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Inside the Apprehensive World of Nigerian Sex Workers in Ghana

Inside the Apprehensive World of Nigerian Sex Workers in Ghana

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The night is cool and so is the countenance of Rose at the prospect of attending to her first customer for the day. Business started for her about two hours ago, but on a drab motion that has characterised recent days.

Rose, 23, is a stunning beauty with attractive physique that easily endears her to males.

On a long, straight road that runs across Adabraka, the bustling downtown of the popular Circle in Accra, sex workers, some of who are from Nigeria, exhibit their racy bodies for the ‘johns’ and ‘kerb crawlers.’ Here, Nigerian sex workers charge higher than Ghanaians, PREMIUM TIMES was informed.

Complementing the sex workers’ community are pubs of different sizes and sophistication right from the entrance of the street. On this night, the male customers make lethargic movement in what could be called a careful means of choosing ‘wisely’ in market.

At the end of the road, opposite the Nhyira Pub, is the Cumberland Hotel where the real business takes place.

Like other sex workers, this is the destination of Rose and many of her customers. But on this night, the Delta-born, former pub attendant, will not move an inch until the price is settled.

Welcome to Cumberland, The Sex Land

“Give me 100 (N7, 500 at N75.12 to one Cede CBN rate of October 22),” she started, touching her breasts. And then the haggling begins.

Rose won’t settle for an offer of GHC 20 (N1, 500) but she persisted with the reporter posing as a customer, motioning him down the street to one of the waiting Cumberland rooms.

“Give me 40 (N3, 000) make I pull off for you. You know say I go pay 10 (N750) for the room,” she said in a frantic effort to still land her first customer for the night. With the price settled at GHC 30 (N2, 250), the walk becomes more brisk for the ‘sex-enthusiast’.

The path leading to the hotel is typical of a regular brothel. Young sex workers clad in skimpy dresses use different techniques to woo customers. For most of them, shaking their assets to the blaring music and making soft, sometimes desperate calls, is enough to get the attention of a suitor.

On the left and right of the street are pubs and make-shift shops where the trade of cigarettes, food, energy drinks and sex enhancement herbs take centre-stage.

Seeing this reporter with one of them is enough to ward off ‘harassment’ from other sex workers, who line the street but that is not the same with any male who walks alone.

Soon, Rose and her customer arrive at the reception of Cumberland Hotel. The two-storey building housing the hotel serves as a temporary shelter for those who want to engage in short time sex.

Cumberland Street at night

Rose needs not announce her intention to the receptionist, a male, who stretches out his hand to receive GHC 10, for the use of the room.

The GHC 10 entitles Rose and her customer to one condom, a roll of tissue assumed to be enough for clean up after business and a room.

With or without going down with her, Rose lets the reporter know she will collect her GHC 30 before letting him into her journey to Cumberland.

She started, “I came to hustle in Ghana last year April. Before coming here I used to work in Abuja but as you know (laughs), things are not good in Nigeria.”

For the ‘work’ part of her response, Rose was referring to sex work which she started in January 2017 but that was not when her story started.

Rose, the third child of a family of five, said her sexual activeness commenced at the age of 16 when she was raped by a neighbour.

“I used to be a good girl, even in my secondary school, I didn’t have a boyfriend,” she said laughing. “But when I was about leaving secondary school I was raped. Although I was dating him that time, he forced himself on me.”

Rose could not report her abuser because of the relationship. He was an artisan, whom she said was older than her. However, the use of force later metamorphosed into consensual sex for both making it even more difficult to report. But that was not all.

In January 2017, the then 21-year-old left her village, one she would not mention for fear of being traced, for Abuja with some friends who promised her a better life.

“They took me to one area in Mpape. They told me from the first week what they do and asked if I would join. They didn’t force me,” she said.

Rose would not speak further about her first experience in sex work but she was soon to realise that the proceeds from a brothel she operates at the outskirt of Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT), will not sustain her – except she travels.

Cumberland rooms go for GHC 10 for short time

In heeding to advice of another friend, Rose travelled to Ghana by road in April 2017. She has been plying her trade in Cumberland since then.

“Ghana is better than Nigeria even though things are expensive here. The least I’ve ever collected for a short time is GHC 20. Sometimes, you get people who pay GHC 200 (N15, 000) or even more for TBD (Till day break).

“Sometimes I get up to six men per night and I have some who have my numbers. They call me to meet them and I go. I stay here for short time and leave for TBD like 10 p.m. (11p.m. Nigerian time).”

Rose smokes and drinks, she takes on the average four men per day and she can’t say when she’ll back down on the business.

She says she has some challenges but chief of them are the constraints on her business owing to police raids and ‘low business’ compared to when she arrived in 2017.

“They (police) don’t disturb us here like in other places but there is restriction to where I can go without being arrested,” she said.

Law, Reality

If caught, Rose and other sex workers risk jail terms and payment of fines. Section 274 of the Ghanaian Criminal Offences Act states that any person who lives on earnings of prostitution or is proved to have aided or compelled the act with any person ‘shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.’

The law grants the chairman of a tribunal or a judge to issue a warrant authorising a police officer to enter and search the premises and to arrest such persons. And when such a person is proved to live with, be habitually in the company of, or aid a sex worker, “he shall, unless he satisfies the court to the contrary, be deemed to be knowingly living on the earnings of prostitution.”

Despite this stiff law, prostitution thrives in Ghana as law enforcement agents, who mount occasional raids, either take bribes or sex to free arrested sex workers.

UNAID estimates the number of sex workers in Ghana to be about 52,000. They are spread across Accra, Kumase and other towns, with a large number being Nigerians.

One of the latest police raid led to the arrest of 41 sex workers and 14 clients around a place called Choice, where several drinking joints operate at night. But it is unsurprising to note that most of them were Nigerians aged between 18 and 25 years.

From ‘Ashawo’ Joint to Cumberland

Until early 2018 when it was finally demolished, Ashawo joint was a brothel in the hinterland of Circle, one of the biggest meeting points for sex in the capital of Ghana.

Also known as Circle Sex Market, the open space brothel beside the Odavona Railway station provides a haven where sex goes as low as GHC 10 (N750) in tents covered only with clothes. But this stopped in January 2018 when the Accra Metropolitan Assembly ordered the demolition of the structures.

Similar structures had been demolished at Soldier Bar, another pub close by some years back but many of the demolitions usually end in futility as the sex workers are known to always regroup.

The demolitions might have come with the intent of curbing sex work in the notorious Circle area of the Ghanaian capital but it only turned out to be an exercise to strengthen the trade in Adabraka.

“Most of the Nigerian girls used to be along that railway before but they have moved here,” Justin, a taxi driver who doubles as fixer for the night, says. “Nigerian girls are usually more expensive but their prices have risen even more since they left there.”

One of the ‘expensive girls’ is Baby who doesn’t go below GHC 50 to give out her services.

“I stay at a place where I have to pay 50 (GHC) for rent every day. You can calculate that in a month. So, we have to survive,” she said asking this reporter if he wants a ‘short time’ or TDB.

Baby is one of the sex workers who moved from Circle to Adabraka but she didn’t wait until after the demolition.

“The place is not very conducive and even the money you people pay is too small so I had to relocate. I left there August last year.”

Upon realising that this reporter is not down for business, Baby, an indigene of Edo State excused herself. It is 9.33 p.m. (10.33 p.m. Nigerian time) and for Adabraka sex workers, the night had just begun.

About 200 metres away is a police checkpoint but that does not stop the illegal business from commencing.

Nigerian Sex Workers Reign In Lapaz

“Joromi, Joromi, I want you to love me… ” was the signatory tune at Phantom Hotel, one of the biggest sex places on the Nii Okaiman West Road in Lapaz, Accra.

About 150 metres away, Yemi Alade’s ‘come and see my mother’ track blared through the wearied speakers of Kum Hotel, another meeting point for sex workers and clients on the road.

Business is yet to take off at 7.33 p.m. (8.33 p.m. Nigerian time) but the mood, chats and movements on the Nii Okaiman West Road suggest things will start happening soon. The street prides itself as ‘headquarters of Nigerian sex workers’ in Lapaz.

Lapaz, with an array of pubs and hotels, is one of the communities most notorious for sex business in Accra; but the business has its own modalities and only a well-informed client would understand how it works.

While Ghanaian sex workers ply their trade in corners around the popular Lapaz expressway, such as Onuado Hotel, the Nigerians, who form the majority, prefer the Nii Okaiman West Road, one of the link roads to the express.

Apart from pubs operating at metres distances, the Nii Okaiman West Road has hotels which serve Nigerian sex workers and their guests. At a standard rate of GHC 10, Phantom Hotel, City Link Hotel and some others make their rooms open for service every night.

As is the case in Adabraka, Nigerian sex workers here are more expensive to patronise than their Ghanaian counterparts.

By 8.30 p.m. (9.30 p.m. Nigerian time), some of them have started making brisk business moves around the street. But beyond their beguiling smiles is a nascent fear – the fear of law enforcement agents.

Sharon, a young sex worker who joined the trade in 2017, has agreed to speak with this reporter on the condition that he rents a room; but cancelled the interview mid-way on account of fear.

“Abeg, this one is too much,” she said springing up from the only chair the ‘sex room’ provides. “This one you are asking is too much. I don’t know what you want to do with it. Should I look for somebody else for you? I’m scared,” she added with suspicion written all over her.

Sharon would go ahead to report this reporter to the management City Link Hotel who gave a stern stay-off warning.

“See, we don’t allow that here. We don’t even allow you use phone. Just go in, do it (have sex), that’s all,” a hefty man, obviously employed to manage such situation reeled out.

With that, it’s end of business with Sharon who hails from Delta State.

A one hour thirty minutes wait will soon bring this reporter in contact with Precious, and Anita, who she claims to be her sister.

While Precious was willing to speak to a ‘stranger’ and indeed did so, Anita was on hand to cut the life off the conversation.

“See Oga, we just come out to buy something. See other girls, talk to them,” Anita, a middle-sized body, hefty lady bumped into conversation with Precious.

But before Anita’s rude intrusion, Precious had said enough about her life as a sex worker in Accra.

“She is my sister (pointing to Anita who was some metres away in a pharmacy shop), we live in the same area, we grew up together. She has been here for a while now but me. I just came here this year.”

Since she came to Ghana, Precious had been staying with Anita and another Nigerian lady in Kata International Hostel located about 300 metres away from the Nii Okaiman West Road. She comes out for business around 9 p.m. (10p.m. Nigerian time) and earns little for her effort.

The four-storey hostel, popular in the area, is occupied by sex workers, again, mostly Nigerians.

“Things are not good at all. Some days I go home with just GHC 100 (N7, 500) which is not enough to sustain me. We pay for the rooms daily, food is expensive and you know many other things girls need.

“When I started, there used to be men who would take you home after the normal short time hustle but that is changing now. Most times, we just work till 12 (midnight) and go back. When you tell someone to give you 50, they will even offer you 10.”

Precious thinks it’s late for her to go to school but would appreciate ‘any help’ for her to start business.

Meanwhile, efforts to speak with other sex workers were unsuccessful as they either ignored the reporter or walked away after knowing the intention.

Francis, also a Nigerian, who sells suya (roasted meat) in front of City Link Hotel explains why the sex workers are afraid to talk to strangers.

“In week days they don’t come like that. Most of the time they (law enforcement agencies) disturb them in weekdays but on weekends they flock here. They don’t disturb them on weekends.

“You know that they pay a lot whenever they catch them that’s why they are all afraid,” he added.

The Osu Sex Workers

The night is getting colder but that would not make Bella betray her regular mode of dressing. Its Friday, business day, and so, she has to look the part.

With a heavy lay of aromatic perfumes complementing a skimpy gown worn deliberately to attract customers, Bella beckons at prospective customers softly.

She is one of the sex workers on the popular Osu Road in Accra. On this night, she switches between the popular Osu main road, also called Kwala, and Adjoate Street, to an adjoining street which provides dark spots for light freaks0.

Bella would go for an all-night for GHC 200 (N15, 000) because she wants to do this reporter a ‘first time business.’

She left Anambra, her home state in 2017 owing to dearth of money to further with life. Bella, a first of an all-female siblings of three had finished secondary school in 2015 but was unable to proceed to higher institution, instead, she opted to learn hairdressing.

“My father gave me the option of choosing between tailoring and hairdressing so I started hairdressing,” she said wriggling her fingers as if she was looking for the part of her history there.

It took Bella a year to learn the skill but the funds to set up was not forthcoming even a year after her certification. This was enough for her to join the sex industry.

“I came December 2017. I have plenty situation. I need money that is the number one reason I left Nigeria.

“I finished secondary school in 2015 and there was no money to continue. So, I have no choice than to come here and do this.

“I have a business that I am doing. I’m a hairdresser and I need to set up my own shop. If I see enough money, I will leave Ghana and go back to start,” she said, asking if this reporter was willing to help.

Bella will not say how much she charges for short time and would not speak further on her TBD rate.

“Since you are not interested today so I can’t discuss price with you. My own is about money, if you are ready now, I’ll follow you.”

She says the sex workers around Osu settles policemen with either money or their bodies (sex).

“If policemen come, we are always friends. We know how to settle them. As for me, I have never entered police station before.”

As Bella disappeared into the busy Osu Road, more Nigerian girls walk by chanting in pidgin issues about sex, fashion, entertainment and politics.

Osu Road boasts of the largest concentration of Nigerian sex workers in Accra and like Lapaz and Adabraka, they take temporary accommodation in hotels around the street once they are willing to pay the GHC 10 fixed price of short time.

The road also boasts of several pubs and eateries which serve as meeting point for sex workers and clients. One of such pub is Kona Grill and Café where at 11p.m. (12 a.m. Nigerian time) this Friday night, the day has just broken.

For each of their clients, Nigerian sex workers are quick to make bargain on price, as exemplified in encounter with Helen, a Delta-born veteran sex worker.

Helen came to Ghana in 2015 and has been a sex worker since then. She prides herself in her power to attract men of her choice but she won’t respond to the reporter “if it doesn’t involve money”.

“Na interview? I know dey talk oooo. My own is we talk price and we go in. We are here for business. If you want make we listen to you, just share money,” she said jokingly, walking away same time.

By 12.50a.m. (1.50a.m. Nigerian time) Saturday morning, Osu Road is filled with sex workers. This time the call girls have become emboldened, walking and calling on prospective clients freely. Many of them, again, are Nigerians.

Debby had gone on two short time romps when she met this reporter. The 27-year-old was full of smile at the prospect of landing a customer for TDB. She is just two months in the trade.

“I came to Ghana in August because I need to survive and my child needs to eat. Situation of life brought me here. I live around here and I come out every day. Everybody has situation but I don’t like to talk about my own.”

A little more persistence however paid off as she let this reporter into her life journey into sex work.

“I have a child for a man in my mum’s beer parlour but he did not take the child from me. He claimed that I had many boyfriends. So, what will I do, I have to take care of the child?”

For most of 2016, Debby carried the pregnancy which later resulted in a baby girl. But as the child grew, financing mother and child became more difficult for Debby. All these happened in Lagos, where her parents settled since they left Edo State many years back.

To make a breakthrough, she left her mum’s pub to work in another pub where she earned N10, 000 for a seven days in a week job. But that still won’t take care of herself and child and so, when the opportunity came, she travelled.

“It (coming to Ghana) was through my friend. She told me that if I can save up to N50, 000, I will travel and get a good job for myself here. I never knew this was what she meant but look at me, what can I do?” she asks rhetorically.

Familiar Trend

Even though there is no specific statistics, subjective data suggests that the sex industry in Ghana and some other countries within and outside the continent thrives on willingness of Nigerian girls.

According to 2016 Global Slavery Index Report, there are 834, 000 Nigerians who are victims of modern slavery. Of this figure, a huge number are recruited from rural areas within the Nigeria’s borders – women and girls for involuntary domestic servitude and sexual exploitation.

Although many willingly go to other African countries for the sex trade, there are others like Debby who are deceived into travelling and only give in to reality when they arrive their destination.

Even though the federal government and its agencies are making efforts to curb the menace, the efforts have not reduced the number of Nigerian sex workers in foreign countries

In April, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) said it rescued 3,500 victims of human trafficking from only two states -Edo and Delta.

But despite this effort and others to repatriate Nigerians from foreign land, some of the trafficked see a better life away from Nigeria.

“If I have enough money to start up my hairdressing, I won’t leave my papa land,” Bella said as she insists on staying in Ghana until she makes enough money.

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