It’s 1943. Mary, a young girl, sits in the corner of a small, dark room in Lagos Island. She starts to think of home and better times when her madam calls out to her, loudly. It is time, again.
She walks into the open area to see a white man, probably English, smile at her with tobacco stained teeth. Mary knows, but she is not sure she can do what is being asked of her, what has been asked so many times before.
Her madam puts her hands in this oyinbo’s cold hands and gestures towards the room. But Mary is tired, so she pulls her hand away and shakes her head… NO.
Mary is a sex worker, and ‘NO’ is not a part of that line of work. So her madam smiles and holds her hand again, but Mary pulls it back.
The next time her madam’s hand comes up, it is a clenched fist that lands on Mary’s face. Then her torso, and her face again. She screams and tries to deflect the blows, but her tiny arms only flail as she falls to the ground.
She hears footsteps, running, other workers come to see what is happening, but they stand there, no-one tries to help her.
She tries to call out someone’s name but she cannot hear her own voice. She wills herself to stand, raise her arms, do something, anything but nothing is happening.
By the time her madam regains her senses, and her temper dies down, Mary is dead, a lifeless heap of flesh and bones on the cold floor.
However interesting it may seem, the story of the Nigerian sex worker does not begin here.
Our very creative grandparents first called the sex worker ‘Ashewo’ in the 1930’s but it doesn’t start there either.
There is a reason why prostitution is called the world’s oldest profession.
The sex worker is as old, perhaps older, than Nigeria herself but when the colonial government first tried to ban prostitutes in 1916 – they were not just around, they were everywhere.
The European expatriates and young professionals of old Lagos had a massive appetite for Nigerian women, and the sex workers were willing to satisfy it, so they hung at every point they could find them – on street corners, in front of office buildings, cinemas, clubs, chain stores especially on Lagos Island.
When Mary Efoghere died, the reaction from the public was one of pain, disgust and anger; naturally, the government stepped in.
By 1946, the ashewos of Lagos were an endangered species.
Then, in 1960, the English dusted their bags and left. Nigeria became an independent country.
A new generation saw an opportunity to pick up where their mentors left the hustle. The conditions were right, so the Nigerian sex worker rose again.
This time, their clients were different. Nigeria was a different country, more people could now afford to pay for a few minutes of mekwe.
These sex workers realised that instead of chasing them around, they had to create places where those clients could find them.
In the following years, brothels sprung up all over Nigeria.
Weird MC sang about Allen Avenue in 1996, but she was 16 years late to the party.
In many ways, Ikeja was the unofficial national headquarters of sex workers at the time, but the street corners that they loved were all over the country. They were the places where the girls stood at night, waiting patiently, hoping for the best.
But more often than not, conversations went like this.
*cars drives into dimly lit street*
“Baby, come over and check me out. I go do you well.”
“No, it’s too expensive. Collect 400 naira.”
“Comot here. Bastard. Na your mama dem go carry for 400 naira.”
“This one is old and rude. Let’s check young meat in front”
*car drives away*
Because dark street corners are not for everyone and politicians like to have sex too, a new, higher level of sex workers emerged.
They were the call girls or escorts – undergraduates and exotic women who went the extra mile to look better than their mates on the street.
Their millionaire suitors, known as ‘aristos’ were wealthy and much older men who lived in high-brow areas like Ikoyi and 1004 apartments. They were men who could afford the luxury lifestyle the girls desired.
Let’s pull things back a bit.
When the 70s welcomed the street hookers, they quickly filled up every space they could find.
The escort was an upgrade, the guarantee that if they could become the object of the right person’s desires, they could live the good life.
A lot of things were happening at this time; the military was killing the economy and oil prices were falling, so more women were trying to make a living any way they could.
The problem was, there could only be so many hookers in one place; so the most daring of the madams looked at their contacts in Europe, and decided it was time to expand the business.
Going into 1990, the number of girls that travelled from Nigeria to Italy for a life of prostitution ran into the thousands.
As of today, a dazzling 80% of women that travel from Nigeria to Italy through Libya end up as sex workers in Europe.
But that is another story. Ours continues in Nigeria.
The age of the aristo continued late into the early 2000s.
In the eyes of the hooker, there were only two classes of Nigerians; on one hand, there was the upper-class— people who could afford aristos.
On the other, you had the regular folk who, because food is more important than 10 minutes of happiness, could only afford the brothels or night warriors of Allen Avenue.
Then, one night, if you believe the stories, Abacha died at the hands of a prostitute.
With democracy came freedom and a new class of people. They were young and comfortable, professionals, entertainers and internet fraudsters — people with just enough newly-made wealth to enjoy few luxuries.
They wanted to taste the things that escorts could do to a man, and the money was there, but it was not enough to compete with Alhaji for his Unilag babe.
A new class of sex worker fondly called ‘olosho’ emerged to serve that need.
She is very similar to the aristo, usually educated to some level with an ability to almost blend into whatever location she finds herself in.
The olosho is never a call away from anybody.
The average guy is too proud to walk past Allen Avenue to pick up a girl, and for him, a brothel is not an option, but this hooker knows that if she lures your attention for long enough, you will realise that your next few minutes of pleasure are just a short conversation away.
And just like that, she discovered how to solve the problem of her clients’ insecurities and shyness; by following them everywhere, and hiding in plain sight.
You are friends with more oloshos than you know.
In the following years, a new invention slowly became a part of our daily lives. Its name? The internet.
When Facebook became a big deal in the late 2000s, Nigerians flocked there, buoyed by their smartphones and data plans, and the sex worker followed.
For her, It was like opening a branch on the internet; all she had to do was create a vague profile with a pseudonym and a few pictures that could get blood rushing to a man’s head.
Soon enough, she would begin to receive messages.
“Hey pretty. I think you look really good. Would you like to hang out? I can show you a really good time”
Simple and straight-forward, right?
A lot of the girls had friends and family that used Facebook; there was the chance that someone could always stumble on their profile and see things.
So, when Badoo came through, they knew they had to move.
Badoo has never pretended to be something it is not. It is an app for meeting members of the opposite sex and the sex workers understood that from the onset.
When they joined the site and shared pictures of body parts begging to be set free, the business was on the rise again.
But a lot of this was happening.
“Hey beautiful. How are you?”
“You look like an angel, let me give you a place in the stars”
“Hey, you look like you have a nice package, let me unwrap it for you”
Badoo makes it very easy to discover new people, so the hookers found that they were getting too messages from guys trying to sweet-talk them into having sex for free.
Tinder showed up later, a fancier version of Badoo with fewer options, but the case was the same.
So they gave us the phrase that is an invitation and a disclaimer at the same damn time.
What this means is simple; you can send messages until the end of the internet age, but unless you’re ready to pay for nacks, your efforts will fade away like smoke.
Swipe left, and right on your favourite dating app and it’s there; generic hooker name, breasts bursting out of bra, rear end in the air and, ‘hookup(s) only’.
Your favorite Instagram model is a call girl.
Have you ever wondered why Instagram is full of models who have never seen a runway or had a professional photoshoot?
Since social media and chatting became a thing, hookers have relied a lot on pictures.
Instagram launched to give them a system that was built around pictures for the most part. I really don’t know what we were expecting.
The hookers joined the app in numbers and put ‘model/PR expert’ on their profiles.
The idea was, and still is simple; upload as many pictures of yourself in posh locations looking as sexually inviting as possible and soon, the right people will want a taste of what they see.
Typically, in very little time, a lot of us followed them.
A certain Instagram barbie even has more followers than some full-time musicians.
Men are scum.
While you followed her just to enjoy free shows, it’s actually going down in the DMs of the Instagram hooker.
Her pretend-like-you-actually-have-money lifestyle tends to attract big fish, the kind of people who can pay for sex in obscene amounts of naira and dollars.
Business boomed. But there was always going to be a new frontier, and in due time, it came.
If there is a hierarchy of users on Snapchat, it will be something like this.
Entertainers— Snapchat Hoes — Normal People, like you and I.
Instead of just pictures, Snapchat invited the hooker to share short videos, and she embraced the opportunity with open legs.
Nobody, not even Davido, posts snaps like a Snapchat hoe. Every day brings a new hotel room, a new car, ‘vacation’ or party, a new opportunity to show you the only thing that matters; her body.
Her videos are like teasers; you open your Snapchat to see a new story and tap on it.
The text across the screen says “Bored as fuck” but this aunty is grinding all over the place.
She makes a face at the camera and winks. The snap ends.
The next snap loads, she’s in the same place but there’s music playing as she rolls her eyes.
It takes you some time to notice that her bra strap has disappeared into thin air.
By the fourth snap, the progression is almost complete. She’s singing along but you can only notice the blouse that is clinging on to her breasts for dear life.
A little peek of lace panties here, a peek of the outline of her body, small bum-bum, just enough to have you wishing for the real thing.
While the rest of Nigeria tries to fully understand Snapchat, she handles it like a professional.
Even in the face of threats to her survival, the Nigerian sex worker has successfully evolved over time to match the needs of her clients and the reality of the times she lives in.
From Allen Avenue to 10-second videos, she has followed you everywhere, because of one simple fact; men have always wanted to have sex.
Snapchat will fade away soon, but you can be sure that whatever may come next, she will be ready for it.