rostitution is said to be one of the oldest professions in the world. It is alluded to in the bible and ancient civilizations, like Rome and Greece, had to contend with it. As I write, inspite of the penalties entrenched in the laws of most nations, against this illicit trade, it still flourishes. In most cases, though, those who engage in the trade are independent women, old enough to make decisions for themselves and willing to bear attendant repercussions.
What happens, however, when prostitution becomes a pastime for young girls still dependent on their parents for subsistence? More specifically, what happens when the act of prostitution shifts from the cigarette smoke-filled rooms of brothels and the dark alleyways of major cities, to the esteemed halls of citadels of higher learning? Essentially, some of our young girls, sent to universities to acquire knowledge and become productive citizens in the nation, have found a vocation in prostitution. According to Punch Online [June 10, 2008], they now ply the trade right inside the university campuses. By day, they masquerade as students, attending classes and going to the libraries like other students but by night, they shed their academic garbs and don that of the oldest profession in the world.
The Punch Online story sent cold chills down my spine and one is certain that when parents of young girls in Nigerian universities read this story, they will find themselves scampering after their children to ask some poignant questions. It goes without saying that every aspect of this news is bad for the universities as well as for the nation. Our female undergraduates are not only exposing themselves to danger, they are also mortgaging their future on the altar of quick money and instant sensual gratification. Furthermore, Nigerian universities that used to be the source of pride to those of us that passed through them, no longer bear any resemblance to the institutions we once knew. Standard of education has fallen; armed robbers and cultists have moved in and now the campuses are deluged by students-turned prostitutes. That is incredulous.
The interest I developed in this issue stems from my belief that if not arrested, it will deal a devastating and final blow on the standard of education in Nigeria, summarily shattering, to smithereens, the moral fabric of a nation that is already in tatters. It is shocking that this malady has largely been left unchecked and is spreading like wild fire. "The trend is ever becoming more dangerous in Nigeria today as prostitution is no longer a thing of the street and brothels but is fast turning higher institutions in the country into red light districts. Today, the Nasarawa State University is fast gaining a reputation as an abode for girls of easy going virtues despite the high prevalence of HIV/AIDs in the country and particularly in Nasarawa State" writes George Okoh of AllAfrica.Com, October 4, 2007. I must confess that if I had to guess where this illicit trade would be flourishing, Nasarawa State University would not have been on my list. But I guess that times have really changed immensely.
How the illicit traders operate:
The reader may be wondering why prostitution would be flourishing inside university campuses, under the very nose of university staff and security agents. One of the principle reasons, I believe, is that university campus authorities have failed to strike the right balance between ensuring student liberty and enforcement of existing campus codes of conduct. Saying that the students are adults that should know better, they let them call the shots. The problem is that with unbridled liberty and freedom, the students began to push the limits of acceptable behavior, making unrestricted foray into the sublime and dangerous. Taking advantage of the freedom bestowed on them as "adults", our young girls devised creative ways to trade in prostitution right inside the campuses. Investigations conducted by various newspaper correspondents show that the method of operation, employed by these girls, vary from campus to campus and from one individual to another. The hardened ones, who see their campuses as too boring, do not operate inside the university campuses. Instead, they brazenly take their trade directly to their customers "where the real action is". Inotherwords, at night, they taxi into nearby cities or towns, to hot spots that would give them maximum exposure to men willing to pay anything for sensual pleasure. Some walk the streets, when they get to town, until male customers, who are willing to patronize them, materialize.
Because the girls do not fear for their safety or health, they follow the customers to their homes, brothels or nightclubs. According to Mr. Okoh, young female undergraduates of Nasarawa State University, mainly between the ages of 18 to 25 years, take advantage of the proximity of their school to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The girls leave their campus dorms on Fridays, pretending to be going home for the weekend, when their actual destinations are high brow brothels, night clubs and the streets in the Federal Capital. Their sole aim is to go and pleasure, for money, men that some call "aristo"- a term of endearment for wealthy and powerful men. George Okoh further reports that, "In most cases, they [the girls] return back to the school, after the weekend, with large sums of money. To some of these girls, it's just having fun on the weekend but for the fact that in most times they sleep around and collect money from men they hardly know."
There are others that conduct or begin their business dealings right inside the school campuses. In the evenings, they dress up and pace the hot spots within their university campuses, waiting for would-be customers who swoop into the campuses with plenty of money to burn. They follow these men to their nests or nearby hotels and brothels to deliver their goods for varied amounts of payments. "One other style of this trend of prostitution in the school campus is to see men with easy access to these girls patronizing the school to pick some of the girls. A visit to the school [Nasarawa State University] revealed a situation where men with flashy cars besiege the school on daily bases enticing these girls with juicy monetary offers to hang-out with them" [Punch Online].
There is even a modified form of the method described above. This is where some of the students brazen-facedly work with pimps right there on campus. Trusted male counterparts, usually male undergraduate students, help them in sourcing customers from town and making the illicit match. When they find suitable customers for their female clients, fees are agreed upon and the girls are notified and given a time and place, inside the campus, to meet the would-be customer. From there, the girl is taken by the customer to an agreed location to consummate the pleasure-for-money session. After the escapade, when the girl returns with her booty, she hands over a certain percentage of it to the campus pimp and the deal is closed.
The above probably explains why some of these young females carry so many cell phones whenever you see them. I once reported, on this website, how I went to an internet café in Nigeria to check my emails. That evening, I noticed an unusually high number of young girls sitting around surfing the net. The common attribute they had was that each one of them was carrying multiple cell phones, an average of two per person. Some had three. My attention was drawn to the anomaly because of the constant ringing of the phones and the accompanying, "hello, can I help you" that annoyingly followed. I do not understand why a young girl would be carrying more than one cell phone unless she is involved in something illicit or sinister. In this case, I have come to the conclusion that these girls were actually conducting illicit business right there. At this juncture, let me state, as forcefully as possible, that it is the responsibility of parents to pay closer attention to what their children are doing. They should seek to know how many cell phones their children carry and why. As for the reader, my admonition is simple: when next you visit Nigeria and see a young female relative carrying multiple cell phones, you just might be doing a great service to the parents of the girl by alerting them to that and emphasizing the need to delve deep into the matter.
Another group of campus prostitutes just maintain registration with pimps in nearby brothels. They are called upon for work when their services are needed, again, via cell phones. According to an investigation conducted and reported by Punch Online of May 6, 2008, some of the students at Obafemi Awolowo University "advertise themselves through photo albums kept by middlemen in popular hotels contiguous to the campus…as soon as men [patrons] drove [drive] into these hostels, the middlemen would walk up to them with an album that contains pictures of different girls. They promise to fix the men up with campus girls if they so desired"
The above revelation is mind-boggling! To think that young girls have become so shameless and brazen that they are even willing to advertise their faces on albums and risk being seen by people that know them, is puzzling. It is indicative of how much morally decadent our society has become. I recall a cartoon I saw in Nigeria. It was about a wealthy man who traveled to a city on business. From his hotel room, he requested for a damsel for instant gratification but had the shock of his life when the girl that answered his call turned out to be his beloved daughter. The daughter he thought was dutifully attending to her academic chores in school was out and about, pleasuring men that were many times her age. One wonders how often this type of incident occurs in real life. With the current modus operandi of campus prostitutes, it is conceivable that male patrons, perusing albums to select amorous companions, could periodically set their eyes on their relatives. This is not a far-fetched scenario but does it bother the young female undergraduates that chase after money at all costs? Apparently not. From all indications, some of them do not even believe that they are doing something bad or out of the ordinary. Here is what one said to one of the Punch Online correspondents at the University of Ibadan: "If a girl has a boyfriend and they have sex regularly and he gives her money, do you call that prostitution? So, what makes ours different? Is it because it is with different men or because we have more guts? Every woman is an "ashewo" (prostitute) at one level or the other as long as she is not married"
The above statement shows that some of these girls do not actually understand the full ramifications of what they are doing hence their carefree attitude about giving out their pictures and going home with men they have never seen before. The fact that this girl believes that every unmarried woman is an "ashewo" at one level or the other, is not only an insult to all the decent women we have in Nigeria but shows her depth of understanding, or lack thereof, of the issue.
As if the many scenarios described above are not enough, there are yet other ways that young female undergraduates wallow in prostitution in the various campuses in Nigeria. "Sometimes, the girls are recruited to big parties on contract", writes Segun Olugbile. When powerful men come to town and want to be entertained along with their entourage and hangers-on, they turn to middlemen, on contract, to recruit female undergraduates to provide associated pleasure. These middlemen organize entertainment bonanzas by way of parties and lavish bashes in high brow hotels with the girls in attendance. At the end of the night, after wining and dining, the girls join their older companions in their suites where they deliver their goods in exchange for huge sums of money. Investigations show that, depending on a girl's beauty, carriage and associated staying power in bed, she could take home remuneration ranging from N10, 000 to N50, 000 per night.
The last in a laundry list of methods these young girls use to attract customer is to store racy pictures of themselves on their cell phones. In a moment's notice, they send the pictures, through their cell phones, to potential clients. The pictures give the clients the opportunity to evaluate the girls in advance before making formal commitments. Usually, it is those girls that are self-assured about their beauty, that have the gumption to go this route. Again, it is shocking that these girls send their pictures to people they do not know. Because Nigeria does not keep good record of crime, we may never know how many girls may have fallen into the wrong hands in this process with attendant loss of lives
Ironically, these girls and their male accomplices are misusing cell phone technology in Nigeria. The advent and proliferation of cell phones, in the country, was a highly welcome development and was one of the few positive achievements attributable to the Obasanjo regime. It cut down on the need for traveling around the country. It may have reduced the number of car accidents in the nation because of reduced travel. There is also the possibility that it may be saving lives in emergency situations. However, campus prostitution seems to be one area that something good has been turned upside down and used to achieve sinister goals. Cell phones are unfortunately aiding the young girls in flawlessly executing their illicit trade.
How can all this be? One would ask. How can prostitution be flourishing inside a university campus without meaningful intervention from authorities? That is the question on the lips of many troubled by this issue. The problem is that campus authorities have no answer. The best remedy that some of them are able to come up with is to organize prayer sessions to deter the young girls. Segun Olugbile reports, "Worried by the high rate of prostitution among students of universities, authorities of higher institutions and religious fellowships, on campuses, have started prayer sessions to fight the scourge…Also, universities in Ibadan, Ife, Ago-Iwoye and Lagos campus fellowships including the Christ Apostolic Church Students' Association, Baptist Students' Fellowship and fellowships of Pentecostal extraction have, since the publication of a story on the high incidence, declared war on the scourge. They described it as an assault unleashed on God's creatures from the pit of hell" [Punch Online, June 10, 2008]. Well, as a Christian, I strongly believe in the power of prayers but it must be done sensibly. The authorities first have to institute some deterrent measures and then supplement them with prayers. Just standing around and praying, hoping that the situation will go away, is plain silly, if not stupid. If the schools are serious about arresting this scourge, they must then do first things first.
Before concluding this first part of a three-part series, it is important to clarify something that may be on the mind of the reader. The mention of Nasarawa State University as part of this does not mean that it is the only university where this scourge has taken hold. "From the University of Benin in Edo State to the Obafemi Awolowo University in Osun State and the University of Ibadan in Oyo State, the story is similar - campus hookers are on the rise. The only difference is the modus operandi of these students in the various institutions"[ Punch Online, May 6, 2008] It goes without saying, therefore, that no university campus is immune to this scourge and none is being exculpated here.
Stay tuned for part 2 which will examine the probable reasons why this problem came to be.
HERE I STAND