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- The gradual pollution of Lagos neighbourhoods by sex hawkers
By MUSA JIBRIL
It’s not decent to eavesdrop on women’s gossips––a rule for the male. The exception is when the topic is germane to society’s wellbeing, like that of the discourse involving three women––a granny, a petite middle-aged mother of two and a 20 something-looking lady––who are conversing sotto voce.
The granny is saying: “The boy started small, small to go and watch football there. He became familiar with older boys who went into the rooms with naked girls. So, on the day he had N500, he tried it out. He became a regular customer, so tey he dey steal im papa money– Chineke!”
Granny continues: “The shame was too much for the man because he is a deacon at Methodist Church nearby.” According to her, the angry man sent his wayward son to Ibadan, Oyo State to complete his education in a boarding school.
“The boy lucky o, biko,” says the mother of two. “You remember the other boy whose mama dey sell tomatoes for Pako bus stop, the one wey dey SS2? He go catch gonorrhoea. The parents never know until the day his teacher sent for him mama when he almost die for inside class. Na big money them take treat am o. Na God no kill am.”
The youngest of the women spoke with vehemence: “I know about this danger because I grew up at Empire in Ojuelegba. I knew how these daughters of devil destroy families. Two months to our wedding, I followed my husband to inspect a new house an estate agent got for us at Coker Street. It was a very good house but standing directly opposite one of these, just like this one. I objected. I never told him why. I trust my husband. But when man dey see temptation every day, e go reach one level where even him no fit trust his trousers’ zipper.”
The subject of their discussion is opposite them––a building with a two-entrance frontage, where two ladies loiter, one in bum short and black spaghetti, smoking a cigarette, the other, clad in a tank top and mini skirt, holding a bottle of beer. Other girls––garbed in obscene dresses––pop in and out of the entrances that belch loud music.
This is what neighbours know about the house across the street: its two doors lead to as many as 25 rooms occupied by young women whose preoccupation is strictly selling sex to the coterie of patrons who visit in the bustling hours of the evening till late at night. For the respectable folks on Kayode Olowu Street, off Ijeshatedo, the presence of the brothel in the vicinity of their home is vexatiously repugnant. But what can they do? The whorehouse predates some of them in the neighbourhood. They have learnt to ignore it, live with it, a tolerated evil.
The silent takeover
In many of Lagos’ communities, brothel––a house where men visit prostitutes––is ubiquitous. Some of these “House of Sex” is as deeply embedded among houses as to become a permanent fixture whose subculture melt seamlessly into the daily life of ordinary folks.
At 44/52 Cemetery Road, Amukoko Market, Ajegunle, the top floor of a one-storey building is a brothel while a church occupies the ground floor. At Nepa Road, Alaba-Rago, on Iyana Iba-Okokomaiko stretch, the next-door building to a mosque for the Hausa community is a brothel. Men and boys, who go to the mosque to pray five times a day, step across the doorstep of the brothel. Men who hurry in and out of the mosque to say the late evening prayer have in full view half clad strumpets. At No. 3, Jimoh Agunbiade Street, Ijesha market, the second house on a side street is a popular brothel with lotto shop and football-viewing centre that attract young men whose common denominations are the attainment of puberty, a pocket of money and a penchant for illicit sex.
The proliferation of brothels in Lagos’ high-density neighbourhood has been fast and dramatic in the last few years. Ajegunle and Ijeshatedo and the Old Ojo Road suburbia are some of the worst affected areas. In some areas––for example, Adesina-Ijesha Road axis and Alayabiagba Street of Ajegunle––streets lost part of their folksy residential facet within a decade. Now they wear a red-light visage, dotted by bars, hotels and panoply of gentlemen clubs. Regardless of their outward appearance, whether swanky or seedy, what they have in common is cloistered rooms for patrons’ who desire sexual liaisons, either with standby resident prostitutes or their ‘brought-along’ woman.
Adesina Road offers a microscopic study of this social malady. Three anonymised brothels, crammed into 300 meters stretch of the street, are similar in their paintings of burgundy and caramel. The first to arrive stands at No 20. Though nameless, it is known as City Centre. The other ones are situated at No. 40 and No. 39/41. No 20 (a.k.a. City Center Hotel) usually has its frontage littered with harlots in skimpy dresses. No. 39/41 operates a discotheque, and in the evening, the carnival-like atmosphere it creates attracts a swarm of pubescent teenagers the way light attracts moths.
On the intersecting Ijesha Road, buildings No 251––about 40 metres from Ijesha Police Station––and its opposite, also carry on similar razzmatazz and goings-on.
Tolerating a canker
On the night of Saturday, July 1, 2017, at past 8 pm, the brothel opposite No. 19 Kayode Olowu Street was agog as two prostitutes went for each other’s jugular. The bone of contention was a male customer who decided to switch his allegiance from his regular mate to the newest inmate. Neighbours, consisting of parents and their children, had an earful of uncouth expressions that rent the night in a diatribe that lasted over one hour.
Madame Edith’s door faces an adjoining passage that is the backyard of the brothel. Four windows from the brothel open directly into the passage. “We hear every conversation from those rooms,” she avers. “They are not nice. Sometimes, we hear noises when they make love and we feel embarrassed. In the evening, they leave their curtain open. If we care to look inside, we could see what they are doing.”
By we, she means herself, her two daughters and a son, the kids all below 16 years of age.
In worst-case scenarios, brothels directly imperil neighbours, as exemplified by the grisly crime that occurred on Kayode Olowu Street in December 2016, at 11 pm, when a group of unidentified cultists, hitherto hibernating inside the brothel descended on a quarry, shooting and stabbing him. The swift five-minute skirmish left behind a mutilated body, with an arm hacked away as a trophy.
“We heard it was a reprisal attack by cult boys,” one of the residents narrated to Saturday Sun. “They arrived as early as 7 pm, about eight of them, went into the brothel, drank beer and slept with harlots, while keeping watch on the street. Their target came down the street to see-off a visitor at around 10:30 pm. He was passing in front of the brothel when they rushed out and attacked him. At the end of the day, it turned out a case of mistaken identity. The victim was a banker who lived nearby.”
Till date, residents are still reeling from the horror.
That they appear apathetic, however, does not mean they take kindly to the takeover of their neighbourhood by brothels. A few residents bare their minds to Saturday Sun.
“Parents in this area are not happy about the hotels” is the retort from Alhaja Oloyede, a landlady on Ijesha Road. Oloyede, who clocked 75 years last November, says: “At my age, I have to have at least eight hours of sound sleep, but that is impossible in this area. We don’t enjoy nighttime. Up till 12 am or 2 am, these hotels still play loud music. If the ones on Ijesha Street here are silent, the booms will be coming from those on Adesina Street. We have about eight hotels within this area, from Ijesha Police Station to Adeshina Street, not counting the beer parlours.”
Five of the brothels in the axis are situated within a 200-metre radius of her house. What is worse, according to her, is the moral decadence the brothels brew.
“We now see children from age 12 converging at the gates of these so-called hotels, sometimes in large number, and you wonder, where they came from?” she says, shaking her head, muttering repeatedly, “It is not good.”
She provides a poignant anecdote. “Yesterday, I broke up a fight between a boy and girl. The boy is about 18 and the girl, not more than 15 years. What was the bone of contention? After a sexual intercourse, the boy refused to honour their bargain. After interrogating them, I took my time to counsel the girl. Her excuse was that she had a problem at home, which I knew was not true. I knew when a young girl lies.”
She sees the brothel as a catalyst for juvenile delinquencies. For as low as N2000, young boys and girls rent rooms for as short as one hour, a practice that engenders a pervasive anomie where teenagers migrate from faraway neighbourhoods to Adesina Street, where they freely indulge in sexual shenanigans.
The matriarch who has lived on the street for over 40 years claims “these brothels came up about a few years ago,” a fact she substantiates further: “Pa Saliu died about seven years ago. His house was still standing there till three years ago when his children sold it to the next-door brothel. The new buyer demolished the residential buildings, including a mosque where his family members and some Muslims on the street used to pray. Now, a brothel (an annexe at No 39 Adesina Street) stands there.”
A musician coming to play at the brothel on No 39/41––a frequent thing––is always an occasion for big fights, whether organised gang fight or free-for-all brawls. “Because neighbourhood hoodlums will show up to collect Owo Omonile, (tolls) there is sure to be a fight,” says Oloyede, “The last time they fought, the DPO of the police station had to shoot.”
What Dapo Ojitola, 36, a long-time resident, found most irksome is the public nuisance of cacophonous music coming from the brothels. Says he, “whenever they are playing their music, I can’t sleep in my house which is about 100 metres away from the nearest one.”
He calls the brothels “the new Sodom and Gomorrah.” His complaint calls to mind scenes from The Prostitute (1998), a Nollywood home video starring Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde and Segun Arinze, with a plot that spotlights the liaison between Veno, a prostitute by circumstance, and Razor, a hardened criminal, with the former proving safe harbour for the latter in her brothel room.
“For example, we have seen policemen entered City Centre many times to arrest hoodlums. At a point in time, some major criminals were traced to that place,” Ojitola alleges.
The brothels, he also claims, are hubs for the peddling of hard drugs. “We hear of cases of drugs, hemp and other hard drugs, being sold there.”
Ojitola shares his testament of unsavoury personal encounters: “Any male who walks down the street as late as 11 or 12 midnight will find himself harassed by those girls––I have been a victim. If you are not strong-willed, you’d fall for the temptation. Sometimes, late night, most of the upper-room windows are wide open. The girls will be up there in different states of nudity, in full view, beckoning men on the streets.”
Not only are the denizens of brothels hazards to the community, they are also danger unto themselves. Occasionally, girls who sell sex, too, do come to grief, as epitomised by a disturbing story narrated by Mrs Emumeakpo Amarie, whose lives close to one of the brothels on Ijesha Road.
“A girl once lived in the brothel for a while. One day, a male friend came visiting her at night. Afterwards, the man failed to pay the agreed price. The girl flew into a rage, attacked him. The man was forced to defend himself but he took it to the extreme––by stabbing her. The girl died. The tragedy happened early in the year at City Centre.”
Amarie, a teacher, believes there is a tragic alchemy to brothel activities. She draws an allusion. “If you come around on Friday or Saturday night, when they have their Ladies Night, you would be baffled at the sight of beautiful girls that besiege the place. Suppose they come around with their male friends and someone else was pestering them, what do you think will happen? Big fight, of course. That was what happened the night in April when police came out shooting into the air. Suppose those bullets hit innocent people?”
Here’s Amarie’s honest verdict: “These hotels are not making our lives easier, especially the one beside the Police Station.”
Feyi Adetokun lives around Randle Street in Apapa. She closes late from work and dares not walk the short distance to her house. Why? She incurred the wrath of prostitutes in the neighbourhood.
“They use to harass decently dressed girl walking through the street at night. On this day, I closed my ears to all their insults until one of them said: “We dey wait for you to come and join us.” I made a mistake of replying her. I remember saying, “No thanks, I like my work. Ashawo no be work.”
The next day, a couple of the girls were waiting for her at the junction.
“It was a frightening experience,” she recalls. “One was ready to cut me with a broken bottle. She said she’d been observing me going home every night, and that I carried myself as if I were holier than them. I was rescued by passers-by. An old man advised me to be wary because the statement by the girl has hidden intention. Since then, I have a standby Okada man who I call to take me home anything I work late.”
She considers the presence of brothels and the hordes of prostitutes living in them a blight on the reputation of decent young ladies living in the neighbourhood. She finds it particularly irritating that “randy men who lurk around assume any woman walking on the street at night is out for a pick-up, no matter how well dressed she is.”
Point of action
So, what are they going to do about it? What can they do? What should they do?
Amarie says: “We are not saying they should close the place, but the operators should reconsider the idea of people gathering there for immoral purposes. They should conduct their activities in accordance with the moral fabric of the residents. Teacher and parents can preach morality to children, but how do you wipe from their mind the immoral pictures they see every day?”
Action, she opines, belongs to the government. Here is her suggestion: “Government should stop the indiscriminate approval of hotels everywhere. Once a street has one hotel, a second one should not be allowed. Now, on Adesina Street, we have one, two, three, four––And another three on the adjacent Ijesha Road. That is too many.”
Ojitola highlights the futility of confronting the brothel barons: “They have money to buy any house on the street, demolish it and rebuild it into a brothel. We have seen that happened on No 39 Adeshina Street. So if your complaint gets unbearable, what is to stop them from buying the house you live in from your landlord just to get rid of you? ”
Suggesting a more practical approach, he says: “Relevant government agencies should visit the hotels to monitor their activities and ensure restriction of their operation to their domain––with their gates closed.”
He also advocates routine police search.
Idumonza Isidahomhen, a Lagos-based Edo politician, has seen the different facets of this “social nuisance” to deduce that curbing it to the barest minimum will be a hard nut to crack.
His view: “It is delusional to think it can be wiped out in one fell swoop because it has become a commercial enterprise, and we have seen what was once a question of morality replaced by economic consideration. Now, everybody in that chain has an alibi: brothel owners tell you they pay taxes; prostitutes argue they are making a living and even have the temerity to ask you, isn’t it better than robbery? Suppliers of drinks and sundry services to these brothels tell you it is business.”
Nonetheless, he is convinced “a sort of regulation is called for.”