Dutse Alhaji - Where Police and Sex Workers 'Co-operate'

A popular saying goes, 'monkey dey work, baboon dey chop'. That perhaps tells the story of what is happening in most FCT suburbs since the ban on prostitution in the federal city. Police officers now collect percentages from sex workers to allow them continue in business. Michael Oche and Augustine Aminu narrate their experiences.

Since Abuja earned fame as the "happening" place where milk and honey, in form of local and foreign currencies, flow ceaselessly frm the wallets of federal legislators, ministers, special aides, highly placed civil servants and their wealthy private sector cronies, prostitutes of all hues have made the territory a haven to pry some fortune off what they consider the national cake. As investigations reveal, besides the professional, dyed-in-the-wool harlots, plutomaniac ladies from other areas of life, ranging frm housewives, contractors and career women to even stars in the entertainment industry, also frequent Abuja for lucrative rolls in the hay.

Prostitution in the city has gone beyond the conventional sedentary act in local brothels and notable red light districts into a sophisticated network of '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 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.

When the pronouncement to ban commercial sex workers frm Abuja was made by the FCT minister, Bala Mohammed, there were mix reactions frm different quarters. To some who patronize these sex workers, it was a hard one on them as these girls are their favourite pastime and for those who don't patronize them, it was a sigh of relief - especially, to housewives who have lost their husbands to them. 

However, in most of the suburbs in the FCT, the story is different as the trade has taken a new dimension. And as it is said, when one door closes, another opens. For the police officers serving in this suburb, the movement of these girls to Dutse and other satellite towns is a blessing in disguise. They have capitalised on it to exploit the sex workers. 

These reporters were in a drinking joint with some friends in Dutse Alhaji, when they suddenly heard a girl yelling in pidgin English, "Wey my money? If you no give me, I no go leave you. I don tell you say na only five men I f**k today." Everybody's attention was drawn to those words; they were too raw to be spoken in the public. 

Moving closer, our reporter discovered that the person the girl was harassing was a policeman. The Madam of the brothel had to intervene in the matter before it was finally resolved. The girl claimed the officer said she had slept with seven men, while she only slept with only five that evening. LEADERSHIP SUNDAY gathered that some police officers assigned to arrest prostitutes in the FCT take some percentages frm the girls, depending on the number of men they sleep with. 

On further enquiries, these reporters discovered this has been an ongoing trend - where this particular police officer just sits by and monitor the number of patrons to the brothel. At the end of the day, he walks in and collects his percentage per patron. 

Further investigations reveal the girls usually charge between N500 and N1000, but since they have to settle the police, they have also inflated their rates to N2000 to cover the percentage. 

In one of such popular brothels located at 1616 in Dutse, one of the sex workers who gave her name as Blessing told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that they pay a weekly rent of N7, 500 to the owner of the brothel and a percentage of N200 to the police per client. She said, "Sometimes, they collect N200 frm us per customer. And sometimes, they collect more especially, when they feel the customer is a big man and they think we charged him more than normal rate. Sometimes, they ask us to drop all the money we have made so that they can be sure that we are not lying and that we are paying them the correct percentage." 

Our investigations reveal that the arrangement to 'settle' the police was a collective agreement reached by the girls and as Blessing claimed, once you refuse to pay, the police officers would arrest you for prostituting. 

Street prostitution contravenes Section 35, sub section 1 of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) Act of 1997, thus, making it illegal for anyone to patronize commercial sex workers.

Speaking to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, another sex worker who gave her name as Angel explained that she was in the business because, "a few years ago, my mother was sick and I spent all I had. I approached a friend for help. Instead of giving me a loan, the friend showed me how to make 'free money.' So that was how I started coming out to the street."

Angel works in one of the brothels close to Dutse Makaranta Police Station. She said she moved to Dutse immediately after the ban on prostitution in the city centre. 

Last year, Bala Mohammed, minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), ordered all commercial sex workers in Abuja to quit the federal city. The territory's Social Development Secretariat which was mandated to implement the order has since been carrying out raids, but prostitution remains big business in Abuja. 

The frequency of the raids in the city centre forced most of the girls to flee to suburbs like, Maraba, Kubwa, Gwarimpa, Dutse Alhjai among others. 

The FCT administration has used different tactics to discourage the female sex workers frm their trade. It began with persuasion when in June, the secretary for social development, Blessing Onuh, visited the call girls at their respective abodes to give them the minister's order. She told them that the secretariat's task force would commence arrest and warned them not to take the matter lightly. 

Shortly afterwards, several offenders were arrested when the task force, made up of officials of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), the secretariat and the police, conducted its first raid. 

The suspects were eventually taken to Wuse Police Station before being charged to a mobile court where they were tried by magistrate Aminu Abdullahi. 

After that first raid, sources at the environmental monitoring unit told a national daily that they were in a hurry to discharge the girls because the "pressure frm outside was too much. After the July arrest, we received several calls frm high-profile personalities in this country, including National Assembly men, governors, commissioners frm states and high military officials, asking us to release the girls," said the source who pleaded anonymity. 

"We had no choice because we do not want to lose our jobs." The officials said they were not even able to keep the girls for more than one night and had to hold the court session on Saturday instead of Monday. "The DPO was not willing to keep them again because of several calls coming to him," said another source. 

Although the FCT administration promises the raids will continue, and may be expanded to the men who patronize the girls, there is no gainsaying that prostitution still exists and has shifted to the suburbs. 

Aside the police, allegations of rape have recently trailed the activities of the Abuja Environmental task force. A resident of the FCT, Salihu Dantata Mahmud told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, "It is no longer news that members of the Abuja Environmental Task Force extort money frm operators of illegal food joints in the city, hawkers and even arrested prostitutes and in most cases, rape the female victims who cannot meet their monetary requirements. Abuja, being the capital city of Nigeria of course, deserves a better and high-powered team to maintain environmental standards, but this time round, the wrong people are at the helm of affairs of the environmental task force. There are evidences about how men charged with the responsibility of riding the city of hawkers, illegal food joint operators and prostitutes compromise their positions and obligations in exchange for sex and financial inducements. 

According to him, selective justice is not also left out; alleging that some arrested suspects do not go through the mobile courts as long as they can give what is required of them. 

He said, "My first physical experience of the extortive nature of the task force was at Lagos Street, Garki where I went to eat in the evening, a combined team of environmental task force surfaced, thinking that they were doing the right thing, they packed all the chairs, cooking pots and the whole food, then the woman in charge of the place followed after a while and returned with empty pots and chairs. When I inquired frm her what happened, she explained to me that she settled with thirty thousand naira but the cooked food was consumed by men of the environmental task force. 

"One surprising thing that night was how other food vendors were spared on the same street. Not done with that, a popular video coverage operator called Chidi Best, in Garki area was caught standing with a girl, I can't say whether she was a prostitute or not in front of Rita Lori, Chidi and his girl were bundled into the van and taken to the Area 3 office of the taskforce. A Good Samaritan who was a witness leaked the information to LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPERS and it was published the next day. 

Another funny scenario was when a royal prince frm Jigawa State standing with two actresses, conversing were caught by the taskforce, the prince who is an engineer did not take it lightly with the taskforce, but not without humiliation and attempted rape of one of the actresses called Jennifer whose number is in my possession and ready to testify to anyone, anytime and any day. The irony of the whole saga was that the prince was in possession of a vehicle with Jigawa Royal House inscription. These and others are two numerous to mention." 

AllAfrica.com, 2011.01.31, Michael Oche & Augustine Aminu