“Why we no go fight them. When dem dey collect N5,000 for customer hand for short time and we dey manage N500 – N1000, dem no come here. Na now dem wan dey come follow us drag the customers wey dey come here. We no fit allow make dem stay.”
Those were the words of Omolara who prefers being referred to as Queen. She’s a commercial sex worker who resides in the slums of Kara, a community of prostitutes close to Bodija Market in Ibadan. Two weeks ago, she was thrown behind bars for two days after engaging in a showdown with one of her colleagues in the prostitution business.
The lady she fought with is called Mercy. Mercy is a prostitute as well but with significant clout – at least enough to have a police officer effect an arrest on a colleague of hers at her behest. At the start of the year, it would have been hard for her to believe that she would be involved in a scuffle over where and where not to ply her trade; that too, with a b-grade prostitute in the slums of Kara.
Her routes were defined. She loitered around Bodija suburb of Ibadan shuffling between Platinum Club and GQ Lounge – both premium nightlife spots in the city – to scout for her clients who would either come to the clubs to have a drink and pick her up afterwards or random ‘clients’ who were sure about her availability and that of the rest of her colleagues in the business around the clubs.
But life hasn’t been the same since Covid- 19 featured in it. Nigeria’s nightlife scene is one of the worst hit sectors of the economy since the outbreak of the virus in Nigeria back in late February. Nightlife businessmen who spoke to Saturday Telegraph for a report on the impact of the pandemic on nightlife business at the wake of the outbreak foresaw a downward turn for the industry and their fears have been confirmed. In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, since the government directive mandating all clubs and bar owners to keep their businesses shut in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, nightlife both as a business and a culture has been plunged into an indefinite coma. Affiliated businesses including commercial sex work hasn’t been spared either.
Prostitution in the city which leans heavily on the tens of clubs, bars, pubs and lounges spread across its premium areas including Ring Road, Challenge, Jericho and Bodija, has suffered. There are actually two splits to the network of prostitutes in the city. There are the highbrows who consider themselves to be more appealing in stature, status and cosmetics. Mostly university and polytechnic students and a cluster of lettered ladies, in street lingo, they are considered ‘clean babes’. Before Covid-19 struck, their charges usually ranged from N5,000 to N8,000 for a short time – a pleasurable bout of sex spanning about an hour – and between N10,000 and N15,000 for a night.
They display themselves on the route of people who can presumably afford to patronize them. Most of them hang round the premium clubs from GQ Lounge, Club 411 and Platinum along the Awolowo – Elewure axis to Club Switch, Aqua Ebevande and De Rock at Ring Road where they are sure to enjoy patronage.
On the other hand are the billeted prostitutes. They are considered to belong to the lower rungs of the prostitution business in the city, just at the base of the food chain. Their charges are relatively lower compared to the first grade of sex workers. A short time with them costs only N500. While some of them live in the communities they operate in and only entertain their clients in rooms provided by beer parlours in the area and designated for such transactions, most have rented rooms where they reside and attend to their clients in the same room.
One of them is Queen, earlier quoted. In fact, she is the second daughter of Mama Tee, the godmother of all commercial sex workers in Kara community. Mama Tee owns a beer parlour and also coordinates the activities of the prostitutes in the community. So, when the prostitutes in the area started noticing the influx of strange faces joining them in the race to secure clients who come to Kara to ease their sexual tension, they reported to Mama Tee. She however dismissed their complaint, noting that it’s a business where only the fittest can survive.
“She no listen to us and that’s because she dey make money from the new girls wey dey come this side. Nah she dey rent the rooms and she dey collect plenty money for dem hand. Na why she no do anything,” says Oluchi who ranted to this reporter, noting that she felt betrayed by Mama Tee.
“We dey pay her, give her cut o. Na why you see say even her daughter no dey happy with her. Business dey tight, people no wan f**k. Coro sef dey. We dey manage the small small money wey we dey make. E never even reach sef. Na so some girls go still come here come dey drag customer with us,” she fumed. Here is what happened.
The first class of prostitutes has been witnessing a downturn of business since Covid-19 has crippled nightlife. With bars, clubs and lounges closed, their chances of securing patronage have significantly reduced. Even at that, law enforcement agents in the state are arresting them for staying out into the curfew hours which currently stands at 10PM to 4AM in Oyo state. Therefore, there was a need to survive the unprecedented realities of the time. This was what necessitated them to start shifting base to areas where their type of business isn’t so affected.
Lesser known and lower grade beer parlours and prostitute communities, around which the second class of com-mercial sex workers works, are not prime focus for law enforcement agents. When this reporter visited some of them including Bayus Beer Parlour at Awori community in Mokola and Angle 90 more known as Ile Ashewo (Prostitute’s House) at Best Way, along Idi Ape – Iwo Road, around 10PM, it was business as usual. Angle 90 is behind the popular Arisekola Central Mosque and a stone-throw from Omi Tuntun House, the campaign office of Oyo Governor, Seyi Makinde.
The spot, notorious for being a live-in haven for prostitutes where clients step in to satiate their sexual craving, is a compound containing two residential buildings, each with 16 rooms, two boys-quarters and a beer parlour. All of the rooms, save for two, are occupied by prostitutes. Residents of the area though disenchanted by such edifice being in the midst of several other residential apartments where impressionable kids live with their parents, have over time learnt to co-exist with the prostitutes in the community.
On their part, the prostitutes also calmly go about their business without causing undue discomfort to the community. However, last Sunday was far from being considered calm. The prostitutes who live in Angle 90 had to repel the encroachment of outsiders on their domain in a face-off that led to a few people sustaining varying degrees of injuries. The said outsiders are also prostitutes who have been disadvantaged by virtue of clubs like Options 24/7 where they hitherto trade, being relatively closed for business.
They had to shift base and Angle 90 was considered to be a viable alternative. They do not settle in the compound but loiters around the building. Ifeoma, a 27 years old commercial sex worker, resident of Angle 90 is one of the many sex workers who actively took part in the scuffle. When Saturday Telegraph spoke to her, she said, “Angle 90 is not for just anybody. It is for us living here. You can’t come here and be staying around. Dem dey collect our customer naw, carry dem go that hotel, go fuck. And we here go just dey, dey look.
If we are not leaving here to drag customers with them at the club that they use to stay, they should not come here and disturb us too.” Yahya is a motorcyclist, who is familiar with the commercial sex business in the Bodija, Iwo Road, Mokola axis.
When he became aware of this reporter’s mission, he disclosed that he knows so much of the turf battle and even recognizes some of the ‘migrant’ sex workers who were repelled by resident prostitutes at Bayus Beer Parlour in Mokola, Kara community at Bodija and Angle 90 at Iwo Road. He led this reporter to Mercy, the lady who got Queen, the daughter of Mama Tee, the prostitutes’ godmother in Kara, arrested a couple of weeks ago. Mercy was racing against time and hoping that she would eventually get to secure a client for the night before the curfew began as she stood beside a Suya spot in company of a couple of her colleagues opposite Platinum Club at Awolowo Road.
According to her, she has a Diploma from The Polytechnic Ibadan, owns a wine retailing store at Sango and only complements the proceeds from that with the prostitution business. When led to her by Yahya, she was reluctant as getting clients who are more interested in the actual business was of more importance to her than talking. However, when offered twice what she would have earned for a short time, she opened up. Mercy recounted what happened before the arrest to this reporter. “See, I don’t even go there usually.
The area is dirty and below my standard. But Coronavirus has stopped people from coming out to club to enjoy themselves. But in their own area (Kara), nobody disturbs them. Not even the police. So, why won’t I go there to try and see if I will get customers? I have my children to feed and if that means I have to lower my standard to get money, I don’t mind. But they came out and started fighting us, saying we can’t stay there because we’ll be affecting their business. That was how the fight started.
I had to call my friend who is a policeman who came to our rescue when one of them bit one of us, Lola, on her arm.” Asked how the decision to migrate to Kara has affected her patronage, she said; “It’s not much. Before Coro, I could get like seven people in a night and they’ll pay me at least N3,000 each for a short time. When I moved to Kara because the club is not really opening, I can get at least 15 people for a short time but they’ll pay last last N1,000. So, it’s small but better than not seeing anybody.”
Dressed in a white short gown, Mercy’s friend, who identifies as Tracy corroborated her, “people now go to places like that Kara to look for Olosho even though the girls there are old because not a lot of us are coming to clubs like this since the clubs are not even opening.
They are even our clients who think they have more girls to select from if they go to places like that compared to here where we are not many because business is not moving here that well. And the girls there are cheap too.” Tracy’s sentiment is far from that of Toke who Yahya led this reporter to at Bayus Beer Parlour in the slums of Mokola.
The reality of the situation manifests when Bayus Beer Parlour, hitherto a spot for fewer sex workers to loiter, has become populated with more of them than City Centre House, a bar that is a few paces from the former, more conspicuous and used to be a top spot for the sex workers in the area. Bayus Beer Parlour has a few rooms where the sex workers can satisfy their clients after paying N200 for a short time and N1,000 to rent the room till daybreak. Trouble started when the sex workers, most of whom are resident in the slummy Awori area, started noticing more ‘high-class’ ladies accosting their clients, securing their patronage and taking them in for sex.
Most of these invading prostitutes up till then used to be seen around Queen Cinema, another premium nightlife spot in the city. With the spot less functional, thanks to restrictions on the nightlife culture, they were shifting base to Mokola and giving the resident prostitutes a tough run for their claim to the area. Toke fumed in Yoruba; “aa le gba ki won wa sise nibi. Nto wa nibi gan o ti to wa je. Ki won maa lo awon club ti won ti n gba owo nla tele” which loosely translates to, ‘we can’t allow them work here. What we have here is not even enough for us. They should go to the club where they earn huge money before’.
The truth is most of the resident sex workers are intimidated. Their highbrow colleagues who are encroaching on their space have played in the big league of seducing clients at top clubs, bars and lounges. Hence the new turf won’t be a huge challenge for them.
They are also considered to be more endowed with breasts and buttocks. That coupled with ample cosmetic touch-up which they can afford are major point of attraction for the clients. Therefore, the best the resident prostitutes can do is to repel their invasion before they get too comfortable and kick them out of the game.
For Adeola, one of the sex workers at the receiving end of the resistance by the Mokola prostitutes, “Nobody brought their father’s house to the street. We are all trying to survive. So, you can’t send other people out because you think customers will be more interested in them. Even if we are not earning that much compared to when we were out there before, we sha must survive. We will leave when Coro leaves.” It’s a tough turf war where everyone’s raison d’etre is to survive; nothing more and perhaps nothing less. Meanwhile, until exit of Coronavirus brings back life as we used to know it, this bickering might remain the order of the day for commercial sex workers in the city of Ibadan in the weeks and months ahead.