By Emmanuel Unah
CALABAR – Nightfall in Calabar, Cross River State capital, is an interesting experience as the good, the bad, and the absurd take place under the cover of darkness. The most interesting aspect of the nightfall or the bizarre part of it, if you choose to call it that, is the sudden flooding of the streets by commercial sex workers who, like fireflies enthralled by the coming of darkness, leave their places of abode to hang around highbrow areas of the city in search of clients.
Girls and ladies of different ages, some as young as eleven, in a bid to get clients, come out in provocative dresses to places like Margaret Ekpo International Airport Field, Atekobg Drive, Third Avenue on the State Housing Estate, MCC Road, Eta Agbo Road, Mary Slessor Avenue, Calabar Road and several other places, where men converge at night to have drinks or relax, in search of those who could pay to have “short time” or spend the night with them in exchange for cash. In years past, the practice was for these girls, in groups of two or three, for fear of being recognised by friends, neighbours or fellow classmates in the case of university students, to select secluded areas or dark spots along the red light zones to display their wares, like buttocks, breasts or faces or whichever part of their bodies they felt hold the best attraction for men. They would stay in such places for hours until someone comes up to offer an acceptable price; then they would go with him for the night or short time and later return to the same spot.
However, things have since changed and that era seems long forgotten as the girls now have become wary of some clients or watch out for hoodlums who attack them at night. Many of them had gone through very harrowing experiences in the hands of some of the clients. These days anyone who dares to stand in a secluded area is either new in the trade or is simply courting trouble and would have herself to blame as she would most certainly be attacked. Miscreants find these girls as soft targets as they can, under the pretext of seeking to strike a bargain for sex, get close to them but soon turn round to attack them and dispossess them of their phones, necklaces, and any money they may have made that night. Any attempt to resist, they are usually inflicted with machete or razor blade cuts on their arms or faces to teach them a lesson. In some instances, the girls are deceived to board cars by rapists after striking a bargain with them and take them to secluded areas, rape them and thereafter dispossess them of their phones. These attacks have left many of these daughters of the night with scars of different sizes on their wrists, faces and breasts as they attempt to resist rape or robbery attack.
These frequent attacks by hoodlums have scared the girls to abandon the shame of being recognised away and keep within limits of crowded areas or of bright light. One of the commercial sex workers, Mabel, told Sunday Vanguard that when she started the trade in August 2015, she lost her ipad and phones to thieves and was stabbed on the hand which caused her great grief. “I did not know that this business comes with high risks; I thought all I needed to protect myself was to insist that every customer puts on a condom and pays me before service but, when the boys repeatedly attacked me during the first three nights and took away my ipad and phones, I decided to call it quits until I met one of the girls who taught me the rules on how to stay safe while doing it” According to her, she now carries a sharp razor strapped to her breasts where she can easily reach it to attack anyone who attempts to molest her and does not go out with her phones or any expensive item on her body because those are what the rouges are often after. “I now carry a razor on my breasts. In case anyone tries to molest me, I can give him a cut and run away and I do not enter any car with two persons in it even if the other person is a female because some of those boys engage their girl friends to join them in robbing”.
Supreme, a six-footer, whose ubiquitous presence and glittering dark skin on Atekong Drive each night cannot go unnoticed by anyone seeking the service of commercial sex worker, said she and her friends had been raped severally by the hoodlums who, after satisfying their sexual urge, carted away their phones and valuables. “When I started some months back, any man that came my way and offered to pay me good money I simply followed the person which was a big mistake. Some three boys, without much haggling, gave me and my friends N5,000 each even before we agreed to enter their car. But when we got to some dark spot along Iso Oqua where they claimed they lived, we were ordered out of the car and they serially raped us. After that, they collected their money back and our phones- it was a very painful experience”, Supreme narrated. Now, she says, as a precaution, she does not follow anyone to a secluded area because he claims he does not have money to pay for a hotel room; so they should do it in the car or in an uncompleted building.
Jane said she had been drugged by a client in a hotel room and left naked while the man took away her handbag which contained her phone and other girlie things. “I thought it was a classy thing to go out with a handbag until I met one man whom I thought was responsible who took me to a hotel and drugged me and had sex with me the whole night and, the next morning, he left with my handbag and the money he pretended to pay me; since then, I keep my bag at home and do not take any drink offered by my customer”, she stated.
Even with these sordid tales, the girls keep flooding the streets every night with new ones joining the easy virtue trade for reasons bordering on survival, or to raise funds to live flamboyant life styles or simply out of uncontrollable sex drive. Ms Augusta, a resident of Effangamkpa in the State Housing Estate where the girls parade every night, told Sunday Vanguard that it is hard to tell what keeps the girls swarming the streets inspite of the risks and dangers involved in such practice. “We hear their cries and wailing each night seeking for help as they are attacked but there is nothing one can do in such circumstance because you would be exposing yourself to attack too if you venture outside at midnight or 1.00 am to try to rescue someone who obviously has no respect or regard for womanhood”, Augusta stated. She said some girls had lost their lives as some people pose as customers and lure them to secluded areas, murder them and remove their body parts and yet that has not stopped the girls from going into the streets every night. “We have had several cases where some of these girls are killed and parts of their bodies cut and taken away for ritual purposes and yet that has not stopped others from coming out each night, which shows some level of desperation or lack of respect for their lives”.
Ken, a security officer at Paradise City Hotel, now defunct, located on Atekong Drive, the prime location for the sex trade, said the girls would keep on with the business as long as men patronise them. He said some men, after taking a drink or two, are aroused by the sight of the almost naked bodies of the young girls parading the drinking parlours and take them into their cars and drive to secluded areas for one or two rounds of sex to satisfy their urge. He said even some highly respected men in Calabar patronise the girls and pay them well. “Some nights ago, I found a respected lawyer having sex with one of those girls inside his car beside the road and, when I challenged them, the girl had the effrontery to tell me it was none of my business; I almost smashed her head if not for the man who did not want any scandal and appealed that I took it easy with her”, Ken added. According to him, though the man and the girl were allowed to go, the man had to part with some money which was to teach him a lesson. “I had warned that girl and many others to keep away from this place but they won’t listen and as long as men keep patronising them there is no stopping them from the shameful act.”
Mr John Eluu, the Cross River State Police Command spokesman, said a team of policemen is stationed in areas the girls parade each night but cannot arrest them since they are not in a brothel. “We see them each night and we have a team of operatives stationed in every nook and cranny of the city but we cannot just pick them and lock them up because we see them discussing with men on the streets – there is freedom of movement”. (Vanguard)