to SATURDAY PUNCH by the Enugu State Police Command indicated that tertiary institutions in Enugu State which female students are prone to the increasing rate of student prostitution are Enugu State University of Science and Technology; Institute of Management and Technology; and Federal College of Education (Technical).
The report, according to the Police Public Relations Officer, Enugu Command, Mr. Ebere Amaraizu "was as a result of arrests made at Otigba recently on the orders of the state government."
Amaraizu says, "The 19 girls arrested were convicted by a magistrate court and jailed for wandering and constituting nuisance to the public."
This action, according to the programme officer of Women Information Network, Miss Ijeoma Ogbonna, "has not changed anything." For Ogbonna, "It has only stopped them from standing on the road. They now crowd themselves in other bars and supermarkets."
Nneka, a part two accounting undergraduate in ESUT says "I don't enjoy doing this, but who will give me money to pay my school fees and accommodation? No one will just open his eyes and say take this money to feed or buy dresses. "I live in Ajegunle, Lagos. If not for my boyfriend who bought the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board form for me and ensured I was enrolled in a preparatory class, I wonder where I would have been.
"Most of us are from very poor homes. The very day we told our parents that we gained admission into the university, they simply told us that we were on our own. "It is a bad case for those of us who are Igbo. Our relatives, even when they have so much of money to give out, will not look your way. "It is bad to find your relatives, cousins and friends going to school while you idle away. So we have vowed that we must complete our education then say bye to this.
"Gradually, those of us who are students are leaving Otigba in droves. We now run a home service whereby our clients call us on our mobile phones whenever they want our services. We also give royalties to the boys at the front desks of the big hotels in Enugu, so that they can call on us when a customer needs our services.
"The Enugu State government cannot stop us. Some government officials are even our best patrons. I think the only problem Governor Sullivan Chime had with us was that we were standing on the road."But since the ambush by the police, home service or hotel service is now the in-thing for us. The less educated ones among us stay at bars on the pretence of drinking while they source for clients."
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