Uzokwe's Searchlight

It took several years for prostitution to seep into university campuses. As the vice evolved and began to consume our young girls, people chose to ignore it as a mere fad that would quickly go away. It was largely left unchecked and so took hold, becoming a way of life in Nigeria's citadels of advanced learning.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Alfred Obiora Uzokwe


t took several years for prostitution to seep into university campuses. As the vice evolved and began to consume our young girls, people chose to ignore it as a mere fad that would quickly go away. It was largely left unchecked and so took hold, becoming a way of life in Nigeria's citadels of advanced learning. In the beginning, some of the students may have loathed the strange lifestyle, but as they watched their indulgent peers return to campus, night after night, with wads of cash, glitzy clothes and other ephemeral paraphernalia, their resistance began to wear thin.

Campus prostitution
Photo: Punch Newspapers

Part one of this series examined the modus operandi of university campus prostitutes. This second part will explore the probable reasons why this vice took hold and the role played by various sections of the Nigerian society, advertently or inadvertently, in encouraging or nurturing it.

During the process of growth and development, a child basically begins to take on the family values, mannerisms, speaking patterns and food choices of those around like parents and siblings. Sociologists advise that during this formative period, parents should stay as close to the child as possible, dispensing advice on how to deal with the vicissitudes of life, molding character, teaching good behavior and countering negative influences from school. A parent who takes interest in the life of a child is able to pick up subtle clues that point to bigger problems in the future. Understanding what the clues are and dealing with them, in most cases, makes the difference between raising a good child and vice versa. What happens, though, when parents abdicate their parental responsibilities and the child suddenly has to rely on outsiders for guidance? What happens when subtle clues from a child are neglected because parents are too busy with other things?

In the beginning…

Many years ago, families in Nigeria put a lot of premium on morality, honor and character. They took time to bequeath same to their wards during their formative years. There were penalties, including spanking and periodic denial of basic necessities, for doing things that would impugn the family name. Vices like stealing, promiscuity, gossiping and the likes, when displayed by a member of a family, were seen as not just bad, but capable of eternally soiling the name of the family. Inotherwords, one bad apple in a family was enough to tar the image of the family for many years. There are cases where other families steered clear of intermarrying with families with "bad apples" for fear of being declared guilty by association. No family wanted to be blacklisted so parents paid serious attention to what their children did at all times, providing guidance on how to behave, what to do and what not to do. They never hesitated to take corrective actions, against their children, when bad behavior was detected.

Dereliction of parental responsibilities

Fast forward to this day and age in Nigeria. The things that mattered in the past no longer do. Certain behaviors that would normally repulse people no longer do. You could be a known robber, prostitute or con man but as long as you have the cash to throw around, build big mansions, make hefty donations during social or even church events, you would be the talk of the town, in a good way. The attitude of "the end justifies the means" has pushed parents away from their traditional roles of monitoring the activities of their children and guiding them. All they now want is for their children to "be like others" with money, regardless of the source.

In the midst of all this dereliction of parental responsibility, children have gone astray because they no longer have true role models to nurture appropriate behavior. It is therefore not surprising that a young girl would go into the university and immediately become overpowered by the temptation to get into prostitution. She wants to have money like everyone else, feel important, buy expensive clothes, dine in high brow restaurants, live in the lap of luxury like others and even impress her parents with gifts from ill-gotten money. Here is what one of my readers, Dozie, wrote to me in response to part one of this series: "I want to tell you that there's nothing going on at Nasarawa state university, come down to Enugu and see what girls are doing and you will be shocked to the marrow….I went to a girl's hostel at Enugu and wasn't able to sit down cos of what I saw inside the room. The girl had a home theater, plasma TV and air-condition inside her room of which I know that most people who are working can't afford such luxury and was told that the rent of the hostel is more than hundred and twenty thousand per year. Wonders shall never end!"

Dozie's amazement is warranted assuming that the items in question were acquired through prostitution. If that is the case, the question that begs for answer is whether the parents of the girls are aware of those items? Many years ago, if you brought home something that your parents did not buy for you, you will have a lot of explaining to do. These days, it is no longer the case. Parents of young girls see them come home with multiple and expensive cell phones they did not buy, flashy and expensive clothes they did not purchase and even cars. They never ask any questions. They gladly take gifts from their daughters knowing fully well that they do not work. Some never bother to visit the campuses to see where their children live and study. Even if they did, rather than marvel at the expensive furnishings, they see it as badge of honor. In essence, because of the lackadaisical attitude of parents, things have fallen apart and the center can no longer hold!

This is what another reader, George, wrote to me after reading the first installment of my write up: "Anyway, I just want to comment on one point. You claimed that parents would be shocked to see what their daughters were doing. Well if I were you, I would not be too certain of that. Our country has been turned completely upside down today precisely because parents don't know or care what their wards do. Some even encourage all kinds of nefarious activities, as long as they are settled by their wards. And at the end of this, these same parents are the ones that will organize thanksgiving ceremonies in churches and mosques to celebrate their wards!" George further writes, "I am sure you watched or followed the recent CNN series on Benin girls prostituting in Norway. You can see that all the parents were claiming that their daughters were working in the fashion industry in Europe, despite the evidence the presenter was placing before them. We have heard of Benin men chastising their daughters, and even wives, for refusing to go and work in Europe!" Need I say more?

Even Teachers can no longer play their traditional role:

One is convinced that the diminished role teachers now play in the lives of students has not helped the fight against campus prostitution. In the days of yore, the role of elementary and secondary school teachers did not just stop with imparting academic knowledge. As a student, if you skipped school without permission, you were punished by the teachers. If you stole someone's belongings, you were suspended or expelled. If you were wayward or promiscuous, you were disgraced in front of your peers, suspended or expelled. Inotherwords, when students went to boarding schools, teachers took over the role of helping to mold their character, deterring bad behavior through punishment.

Unfortunately, teachers no longer play the invaluable role outlined above. Boys and girls, sent to boarding schools, are now like sheep without a shepherd. They do as they please, skip classes, steal, purchase examination papers and the girls cohabit with male friends outside the school. I once asked a secondary school teacher why they seem to have relaxed so much with respect to discipline. I asked the question after hearing of cases of girls leaving the school premises and staying for days on end with men twice their age. The response from the teacher shocked me. She pointed out that trying to punish a student for any type of infringement was risky these days. She told me of cases where teachers had been dragged to police stations to answer questions for punishing children of "rich" parents. She stated that some of the girls have male friends, outside the school, that they could mobilize to go after a teacher for punishing them. She concluded that teachers no longer see themselves as character builders or molders because the children have grown wings on account of protection from their parents and boy friends. Simply put, young girls now go through school, exhibiting signs of promiscuity that point to bigger issues in the future but with no one to stop or correct them. Those who eventually find their ways into the universities, end up continuing, on a larger scale, what they started in secondary school.

Some parents failing in their financial obligations

Another problem that seems to have helped to worsen the issue of campus prostitution is that some parents are not meeting their financial obligations towards their campus daughters. Punch Online [May 6, 2008] reported that a young university prostitute noted that her parents usually gave her N10, 000 a month as pocket money. She added that the N10,000 allowance was barely enough for ordinary snacks. "I will spend that within an hour. It is just knock about money." She said. This should be an eye-opening statement for many parents with young girls in the universities. Everyone knows that the inflationary trend in Nigeria is such that the value of the naira changes at every moment for the worse. It is the responsibility of a parent to ensure that they considered the rate of inflation in giving out pocket allowance to their children, especially the young girls. If you try to be cheap and keep them on an allowance that can hardly sustain them, it is an invitation for them to look elsewhere to make up the shortfall. The girl above complained that the money she is given is "knock about" money. It is sadly the reason why she went into prostitution.

To put the current value of N10, 000 in perspective, I need to tell a short story. Two years ago, in Nigeria, I went out with two people to a semi decent restaurant to eat. I ate and drank two bottles of soda and one of the guests drank two beers or so. At the end, we had a tab of about 12,000 naira! In light of this, I do not see N10, 000 per month allowance as adequate for a university undergraduate. It is amazing how inflation has changed things in the country. In 1977, as a 17-year old, first year student at the University of Nigeria, my monthly spending allowance, from my parents, was twenty naira and it was enough for me. Then, we still used coins to buy soda from Kalu's kiosk behind my campus hostel. Twenty one years later, N10, 000, which is 500 times more than I got then, has become "knock about" money for a young university girl in Nigeria. Go figure. The moral of all this is that some parents are inadvertently helping to drive their wards into prostitution, in the campuses, because of the meager funds they give them as allowance.

Influence of rich Nigerian men

When the story of campus prostitution is completely chronicled, rich Nigerian men will have a place in the story as one of the groups that helped the illicit trade flourish. Here is what one of my readers, Olugboyega, wrote to me in response to the first part of the series: "Our government officials are the main culprits here. They leave their wives at home and start dumping some of their ill-gotten wealth on students young enough to be their grand daughters in most cases"

Olugboyega is right. When these rich government officials and other business men come to university towns, on "official business", they "relax" with young university girls brought to them by pimps and the likes. At the end of the romp, they settle them with hefty sums of money. Clearly, these men may not have started prostitution in campuses but by what they are doing, they are making the vice flourish. Funny that they may not know that what they are doing to other people's daughters, in one campus, may be happening to their own daughters in other campuses.

Peer pressure

Peer pressure is everywhere. In campuses, every one wants to be like the other. The bad girls that willingly embraced prostitution, because of their insatiable need for the good things in life, gradually co-opt the more conservative ones. If one person has 3 cell phones, another wants to do the same. If one student has flashy clothes, the other wants it. For those who are probably not from the very rich families, they are forced to start looking for ways to make up and in many cases, they end up doing what others are doing which is prostitution.

Bad Government and poor economy:

Out of the more than 1,000 pages of commentary I have written on Nigeriaworld, since 2001, about 70% is devoted to criticism of Nigeria's economy and the so called leaders we have. The army inherited a robust economy but because of greed and ineptitude, they turned the nation's economy into something of a dud. They wiped out the middle class that used to be the engine of the society and economically stratified the nation into two dominant groups - the very rich and the very poor. There is no middle class. The unfortunate thing is that poverty strata is where the greater percentage of people reside.

With a tanking economy, the ability of parents to meet the obligations of their children in school has diminished immensely. There are parents of children in universities who, out of poverty engendered by bad economy, are genuinely unable to pay the school fees. With very little money coming from their parents, some of the girls succumb to the pressure to get into prostitution to raise funds for school fees and more.

Some of the universities are not making things any easier. They charge so much money these days that it is hard to understand where they expect the students to get the money from. The last time I was in Nigeria, I had the opportunity to speak to a female undergraduate in one of the universities in Anambra State. As a medical science student, she was required to conduct a research that required lab rats. The girl told me that each student was responsible for the purchase of the lab rats they used in addition to payment of lab and equipment fees. All came to a total of several thousand naira. The parents were not financially equipped to handle all the cost. This is the type of catch 22 situation that put young female students in precarious positions, forcing them into prostitution. They start by wanting to raise just enough money to take care of the immediate school bills. But when the cash starts rolling in, they become so enamored by their new-found status that they take it several steps further.

A society that glorifies wealth

Many years ago, wealth was not necessarily what earned someone respect in the village, towns or cities. Hence, you could see a stupendously wealthy family being shunned by the villages because they may have compromised the integrity of the family. Character was the overarching thing. Those who were made chiefs were not necessarily the rich, it was those with character and with a proven track record of doing good deeds for the community. At the time, if you were wealthy but the source of your wealth was not verifiable, people would keep away from you, isolate you to the point that no one would want to marry from your family. The game has changed. Money now rules regardless of the source. It is the wealthy that have convoys and sirens; it is the wealthy that build churches and have them named after them; it is the wealthy that have sycophantic songs and books written in their honor; it is the wealthy that presidents and governors give special places and honor for during important events.

Our young men and women have come to realize that we are in a society where the end justifies the means. They therefore do what it takes to belong and part of it is prostitution and cultism.

The churches have failed too:

Church Sunday school sessions were very popular when I was growing up. I did not particularly like the idea that on Sundays, barely three hours after returning from morning service, we were back again in church for Sunday school lessons that lasted two hours. In retrospect, though, it was all worth it. The bible lessons that were rehashed over and over again, constantly reinforced the values that parents strove to inculcate at home. It was like being bombarded with story lines of how to act and the consequences of doing certain things like stealing, gossiping, promiscuity, taking another person's life, and more. Parents were always eager to send their children to Sunday schools, knowing the kind of impact that was having.

The story seems to be different today. Churches spend so much time fund-raising for one activity or the other and glorifying donors. They rarely have time to organize the type of Sunday school sessions that helped mold character of young people in the towns, villages and cities. There is even less time for character building organizations like girls' guide, boys' scout, girls' brigades and boys' brigade. These days, we hear of armed robberies committed by teenagers where they take the lives of innocent people with abandon. Sometime I pause to ask what manner of family and religious upbringing these kids had just like I wonder what manner of upbringing the young girls that indulge in campus prostitution had. I am not in any way insinuating that religion has the answers to every thing because we have non-Christians that lead admirable lives. Yet, in making a comparison between the way things were and the they are now and then factoring all the things that influenced people then and now, I am almost positive that having the church as an extended arm that helped to mold character and provide the right moral compass for young boys and girls helped then.

In conclusion

This may not have been an exhaustive list of the reasons why prostitution took hold in Nigerian university campuses but it is enough to trigger a discourse on why it started and how it could be expunged or at least tempered. The final part of this series, which comes out next week, will examine the consequences of allowing this vice to continue to flourish in our campuses.