The proposal raised last week by deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, about legalising prostitution in the country has generated heated debate among moralists and socialists alike. Besides, like one respondent puts it, prostitution is a reality of the modern world, there is no denying that sex is the hottest commodity in Abuja. Michael Oche takes a look at the pros and cons of this proposal.
Most of us come from a very disadvantaged background with aged parents and siblings to cater for. I actually came to Abuja to search for a job after school but I discovered that getting a job with a diploma is very difficult. However, the lady I was staying started frowning at my stay with her and I had no choice than to look for something to help myself with. Nobody would intentionally choose to be in this thing.”
Those were the touching words of a commercial sex worker who gave her name as Blessing. She told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that she has been in the sex trade for nearly five years. “I chose sex work after I did a lot of things I couldn’t stand. Sex work is better. For me, sex work isn’t my first choice of paying work. It just happens to be the best alternative available. It’s better than sitting idle at home hoping on a government job that will never come. At least, it is better than stealing.”
Blessing recalled how she felt a few months ago when the FCT minister, Senator Bala Mohammed in a sweeping announcement placed a ban on commercial sex work in the nation’s capital. Those days she said, were really trying times for her. She said she was yet to recover from the ban.
“I have lost a lot of money. I was forced to go underground. I relocated to Dutse Alhaji. Every now and then we are harassed by men of the task force. I have heard some girls who even claim they were extorted or rape by men of these task force. But of course they can’t go to the police”, she said
Blessing’s worst nightmare may soon be a thing of the past if the proposal by deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu should receive senate backing. Surprisingly, she isn’t enthusiastic about the proposal. “it is not one of the best jobs to do. I admit it is morally wrong. Imagine my mum getting to find out what I do in Abuja. I think it will be better to create better jobs for us so that we can leave this prostitution. It is not a job any young girl should be envious of not to talk of wanting to continue in it” he said.
Speaking during debate on a motion on the scourge of human trafficking in the country, Ekweremadu had suggested that since it had become impossible to stop prostitution in the land, the Senate should consider regulating the act in the country.
According to him “we need to regulate prostitution in this country so that if anyone wants to indulge in prostitution, the person should be registered and issued with a license. If we say we want to stop it, it would be difficult. It is done in other countries; let us regulate it by issuing license.”
Also speaking on the matter, Senate President David Mark said it was difficult to stop the act of prostitution saying “the FCT administration has been trying to stop but they are facing stiff resistance because the prostitutes have their association and even their own legal adviser. It is a reasonably organised bad profession.”
Since Abuja earned fame as the “happening” place where milk and honey, in form of local and foreign currencies, flow ceaselessly from the wallets of federal legislators, ministers, special aides, highly placed civil servants and their wealthy private sector cronies, including foreigners, prostitutes of all hues have made the territory a haven to pinch some fortune off what they consider the national cake. As investigations reveal, besides the professional, dyed-in-the-wool harlots, supposed ‘decent’ ladies from other areas of life, ranging from housewives, contractors and career women, to even stars in the entertainment industry, also frequent Abuja for lucrative trade of sex.
Prostitution in the city has gone beyond the conventional sex trading act in local brothels and notable red light districts into a sophisticated network of top class society gals doing their ‘runs’, to use one of the many coinages applied in the trade. Today’s prostitution in Abuja wears many faces. Although, the old method where patrons walk in and savour, paying a pittance for just a few minutes round of sex still exists in the suburbs, shanties and satellite towns like Kuje, Lugbe, Dutse, Karmo, Karu, Mararaba, Nyanya and Kubwa, the new trend of expensive sex holds in the many luxury hotels in the Abuja metropolis and the exquisite homes of the super rich.
However such proposal, like the one by the deputy senate president, is expected to get stiff resistance in a society with so much religious and moral inclination like Nigeria. Opponents believe that legalizing prostitution would lead to increases in sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, human trafficking, and violent crime including rape and homicide.
They contend that prostitution is inherently immoral, commercially exploitative, empowers the criminal underworld, and promotes the repression of women by men.
Ironically the proponents of the debate believe that the rising threat of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases has become one of the most compelling arguments for the complete legalization of prostitution.
They argue that sex workers should enjoy the same labour rights as other workers and the same human rights as other people. Sex workers can only gain the same rights as other workers when the debate is moved from a moral framework and placed in the framework of labour rights.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, Mr. Sunday Aremu, a civil servant based in Abuja frowned at the proposal saying the government should rather seek alternative means of providing employment for the girls rather than encouraging immorality.
He said, “ Who are those patronizing those prostitutes? That is why it will be difficult for them to stop prostitution in Nigeria. If those men that patronise them can stop patronizing them, they will stop it.”
He continued, “One needs to completely rid oneself of the greed for cash to see that prostitution, can never be a legitimate business because it will always be associated with crime, corruption, class, mass sexual exploitation and human trafficking.”
Another respondent, Kingsley Chukwu who spoke against the proposal said, “The community may accept that some level of prostitution is inevitable. However, that does not mean supporting anything that might result in more brothels and more prostitutes. It certainly does not mean tacit endorsement of a system that could send a wrong message to young women that prostitution is a desirable career option.
He said, even if the government decided to regulate their operations, unsafe practices would continue. “from my personal investigation, condoms are not used 100 per cent of the time in the sex industry. Men expected sex without a condom; 73% of women reported that men offered to pay more for sex without a condom,” he said.
However, proponents of legalizing prostitution believe it would reduce crime, improve public health, increase tax revenue, help people out of poverty, get prostitutes off the streets, and allow consenting adults to make their own choices.
“Moreover, regulated brothels would then operate as legitimate businesses, and so attract professional managers as opposed to underworld thugs”, Onyebuchi Emmanuel said.
A legal practitioner Uchenna Bernard said, “There is no downside to legalizing prostitution. The government would benefit by collecting taxes on the industry. And regulation would clean up a lot of crime and help to protect women.”
Speaking further he said, “I am not making a moral judgment here. I see prostitution as a reality of the modern world. The chances of eliminating it are practically nil. Under those circumstances it is better to keep it in check and under control by giving it a legal framework. This is not to say that I approve of brothels - but it seems to me that it would be better to have prostitution take place there - with medical check-ups and prostitutes paying taxes. It would be the lesser of two evils.”
“There is no doubt that deadly violence against sex workers is a recurring social pattern. Nor is there any doubt that serial killers know sex workers are afraid to seek protection from police; or that the public believe violence is part of a prostitute’s job description. Until prostitution is legalized, these women will continue to toil underground, miles away from the light, in constant fear of predators.”
He said by contrast, the term legalization usually refers to a system of governmental regulation and control of prostitutes wherein prostitutes are licensed and required to work in specific ways. The reality is that in most ‘legalized’ systems the police control prostitution with criminal codes. Laws regulate prostitutes’ businesses prescribing health checks and registration of health status.
“We say that prostitutes are selling their bodies, but how is that different from athletes? They’re selling their bodies. Models? They’re selling their bodies. Actors? They’re selling their bodies. Those saying it should not be legalized are all pretenders. They are the ones who still take advantage of these girls”, he added
Prostitution is legal (with some restrictions though) in Canada, almost all of Europe including England, France, Wales, Denmark, etc., most of South America including most of Mexico (often in special zones), Brazil, Israel (Tel Aviv known as the brothel capital of the world), Australia, and many other countries. It is either legal or very tolerated in almost all of Asia and even Iran has “temporary wives” which can be for only a few hours! New Zealand passed in 2003 one of the most comprehensive decriminalization acts which even made street hookers legal.
However, the question is, is Nigeria ready for it?