Nigerian news reporter, Eric Dumo examines the controversial lives and day to day living conditions of Lagos prostitutes.
Agatha Chukwuma almost flew out of her skin when she made the discovery recently. Twenty-one and in search of a better future, she was ferried to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, six months ago by an uncle from her native Orlu in Imo State. Apart from pursuing admission into one of the nation’s higher institutions since arriving the fast-paced city, the young woman has also been learning the art of making hair at a place close to her uncle’s house at Fadeyi, a suburb of Lagos. It has been a busy period for her.
However, last week, after months of failed promises, she finally decided to pay one of her female cousins, Nneka, a visit on Victoria Island, a posh part of the city. According to tales she had heard, only wealthy people – especially those working in banks and ‘big’ companies live on VI as the area is popularly called. Going by the different cars Nneka sometimes brought while visiting them at Fadeyi, Chukwuma had equated her into one of these categories. But the trip to her cousin’s house recently opened her ‘eyes’ to things she never previously knew or imagined.
“The compound and the flat where she and two of her friends lived was very beautiful, you would have no reason to doubt that she worked in one of those big companies on VI,” the 22-year-old apprentice hair dresser told our correspondent during a friendly chat earlier in the week. “But Nneka was a big-time ‘runs’ girl with top connections,” Chukwuma added.
The word ‘runs girl’, is a term used to describe prostitutes, who rather than standing by roadsides or operating from brothels, prefer to connect and service clients either through pimps or one-on-one meetings – physical or via the social media. They are easily noticed from the crowd through their dressing, expensive hair styles and the type of smartphones they carry. For them, “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”.
While narrating how shocked she was upon finding out that the cousin she looked up to and aspired to be like in the near future was a prostitute, Chukwuma told Saturday PUNCH that the two days she spent on VI, changed her perception about many things.
“Nneka and all her friends, who are also ‘runs babes’ have their own cars,” she said. “They take good care of themselves especially their skin and hair that you would never imagine that they were into such a job. Throughout the weekend I stayed there with them, they hardly had any visitor but then, I realised that by evening, they would all dress well, drive their cars out and return at different periods.
“On one of those night outings, Nneka and another of her friends did not return home until about 9:00am the next day. She called to tell me to feel relaxed and that she would see me in the morning because she had to trash a deal with someone. It was later that she eventually opened up to me what she was really into and how it was through it that she was living well and able to establish two businesses in Lagos.
“I was really shocked when she told me everything because I never could imagine that a prostitute could live such quality life or command such money and resources. In fact, I was almost tempted to let her know I was willing to do the job going by the amount of money she controls in her account,” she revealed.
Like Nneka, Liz as friends call her, is another young woman, who appears to have found gold on the streets of Lagos Island selling her body to different men, who can afford the cost. One of the section’s biggest and well known call girls, the Ondo State-born lady, according to findings by Saturday PUNCH, lives a life many people with white-collar jobs can only dream of. Apart from boasting of two cars – a Toyota Corrolla (Sport) and a Lexus RX330 sports utility vehicle, both valued at over N4m, Elizabeth as she is originally named, lives in a three-bedroomed apartment in the Lekki Phase One area of the city where the annual rent is not less than N2m. She shares the apartment with three other friends, who are also in the business of using their ‘natural endowments’ to make way for themselves.
“The type of company I keep is not common and that is why I am not cheap,” Liz told our correspondent, who reached out to her through the help of a pimp at popular Lagos night club –Quilox. The reporter pretended to have been commissioned to arrange beautiful ladies that could provide quality company for a big Nigerian artiste based in the United Kingdom, who was coming to Lagos alongside his team to promote his new album and music videos.
“The artiste is coming with eight other guys and they are all from the UK,” our correspondent told Liz, who responded that, “Bayo had told me everything already and I had let him know what’s up. So it all depends on you, I am ready once you are set.”
For each of the four nights the ‘crew’ were to stay in Lagos, Liz demanded N150, 000 for each of her colleagues. This was after she had approved the quality of hotel the entourage was going to lodge in on Victoria Island during the period. She asked the exact date the guys would be coming into the country so that they could book them down for that period. She told the reporter that all amounts must be fully paid upfront before any action could take place. Bayo, the pimp, had assured the reporter that Liz and her gang were equal to the task and were going to give the ‘clients’ good value for money. He rolled out a list of top ‘clients’ the lady and her ‘team’ had ‘serviced’ in the past and how they keep getting referrals for a job well done.
But two days before the agreed date, our correspondent, when contacted by the young man for the deal to be finalised, pulled the plug.
“The album launch has been postponed indefinitely due to some issues with the artiste’s record label and delay in visas, I am sorry I didn’t notify you before you called,” our correspondent told a visibly enraged Bayo.“Please explain to Liz and tell her that as soon as I get words from the guys, I would get across to you,” the reporter said before the caller suddenly ended the conversation.
It was a deeper insight into the workings of most prostitutes operating on the island section of one of Africa’s most populated and busiest cities.
As well as operating through highly-connected pimps, who link them up with potential clients, prostitutes in places like VI, Lekki, Ajah and to some extent, Ikoyi, also display their ‘wares’ at popular night clubs and event centres known for hosting ‘big shots’ at different periods of the week. Living within the axis in shared flats with friends in the same line of ‘business’, many of these young women have mastered the art of drawing ‘big customers’ to themselves over the years, visiting gatherings like weddings, birthdays and other similar events to scavenge for patrons with the right type of pocket to satisfy their desires.
Findings by Saturday PUNCH reveal that the average cost of having one of these women for an entire night goes for between N30, 000 and N50, 000 depending on where or through whom the meeting occurred. The venue for the ‘match’ proper is also decided by many of these ladies due to security concerns. Even after that has been agreed, the ladies would prefer to go to such meeting place in their vehicles, for those who have cars, or through popular taxi services by calling for one via the applications on their smartphones.
“If you drive in your own car or go to an agreed hotel with a ‘client’, it gives you more worth before such person,” Bella, as one middle-aged ‘runs girl’ at Caliente, another popular night club on Victoria Island, said. “That way, they know that you are not cheap and in terms of safety, you are not at the mercy of anyone in case there is any form of distress.
“Also, if you don’t maintain your skin properly, take good care of your hair and wear classy clothes, you’ll hardly get any good client to patronise you. That is why you see ‘chics’ on the island charging reasonable amounts because there are bills to be paid, without which you could be out of the game,” she added.
Apart from meeting potential ‘clients’ through middle-men and or one-on-one efforts at night clubs, malls and other places of interests around the axis, most ‘runs girls’ operating on the island section of Lagos have also perfected the art of advertising themselves on the social media especially Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Tinder and Instachat. Through these platforms, they take and upload several provoking photographs and videos to tantalise and attract men with unstable libidos, developing ‘friendships’ that eventually lead to patronage.
“I don’t go to clubs to look for guys. If you ever see me a club, it would mean that somebody that met me on Instagram invited me over after reaching a deal with the person,” one lady at Excape, another popular night club on Victoria Island, told our correspondent after being approached for a night of fun. “I am with someone already tonight; maybe we can do this some other time. Send me a DM on my Instagram page and let’s fix things. But mind you, I am not cheap because I know how to give value for money,” she said before walking towards a blue Mercedes car – her ‘machine’.
Findings by Saturday PUNCH revealed that most prostitutes on Lagos Island, who hustle through various social media platforms, charge between N50, 000 and N100, 000 per night depending on where their service is needed. Many of these ladies through the money they make off men, fund expensive trips to places like Dubai and other parts of the world where they sometimes also ‘service’ rich men lusting after their bodies. With exquisite bosoms, most of these ladies leave no stone unturned in their search for the next big client. For them, living and hustling on Lagos Island with their bodies has afforded them the opportunity of counting good naira mints every week.
However, on the mainland part of Lagos, it’s an entirely different story for women of easy virtue. Apart from coming nowhere near their counterparts on VI, Ikoyi, Lekki and Ajah in terms of clientele, charges and lifestyles, they are also miles behind in the choice of location picked for the action proper. While those on the island mostly prefer to attend to their ‘customers’ in posh hotels, those on the mainland don’t mind to do the same at guest houses or even apartments of ‘clients’.
For example, in places like Ikeja, Maryland, Yaba, Surulere, Ojodu and Ogudu, among the most popular places on the mainland where quality of life is still at appreciable levels, the mode of operation and fees charged by prostitutes is in stark contrast to the huge figures commanded by those on the island.
To have the complete company of any of the ladies here for an entire night falls between N5, 000 and N10, 000, depending on the mode of meeting and the bargaining power of the ‘client’. Also, while most of the ladies in this category are not picky and would readily follow a ‘customer’ home for the night, they do not also go in their cars or in private taxis but rely strictly on such persons to ferry them to the ‘agreed location’. For those willing to go for ‘quick action,’ the price ranges from between N1,500 and N2,500.
“Most of us are breadwinners of our families and so you are under pressure to take something home at the end of the day, that is why you give it to the person as their pockets can afford,” Joy, one call girl at Empire, a popular red light zone tucked between Yaba and Mushin, told our correspondent. “There are times when there won’t be customers and you have to hustle with the others for anyone who eventually comes in to the hotel. However, there are times when we are taken for the night for even N7, 000. That is how it is here,” she said before demanding that the reporter buy her a bottle of beer.
Joy, like most of the ladies at this section, has been working as a prostitute for over five years with little or nothing to show for her ‘labour’. Unlike their counterparts on the island part of Lagos, who run executive services and are free from harassment of law enforcement officers, those in Empire are easy targets for policemen and even hoodlums, who extort them at will.
“If you are unfortunate at times, the little money you make would be taken from you by the police or these bad guys who roam the area at night. Most of us have been here for over five years but nothing much for us yet. If not for the fact that we are at least getting money to feed and send some to our relatives back home, somebody like me would have stopped this job. The suffering is more than the gains here,” the young lady added.
But apart from living in brothels, the dichotomy and difference in class between prostitutes operating on Lagos Island and the mainland respectively extends further. For example, while most of the ones on VI, Lekki, Ikoyi and Ajah hook up with ‘clients’ through highly-connected pimps and or social media, the ones on the mainland mostly flaunt their ‘wares’ at popular drinking joints, street corners and sometimes club houses where most of the guys are looking for very cheap sex. Also, while many on the other side demand and collect full payments directly into their accounts via bank transfers and on few occasions cash, those on the mainland have been victims of smart and dubious ‘customers’ many times, losing their ‘office’ and material possessions like mobile phones, handbags and others to such persons. For ritualists and evil doers, prostitutes outside Lagos Island are easy targets. Dozens, over the years, have lost their lives through this means.
Originally created by God to be enjoyed by couples in marriage, sex has today crept out of matrimonial circles, perching at nearly every corner where lust meets desire. In Nigeria, it has seen to the emergence of a booming industry where millions of naira change hands every day between strangers driven by hedonism. As a result of this development, hotels and guest houses of all types are springing up all across the country with places like Lagos, a thriving commercial city, taking the lead. Even though illegal, prostitution has grown at lightning speed in recent times in Nigeria with the prospect looking even brighter especially with rising unemployment and the continued popularity of the social media among many citizens. However, for ‘runs girls’ in Lagos, especially those on the island and mainland, the job operates on two different pedestals – one that defines them in every way.
Culled from Saturday Punch