Socially Accepted Sex-for-Money is still in Spring Time
In contemporary Nigeria, prostitutes in the traditional sense no longer exist or are almost extinct; fitter species of sex workers have emerged numerously over the past three decades. The traditional prostitute was the lady who rented a work room at an often squalid brothel, usually next door to a beer parlour, where punters could go to enjoy themselves after getting tipsy and for a small fee. Up to the 1970s these women were usually divorcees or widows or women who could not because of, say, deformity or other disadvantages, get a husband. The Biafran Civil War had just ended. The prettier prostitutes had queues of horny men outside their doors waiting their turn.
Masturbation for religious and superstitious reasons was frowned upon in private. Moreover, there were very few ethnic groups whose women appeared prone to such as profession. Prostitution had no glamour and was still a thing of shame back then and the ethnic groups whose women were most associated with it were disapproved of often using secondary explanations. The thinking then was that women who could earn a living as prostitutes were amoral enough to be murderers, and members of the implicated ethnic groups were considered to be a truly wicked people.
In the late 1980s Nigeria, had a new breed of sex worker called “club girls” in some cities. These women dressed up like Western sex workers and could be picked up at night clubs. Unlike the traditional prostitute who charged for sex per male orgasm, the club girl charged for the night. In the aftermath of the first wave of structural adjustment and austerity under President Babangida hunger became a tenacious and merciless reality for Nigerians, and women started to engage in relationships with men in order to secure things as basic as regular meals to more pressing needs such as house rent, school fees and parents’ funerals.
This was all happening alongside the club girl phenomenon, which boomed easily due to harsh economic conditions and rapidly extended into the high-incidence of street walking. Furthermore, was the “new understanding” women, sincerely with highest levels of conviction, expected their young boyfriend who was not able to cater for her at university, secondary or in society to unconditionally accept her offering sex to a man who could take care of her needs in addition to himself; he had to understand. In fact, the boyfriend had to most humbly leave the scene anytime the sugar daddy made an appearance. The boyfriend was usually an undergraduate or unemployed graduate. Two tier relationships started to spread.
By the 1990s and the Millennium university undergraduates (acada girls) had taken over the sex industry. Female hostels became the “New Brothels” and acada girls dominated the street walker phenomenon. At this same time, the marriage of Nigerian ladies to European and American expatriates was a big new phenomenon. The expatriates often picked these ladies up as club girls and if they hit it off became partners. The expatriates were often flattered by the slavish service of the local ladies; little did they know it was sex for money and a means of escape to the Western World. That was also the era of the export of girls from Nigeria to European nations for prostitution. Some were taken into sex slavery by deception while some went into it with their eyes wide open. A new thinking had also appeared: women having sex for money to support the welfare and financial needs of males in the family e.g. girls training their brothers at university, paying of a father’s debt, raising money to help their boyfriends, etc. with the earnings from prostitution.
Today sex for money has been normalised; it is a norm. Sex for money has been stripped of its associated amorality and immorality in society. It is no longer even considered prostitution. It is “just one of those things.” The “runs babes” of cities and university towns in Nigeria are the high end of the game; well-educated and from structurally adjusted (i.e. impoverished) middle-class families, they charge very high fees and never fail to please or satisfy. Many of the runs babes and other sex for money participants have very effectively deleted the concept and capacity for love from both their conscious and subconscious minds mainly by habituation. The ladies will tell those who care to listen, “love is neither edible nor stomach filling.” Therefore, the owinkpi has become liberalised, commercialised, monetised and commoditised for the purpose of trade and industry. We must not forget that the vast majority of Nigerians live on less than $1.25 a day; there is still sex for food and sex for a pittance going on.
With the illusion that education to university level breeds goodness in women, many men make mistakes. Increasingly, men marry women who for the first sexual encounter they shared were paid and the money meticulously counted. The aftermath of the marriages hardly ever yields good stories. Nevertheless, it was the men who enjoyed the developments in the sex industry and rapid increase in the access to sexual activity with women. However, as stagflation has deepened in Nigeria over the years access to sex has become more expensive by way of inflation and the neoliberal awareness of the female. Men (often from society’s elite) who make easy money shamelessly brag about how much they spend on their sexual encounters with women. Connoisseurs of runs babes they shout with glee, “I give them 50 tawzon or 50 kay (synonyms of N50,000)” as smug rapid fire comments off their lips. The less privileged have to be content with finding girls who will accept N5-10k for the night which comes with a number of limitations. Many a girlfriend will always remind her guy the favour she is doing him, she is giving him “free sex.”
Nigeria: the day of the prostitute is over; the day of socially accepted sex-for-money is still in spring time. It did not just happen overnight or did it?
- Dr. Nane is an errant scholar and economist. Follow him on Twitter @Grimot