They trudged to our correspondent as if they were burdened with heavy loads. From their weary look, one could obviously tell that the teenage schoolgirls had gone through some troubling moments they never envisaged about two weeks ago when they left their hometown in Alaja, an uptown community in Warri, Delta State, for Lagos.
Born in homes where they said their needs could not be met, the girls, aged between 14 and 16, are left to fend for themselves by all possible means.
According to two of the victims, Oke and Efe, who are in Senior Secondary School 3, they needed money to register for the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination while their third friend, Gift, wanted to raise funds for tuition ahead of next session when she will resume for SSS 1 if she passes her Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination.
Like a hungry barking dog eagerly waiting for any food at sight, they did not give it a second thought when Anita Sunday, a native of the community, came from Lagos in July and offered them salesgirls’ jobs in the commercial nerve of the country.
Pronto, they left the village with the mother of three on July 31 brimming with excitement in anticipation of how the supposed new jobs would help drive home their demands while they also relish the peculiar aura of Lagos life.
But they would soon realise that their expectations were a wild goose chase a day after arriving at Ajegunle, a suburb of Lagos.
“When we got to Lagos, Aunty Anita said we would be ‘seeing’ men. She said we would be doing prostitution. We protested that she did not tell us that before we left the village. She said if she told us, we would not follow her. We told her we could not do it. She said if we refused, there was no way we could get transport fare to return home,” 16-year-old Oke told Saturday PUNCH during an encounter at the Lagos State Police Command in Ikeja earlier in the week.
At that point, Oke said she and her friends became confused and were left with no choice but to muster the courage to raise their school fees by whatever means. She continued, “I just finished SSS 2 class and I am preparing for WASSCE. My parents have separated. My mother lives in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Aunty Anita told us that we would be helping her to sell drinks in Lagos. But surprisingly, she used us for prostitution. She sold Efe to a woman who has a lodge in Ijora for N30,000 and took Gift to a hotel in Ajah. She sent me to an inn in Ajegunle.
“Normally, I collect N500 per ‘service,’ but some men pay me between N1,000 and N2,500, depending on how satisfied they feel. I made between N5,000 and N9,000 every day, but Aunty Anita collected all the money from me. At times, I would sleep with six men in a day.”
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the teenagers were freed from the shackles of trafficking on Friday, August 10, after a Good Samaritan met Oke and Efe in Boundary, a connecting community between Ajegunle and Ijora. The man took them to the Layeni Police Station and operatives subsequently arrested Anita.
“Efe and I met at Boundary that Friday. After we finished discussing, she realised she did not have transport fare to return to Ijora. She started crying. It was in the process that a man saw us and asked us what happened. After we explained everything to him, he involved the police and Aunty Anita was arrested,” she said.
Gift, 14, embarked on what turned out to be a tortuous adventure in Lagos to relieve her mother of the stress of catering to four children – all alone. But if her mother was aware of the onerous job her daughter would be confronted with in Lagos, she would not have supported her decision.
Sadly, what Gift had gone through in the last few days – being on bed with no fewer than four men on a daily basis – was simply too enormous for her diminutive stature and age. More disappointedly, she has no dime for herself at the end despite sacrificing her body for all kinds of men, including old and young.
She stated, “I am in SS2. My mum is into small business. She has four children. It has been tough for her to meet our needs. So, I felt I should not over-burden her with my WASSCE fee and decided to follow Aunty Anita to Lagos so that I could get some money. She asked me to tell my mother that she was taking me to Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to work as a salesgirl.
“When I knew that she wanted to use me as a sex worker on getting to Lagos, I asked her to let me call my mum, but she did not allow me. She took me to a hotel around Ajah to sleep with men. I gave her between N2,500 and N8,000 every day depending on ‘the market.’ I want to go back to my mum.”
Like Gift, 16-year-old Efe shared a similar tale that culminated in her traumatic experience in Lagos. After losing her father some years ago, her grandmother was saddled with the responsibility of looking after her.
“My mother is not in the village. I was living with my grandmother after my father died and she is sick now. I just finished JSS 3 class. I need money for tuition so that I can proceed to SSS 1. When Aunty Anita came to the village, I told her my situation and she promised to get me salesgirl work in Lagos if I could follow her. On getting to Lagos, she took me to a woman called Favour in Ijora and sold me to her for N30,000. The woman collects money from every man that sleeps with me,” she said and paused for some seconds.
As she wanted to continue the narration, she became emotional with her voice laden with anguish. “If I complain that I am sick, Madam Favour would shout at me and flog me. She would tell me to go and work. She would threaten to transfer me to another hotel to work. People begged her on my behalf to let me rest, but she told them that she needed money.
“Most of the men that sleep with me pay N500 each. It is hard to get men who pay N1,000. They will ask me to remove all my clothes and do all sorts of things to me. If I complain, they will beat me up.
“There was a day I complained to a customer about the way he handled me; he punched me in the face and at the end of the day, he gave me N500. When I told Madam Favour what happened, she shouted at me and asked me to always satisfy my customers because she needed money,” Gift recalled in lamentation.
Our correspondent gathered that the state Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi, had directed operatives of the command to go after Favour and other suspects involved in the trafficking.
Speaking to Saturday PUNCH, 27-year-old Anita, who resided on Ojo Road, Ajegunle, admitted posting the girls to different hotels in the state. She, however, said they were aware they were coming to Lagos to “hustle” (another street name for engaging in sex work) before they left the village.
Anita said, “I have three kids and live in Ajegunle. The last time I went to the village, I saw the girls strolling around. They approached me and said they wanted to come to Lagos to work. I told them there was no better work for them in Lagos than ‘hustling’ (another street name for prostitution). They told me they needed money to pay their school fees, which their parents could not afford. They told me they had ‘hustled’ before in Benin, Edo State.
“I spent over N30,000 to bring them to Lagos. They started hustling when we got to Lagos on August 1 and I was collecting whatever they gave me. Sometimes, they gave me N2,000 each. I encouraged them to keep at it and that with time, they would make more money on the job. I told them I had challenges in getting customers too when I started ‘the work.’
“After a week and few days, they ran away. When I called them, they said they were already returning home. I asked them how they got money, but they said I should not worry. I begged them to come back. On Friday evening, they came with an elderly man and policemen to arrest me. “They were supposed to tell their parents before they left home, but they said I should not worry. I called their parents when we got to Lagos.
“My plan was to advise them to save some money so that they would be able to pay their school fees. Their regular charge per man is N500, but some men pay them like N1,000 or N1,500. For me, once I get one man who can pay N5,000, that is all for that day. I started hustling this year after my husband died. I was selling meat before debt forced me to stop.”
While confirming the case, the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Chike Oti, said it had been transferred to the Gender Section of the command in Ikeja for further investigation. Oti promised that all those involved in the crime would be brought to book. He said, “The human trafficking case was reported on August 10, 2018. “The suspect was arrested at Club 6 Hotel, Ajegunle around 9pm that day. She brought the victims to Lagos, deceiving them that she wanted to employ them as salesgirls. She eventually used them for prostitution and shared them to hotels at Ajah, Ijora and Ajegunle.”
In an interview with Saturday PUNCH, a Lagos-based child rights activist, Esther Ogwu, said it was obvious that the rights of the three schoolgirls had been violated by both their parents and the trafficker, Anita.
Ogwu, who is the coordinator, Esther Child Rights Foundation, said it was disturbing that some parents shied away from their responsibilities, thereby shifting the tasks of parenthood onto their children.
She said, “I have discovered that many parents want their children to work for them. The parents will always use themselves as an example. They will tell their children that they did one kind of job or another when they were children too. For a child to be brought from another state to Lagos because she wants money to register for WASSCE is the highest level of child abuse and child trafficking.
“If you follow it up, you find out that most of these parents, either directly or indirectly, allowed these children to do this kind of job (prostitution). That is why people have access to them and use them to make their own money. Some parents will even ask their children to go out with men to make money. Parents are to blame; they must rise up to their responsibilities. They should watch their children.”
Ogwu urged the government to help in providing free education, especially for indigent children and mete out stiff punishment to child traffickers.
“For the woman to make schoolchildren have sex against their wish so that she can make money is a serious offence. She should face the music,” she added.
Over the years, there has been flagrant abuse of the rights of the child with a number of children, like the trio of Efe, Gift and Oke, forced into hard labour, sexual harassment and all manner of degrading treatments.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a child is any human being under the age of 18, safe for countries where the age of majority is attained earlier under national legislation.
Article 32 of the UNCRC enjoined the member states (otherwise referred to as states parties), among which Nigeria is a signatory, to protect children from economic exploitation and “from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”
Furthermore, Article 34 and 35 of the treaty required parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and take all appropriate measures to prevent the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity, including, “the exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices; the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials; and abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.”
The resolutions of the treaty were expounded in Child’s Right Act, 2003 formulated by the Federal Government. Part 2, No. 11 of the Act emphasised the right of a child to dignity, stating that “no child shall be subjected to physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment, including sexual abuse.” Part 2, No. 14 of the Act also enshrined the right of a child to parental care, protection and maintenance.