Prostitution has unarguably been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the closure of event centres, hotels (during total lockdown), and other “pleasure businesses” as one of the measures to combat the pandemic. While men are now afraid of visiting brothels, they take advantage of their little daughters, minors and other women in rape incidents. PAUL OKAH reports.
Over the years, prostitution has thrived in different parts of the country. With as little as N500, men could satisfy their sexual urges in brothels, hotels, night clubs and what have you.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has since appeared to alter that in Nigeria as the disease’s impact on the economy has led to the closure of businesses, salary cuts and outright sack of staffers by organisations.
Even prostitutes are not spared as customers are either afraid of patronising them (in order not to contract the Covid-19 infection) or lack money to pay for sex (having been laid off work or businesses attracting less patronage or income).
Rape has been a social and moral crime experienced in Nigeria for years now, but the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have led to rape incidents since the lockdown.
Prostitutes lament poor patronage
Just like during Ebola in 2014, when, like other Nigerians, sex workers were afraid of contracting the virus, the Covid-19 pandemic is also putting the fear of God in many of them. In many parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), apart from staying in hotels, especially in suburbs, prostitutes now decry low patronage.
When this reporter visited a makeshift brothel in Kado Kuchi, a settlement, a lady who gave her name simply as Rita lamented that the pandemic has reduced the number of customers she “entertains” per day.
She said: “It is not as if we charge much. With N500 or N1, 000, assured we will give you a quality time. That’s how it has always been before the pandemic set in. It was not even that serious before, but we started having setback from May, which is exactly when the lockdown started affecting everybody. From more than 10 to 15 men per day, we are now grateful if even five can patronise us.
“Another thing is the destruction of Forest. As you know, many of us usually go to Forest to stay and hustle for business, while men can buy us drink and either take us home or visit our rooms for pleasure, but since the forest was demolished by authorities, we just stay here. I am even considering quitting the business if things don’t improve, because it is no longer funny staying here and your customers avoiding you.”
Similarly, the prostitutes at “Bakassi,” an area in Kugbo, an FCT suburb under Karu, a lady in her thirties, said: “The Covid-19 does not allow our market to thrive again oooo! This our ashawo business is not paying again, we hardly see enough customers coming to us these days. It is because of this disease ooo, men are afraid to come and fuck us here.”
In June, this year, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) had pleaded with prostitutes operating in the city to respect themselves and not constitute nuisance by operating during the Covid-19 lockdown period, reiterating that “they’re not essential workers.”
The chairman of the FCT Ministerial Task Team on Covid-19 restriction in the FCT, Ikharo Attah, gave the warning when the team went round Kubwa, Gwarimpa and Wuse to monitor compliance by the operators.
He said: “The presence of the ladies of the night is a violation of the curfew because they are not on the exemption list of essential workers. Their presence made us to carry out full checks on some nightclubs which are truly closed. At moments like this we expect them to stop the unholy trade for their own interest because the men who may patronise them may be COVID-19 positive,” he said.
Apart from random rape of minors and adults by men, attention has also been called to the rape of women for purposes other than mere sexual satisfaction by men.
On August 10, in a joint statement in Abuja signed by Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga of Centre for Impact Advocacy (CIA) and Ariyo-Dare Atoye of Adopt a Goal, two Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) raised the alarm over the spate of rape for rituals, describing the situation as “very alarming.”
They said the current public and global actions against rape could not significantly address the worrisome trend of rape for rituals, adding that there were also other degrees of rape for rituals, which seem normal, but which have not received any significant responses and actions.
“The unabated cases of rape in general are bad enough, and deserve capital punishment. It is eating deeper into our localities; it is spreading faster and debasing our women and destroying our girls. We must do everything to fight it. However, this aspect of rape for rituals, which has not featured prominently in public and intentional discourse, must be addressed with a different approach.
“Unfortunately, some notorious traditional herbalists, occultic practitioners and ritualists have been found to be culpable in the unconscionable and barbaric practices of recommending women and girls for violation and ritual. This aspect of rape will require a different methodology and actions, while activists and actors are combating rising cases of rape in general.”
Why rape thrives
In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, a social analyst, Mr. Adebayo Joseph, said rape cases will continue to thrive in Nigeria, regardless of the pandemic, as victims, parents and government are living up to expectations, even as he said that many rape cases go unreported in the media.
“The war against rape cannot be won easily. In fact, it is a fruitless war and we have lost it long ago. Who can easily forget that police officers, who are supposed to protect women, especially widows, are the ones raping them over flimsy excuses: either in Rivers, FCT and other parts of the country, sometimes with nylon serving as condoms?
“If fathers can rape their biological daughters and the wife hushes it up, to avoid stigma or bringing shame to the family, where then do we start? If girls can be raped by animals called them and society blame the victims for dressing provocatively, leading to their committing suicide, out of shame and depression, how then are we winning the war against rape? Only God will help us in this country as existent laws are lacking implementation. You only have to look at the statistics of convicted rapists to be demoralised,” he said.
On July 18, in a statement by the commission’s spokesperson in Abuja, Fatima Agwai, while addressing the 66th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in a virtual conference in Banjul, The Gambia, the executive secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr. Tony Ojukwu, said the pandemic has led to an upsurge in rape cases, coupled with domestic violence and others.
He said: “The pandemic has disrupted social and economic foundations of the society upon which the enjoyment of fundamental rights as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights are based. NHRC set up mechanisms to monitor human rights violations and receive petitions from victims and human rights defenders during the restrictions due to Covid-19.
“In a six-week period from April to May 2020, the NHRC received 231 cases of human rights violations. The restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in an upsurge in cases of rape and other sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Nigeria.
“The NHRC initiated a nationwide advocacy week of action, which mobilised all stakeholders including the governments at national and state levels, the National and state assemblies and law enforcement agencies to respond to the rising cases of SGBV in Nigeria.”