Inside Bauchi’s Underage Prostitution Ring
Poverty has pushed several underage girls into prostitution in Bauchi State. DAVID ADENUGA, who visited some of the girls in their brothels, reports on their plight and dangerous lifestyles.
Bayan Gari is a slum behind the historic Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa stadium in the Bauchi metropolis. Inside the slum, poor and naive girls are exposed to dangerous lifestyles from smoking to the use of substances like codeine, Indian hemp, and tramadol.
Aside from commercial sex activities, Bayan Gari is also an abode for gamblers and men of the underworld, the place is patronised by different kinds of men.
The brothels are hidden in such a way that it takes one who is familiar with the environment to find his way through. There, you meet girls of easy virtue, most of whom wear the hijab: a head covering worn in public mostly by women.
With the religious dress, it is easy for them to evade security personnel who raid the slum from time to time. The shy ones among the prostitutes also hide their identity behind the head coverings.
At one of the brothels known as Target, our correspondent had an encounter with one of the underage sex workers; a 16-year-old who identified herself simply as Chonda.
In her small and dingy room, the only furniture noticeable was a weather-beaten mattress and a small wooden stool.
Initially fearing that her room was being invaded by law enforcement agents, the anxious-looking harlot from Kirfi Local Government Area became a bit more relaxed after the reporter’s identity was disclosed by the interpreter that took him (reporter) into her room. Thereafter, she explained why she ventured into prostitution.
Life, according to Chonda, became unbearable for her and her siblings after they lost their father and they had to fend for themselves.
An unidentified man had impregnated her when she was only 15, but because she could not take care of the baby on account of her illicit vocation, the one-year-old boy had to be taken to the Bauchi State Orphans and Vulnerable Children Agency (BASOVCA) for proper care.
She said: “My boyfriend impregnated me and ran away.
“We met here in Target brothel where he used to patronise me before he started telling me that he loved me and wanted marry me. Unfortunately, I fell for his sweet tongue and started sleeping with him unprotected till I realised that I was pregnant.
“In the beginning, he was supportive. But he suddenly changed and stopped picking my calls.
“Untill I was delivered of the baby, he never bothered to check up on me.
“I could not take care of the child alone, so I had to take it to the orphanage home and went back to prostitution.”
Asked how much she makes daily, she said she entertains a maximum of three clients per day, each of whom pays between N2000 and N3000 for short time while an all-night fun attracts N6,000.
Confessing her addiction to substances like marijuana, cigarettes and codeine, Chonda said they make her high and boost her sexual performance to the satisfaction of her clients.
Favour Reuben (16), an indigene of Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area, told our correspondent that her foray into prostitution began after her mother remarried.
Favour became pregnant as a sex worker for an unidentified soldier, her supposed lover. She told the reporter that she stopped sleeping with other clients when her pregnancy was getting to six months to avoid complications. Unfortunately, her baby died hours after she was delivered.
The young girl, the only child from her mother’s first marriage, was left with no choice but to fend for herself, hence her decision to relocate to Bauchi where she stayed with her grandparents. She would later leave her grandparents to start squatting with friends who introduced her to prostitution. She claimed using protection while having sex with ‘customers’, but not with her soldier boyfriend.
She said: “I had to change location. Although I don’t enjoy the work because the street doesn’t pay, I have nothing else to do.
“There was a time I was interested in learning how to make the hair at a salon, but I had no one to help me enroll.”
Asked how much she makes daily, she said: “I can’t tell how much I make from my hustle monthly, but I use money from my ‘runs ‘ to pay my rent, and my boyfriend helps sometimes.
“I’d appreciate it if the government could rehabilitate some of us here, so we can leave the street.”
Our Correspondent who traced Favour’s family in a bid to confirm her claims, met her grandfather, Ezekiel Ayuba, who said that his granddaughter lost her newborn baby during labour last month (June 2022), but she was nowhere to be found as she ran away three days after her baby’s death.
Ayuba said: “She was brought in from Bayan Gari where she was doing prostitution. But since she ran away from home, we have not been able to locate her.”
“She gave birth at a hospital here in Yelwa. In the course of her labour, the baby, which happened to be a boy, came out with legs.
“She had not been going for antenatal and all that, and that was why her baby did not survive.
“So we brought her back home only for her to run away. Up until now, we don’t know her whereabouts. There is nothing we have not done to keep her away from prostitution but she keeps going back there.”
Favour’s mother, Mobshi Charity Solomon, said she was fed up with her daughter’s wayward lifestyle.
The woman, who now resides in Jos, the Plateau State capital after she remarried, said that all the efforts made to get favour to stay in school were abortive.
She said there was a time her daughter insisted on living with her ex-husband (her father) in Gombe, but after granting her wish, she still ran away from there.
Fatima Musa, a 17-year-old lady from Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area, was sighted with a four-month-old pregnancy at another brothel called Gidan Baba where she was sleeping with different men in spite of her condition.
“Some of my customers know that I am four months pregnant, though it is not every time I sleep with men for money considering my state,” she said
Fatima claims that she protects herself when having sex with her clients except with her boyfriend.
Asked why she ventured into prostitution, she cited poverty as the reason she had to join other girls in Bayan Gari while her supposed lover who impregnated her absconded.
Crying for survival
Findings made by the reporter revealed that girls at Target brothel pay N1,000 daily as rent, which translates to between N30,000 and N31,000 per month and about N372,000 in one year.
The huge sum is usually remitted to the manager who in turn delivers it to the owner of the building.
It was gathered that the sex workers are initiated by the ‘Jakadiyas’ or ‘Magajiyas’ in the area, who play the role of pimps or madams. The girls in Bayan Gari live under their control and make returns to them from their illicit trade. These so-called leaders manage the brothels where they stay.
According to the HISBAH Corps, a religious security outfit in Bauchi, the ‘Magajiyas’ operate freely because other than the Penal Code, there is no law in place to penalise them. The illicit activity, it was gathered, could easily be defended under the code once the offender can prove that she has the consent of a parent or guardian.
In all Northern states where the Islamic penal code is practised, prostitution is illegal while in Southern Nigeria, the activities of pimps or madams, underage prostitution and the operation or ownership of brothels are punishable under sections 223, 224, and 225 of the Nigerian Criminal Code. In Bauchi State, prostitution is punishable under Section 278 of the Bauchi State penal code law of 1987.
Section 278 states: “Whoever buys, sells, hires, lets to hire or otherwise obtains possession or disposes of any person under the age of 18 for prostitution or unlawful or immoral purposes or knowing it to be likely that such minor will be employed or used for any such purpose, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.”
In 2015, a United Nations poverty index reported that 86.6 per cent of the state’s residents in Bauchi were poor as it ranks eighth poorest in the country; a factor that has contributed to the high rate of prostitution in the state.
In the course of practicing prostitution, young girls are also exposed to HIV and other forms of diseases.
Most sex workers have yet to benefit from government’s rehabilitation programme
In February 2022, the state government flagged off a skill empowerment training for commercial sex workers operating in the state to discourage them from prostitution and make them self-reliant.
The training done by the Hisbah Department of the State Shariah Commission would empower sex workers in tailoring, hairdressing, make-up, catering, cosmetology, poultry and fishery, computer literacy, and micro-enterprise enhancement.
The Permanent Commissioner in charge of Hisbah and Shariah Matters, Barrister Aminu Isa, said that the training would last for three months.
He said that 100 of them would be trained in tailoring and hairdressing while 75 would be trained in make-up, catering and cosmetology.
According to him, 60 of them would undergo training in poultry and fishery, 50 would be trained in computer literacy while the remaining 40 would be exposed to micro-enterprise enhancement. The rehabilitation program came after the government commenced the headcount of sex workers in July 2021.
But investigation carried out by our correspondent showed that many sex workers, especially underage girls, are yet to benefit from it.
A source at the Bauchi State Commission claimed that the Hisbah Corps, who are responsible for the enforcement of Shari’a to Muslims in Northern Nigeria, are sentimental about the rehabilitation programme for prostitutes.
The source alleged that the Hisbah Department under the Sharia Commission has been compromised, adding that prostitution would have been reduced to the barest minimum in Bayan Gari if they were given due attention by the religious corps.
“In his words: “What I want you to understand is that we here are the administrative department but we have been sidelined by the Hisbah Dept.
“The way they are handling issues is not appropriate at all. The teenage prostitutes you’re talking about won’t remain there if they had reached out to all of them.
“It’s quite unfortunate that some prostitutes are rehabilitated and empowered by the Hisbah based on their selfish interests.
“That’s why we just fold our arms here. I will condemn the Hisbah for their sentiments. The department needs to be scrapped if I have my way, for their unprofessionalism.”
Hisbah corps reacts
But the Hisbah State Commander, Ibrahim Musa Yisin, denied the allegation, saying that based on his knowledge, no commercial sex worker had been left out of training. He, however, admitted that some of them did not turn up for headcount and rehabilitation.
Yisin said: “We are not spirits to know that some girls didn’t turn up to be registered for the government programme. “Whoever turns up, we take their data, because we stayed in Bayan Gari for almost a week to capture every sex worker.
“We collaborated with the National Director of Employment, NDE to train them. So, for somebody to come and say that we are political or sentimental, selective or whatever is a complete lie.”
The Hisbah commander went further to say that most of the girls and women in prostitution are not indigenes of the state. He said the insecurity in Borno and Yobe states in the Northeastern part of Nigeria had made some of the girls to find their ways to Bauchi where there is relative peace.
He mentioned some of the challenges faced by the religious corps as lack of cooperation from some of the sex workers.
He added: “In Bayan Gari now, we have captured the data of several girls and women and submitted their names to the government. But one problem that people do not know about is that earlier when we went to capture all these commercial sex workers, their leaders did not allow them access to us based on the assumption that if we’re able to empower them, they won’t be able to use them to make money again.
“These Magajiyas are our problem. If they are not tracked and arrested, prostitution will not stop. Child prostitution itself is indirect trafficking. As you know, prostitution is an offence here, and we’ve gone to tge brothels several times to arrest those at the front of commercial sex activities.”
Musa explained that having submitted the list of sex workers to be empowered, it is now left for the government to provide them with the necessary equipment. He vowed that after they must have been empowered, the Hisbah would start prosecuting anyone arrested.
The Commissioner Ministry for Women Affairs, Hajara Gidado When contacted to find out why the sex workers trained were yet to be equipped, the Commissioner for Women Affairs, Hajara Gidado, did not pick the reporter’s call or reply to the text messages sent to her phone.
However, the Chairman of the Nigeria Association of Social workers in Bauchi State, Adamu Abubakar, told The Nation that the main challenge is funding, because funds are needed to keep sex workers, especially the underage ones, off the streets.
Source:- The Nation