Early in the morning, categories of women from different parts of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, are lured to the Shagari Low-cost area in droves for various businesses.
First are grasshopper vendors who go very early to buy the insects from young men that hunt them from bushes around Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
In the evening, the atmosphere changes as young girls, mostly teenagers, and different kinds of men take over the busy area for sex trade.
Investigation by Daily Trust Saturday revealed how these night visitors – uniform men and even the elderly – troop to the place to take advantage of underage girls and other young prostitutes.
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Daily Trust Saturday reports that brothels, beer parlours and suya spots are spread across every nook and cranny of the streets, while prostitutes and drug dealers abound.
Intoxicated girls looking for sex partners and their clients are mostly seen at dark corners of the area while others walk around to attract patronage.
A short man with a potbelly that hangs on top of his trousers was among the many clients of the underage sex girls.
The man, who was obviously drunk and gave his name as Timothy, said he was in his 50s. He was not reluctant to narrate the story of the first time he had sex with an underage girl.
“She was 13 years old but was not immature in bed. And you will see over 30 of them everyday here. If you are lucky you would get a virgin,” he narrated with excitement.
He also said that at the dead of the night he would pick girls who could not get partners; and he would feed and accommodate them in exchange for sex.
It was also learnt that many poor households in Maiduguri push their underage girls into sex for money as a means of survival.
Daily Trust Saturday learnt that most of the juvenile sex workers are survivors of Boko Haram insurgency; hence poverty, hunger and family pressures forced them into prostitution.
One of the girls who identified herself as Fanna told our correspondent that she was exposed to sex-for-food in an internally displaced persons camp. And when the camp closed, she moved to one of the notorious slums in Maiduguri, which was demolished by the government – Barka da Zuwa, and now, Kasuwar Fara at Shagari Low-cost.
Fanna, 15, said she escaped from Boko Haram insurgents who raided her home town, Bama, killed her father and married her off to one of them at 13. On reaching Maiduguri, she was taken to a camp, where she accused officials and security operatives of introducing them to sex-for-food.
She recalled sleeping with soldiers and camp officials in exchange for food and little money.
She narrated, “I was not accepted by camp officials when I arrived, but with time, an elderly woman told me to use what I had to bribe them.
“I left the camp to look for shelter in town and eventually relocated to the Barka da Zuwa area, where we sell our bodies for money.
“After the government demolished the place, we relocated here (Kasuwar Fara).”
She said that as a result of Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State, thousands of wives became widows, leaving them and their children vulnerable to people that take advantage of their hopeless situation.
Our correspondent saw one-year-old baby, Salma and her 16-year-old mother, Amira Muhammad, in a shack.
Narrating her ordeal, Amira said her stepmother pushed her into sex trade at 15.
“I eloped with my boyfriend when my father refused to marry me to him. He took me to Ibadan, where we spent a year together before returning to this place in Maiduguri.
“I suffered a lot of violence from my stepmother. She made sure I did all the house chores, and she would not give me food. She would also make sure that my father beat me whenever he returned home.
“I nearly died from sickness and nobody cared, that’s why I brought someone I wanted to marry, but she convinced my father to reject the proposal. That’s how I found myself in the streets,” she said.
Amira said she dropped out of school in JSS1 and now longed to go back so that she could give a better life to her daughter.
“Her father is no longer in Maiduguri, so I now do everything for myself and take care of her. We come here everyday to sell our bodies and earn a livelihood. I am tired of this life but there is nothing I can do,” she lamented.
She said most of the girls who engage in the sex trade ranged from 13 to 16 years, or even less.
On their method of operation she said, “Men will come here and choose from the girls. A lot of us are into this trade because of poverty. And some are drug addicts. Some people follow men from their parents’ houses to get money, just to get high,” she said.
One of the girls between 13 and 14 years said, “My mother died when I was a toddler, leaving me under the care of our aunty, who was not treating me well, so I ran to the streets.
“I can remember the number of men I have slept with. And this started when I was 13 years old. Some would pay me N2,000 or N3,000. Sometimes I give it free-of-charge to the guy I love. I make at least N20,000 daily,” she said.
Her friend, who was visibly tipsy, also said, “To be fair to my parents, they treated me very well. I lacked nothing under their care, but I deviated due to peer group influence. I am now regretting it. I tried many times to give up drug life but couldn’t.
“A number of times my parents would come and take me home, but I would find my way back here because I can’t do without drugs.”
A Chadian girl, Aisha Mohammed, who claimed she was 19 years old, said she couldn’t explain how she found herself in Maiduguri.
“My mother died of a certain sickness, and a few years later, my father died in a ghastly car accident and I was left under the care of my grandmother.
“We found ourselves in a very difficult situation. There were no food, school and clothes, so I started going out with boys that added sedatives to my drink and introduced me to sex and drugs at 14. In fact, one day, I just found myself in Maiduguri.
“I was introduced to prostitution here at the age of 15; I am now 19 years living in the streets without a place to call home,” she lamented.
Asked how often she sleeps with men for money she said, “On a good day I go out with seven men; and majority of them are servicemen. They pay good money – between N3,000 and N5,000. So, I realise almost N30,000 daily.”
Explaining how they operate, she said, “We wear attractive cloths to seduce men, who take us into brothel rooms to have sex with us and give us money.”
She lamented that she had not been able to bear a child four years into the business, adding, “My friends always mock me, saying I can’t have a child.”
Concerned residents told our correspondent that if nothing is done about the situation in Maiduguri, the next generation would be at a high risk.
Teenagers need drugs to operate – Seller
One of the drug dealers in the area said the girls and even their clients needed drugs to operate.
He said, “It is a good business. The government should know the implication of subjecting citizens to untold hardships. This tells you the level of decay and neglect in the society.
“I sell to everyone – young and old. For me, I help them to get over their worries and at least earn a living. Nobody wants to die of hunger.
“I am aware it is very dangerous, but we have no other job to do. And without such drugs, most of these girls would not prostitute.”
He said the drugs usually eliminated initial fears in most of the girls.
“Once they become high, they are easily manipulated and can face any man without fear,” he explained.
One of the clients who spoke to our correspondent said they usually got girls of 13 and 14 years on request, adding, “They are easier to get. Some clients even ask for virgins, but you can’t find them here. We usually find them from the neighborhood for quick sex and they return home.
“Majority of the customers are soldiers and other uniformed men. In exchange, they give us cover and make us aware of any planned operation. They only come here to arrest their men and few unlucky girls.”
Dismissed security personnel, influential men own the brothels
Investigation by our correspondent also revealed that owners of the brothels in the area are well connected people and security operatives that served in Maiduguri, who were either dismissed or retired.
“One of them called Kenneth, a well known person in Maiduguri, has the largest brothel here. The other one is Ifeanyi, who is either a retired or dismissed soldier. The other guy is called Doctor; he works at the teaching hospital. The owner of the brothel inside the Shagari Low-cost community is called Monday.
“In fact, the Shagari Low-cost as a community is gradually becoming a brothel itself. You will see these girls and their men making love inside uncompleted structures,” he said.
Another person said, “It may be shocking to know that I can call a mother now and she will arrange her daughters for me. This is how bad it has become.”
Thugs, harlots, soldiers operate till dawn – Residents
Residents of the area said Kasuwar Fara was supposed to close by 11:00pm but the time was reviewed downward (9pm) by security operatives. However, curiously, the new closing time is only for people doing legitimate businesses as the activities of harlots and drug addicts, dealers and soldiers remain till dawn.
“The soldiers told us that they were closing this place by 9pm to curtail the activities of criminals, prostitutes and drug dealers, but by 10pm you will see them soldiers in their midst, befriending the girls, drinking and smoking.
“If you want to know the truth, come to Shagari Low-cost by 10pm. As you are coming into Kasuwan Fara, by your left you will see criminals, harlots and soldiers, either serving or dismissed,” one of the residents said.
He said that since the closure of brothels in Wulari, Bayan Kwatas, Tudu Palace and other places, all the harlots, drug addicts and criminals in Maiduguri relocated to Kasuwar Fara.
“They now constitute a lot of nuisance in Shagari Low-cost A and B communities. And both males and females take hard drugs. They get high, and at night they come into our houses to steal.
“Also, Kasuwan Fara is in the midst of our community, so very young children growing up are seeing their activities; and as you know, this situation will affect them psychologically and socially, “ he lamented.
On whether they have reported the matter to the appropriate authorities he said, “We staged a protest months back. Our desire was to first report the matter at the Ibrahim Taiwo Police Station, then proceed to Shehu’s palace and stop the protest at the Government House, but on our way, we were stopped by soldiers at Sector 1 Command, close to Bye-pass junction. So we couldn’t go beyond that place. We attributed their action to the benefits they were getting from those involved in the illicit trade.
“Also, some powerful individuals have gone to the authorities to complain, but nothing has been done. So we have concluded that these people may have the backing of those up there.”
Insurgency, poverty, drug abuse responsible – Psychologist
A psychologist, Mahmuda Sarki, said the effect of Boko Haram insurgency, poverty and other psycho-social factors were responsible for the situation.
“Boko Haram insurgency has destroyed many families and left helpless widows and orphans in object poverty without any social support. They barely eat one square meal per day. So, what would they not do to survive?
“Also, parental care and control are not there. These girls hawk, serve as house-helps, labourers in farms and do any menial work that comes handy. So, those who pay them usually have more say in their lives than their parents. And, at any slightest opportunity, these people will rape them. They are the same girls advancing to brothels,” he said.
Sarki also said the situation was exposing the girls and their clients to sexually transmitted diseases, which they also spread in the society.
He added, “Once the youth population gets involved in sex scandals and drug abuse, the future of our society would be at crossroads, especially now that most of them have access to pornography.”
Number of rape cases alarming – Commissioner
Lamenting the situation, the Commissioner for Justice in Borno State, Hauwa Abubakar, a lawyer, said that apart from underage prostitution, the number of rape cases, especially on minors, in Borno State, was alarming.
Hauwa, who assumed office as the state’s attorney-general recently, said she needed time to investigate activities at Kasuwar Fara, but admitted that rape cases, especially of minors, constituted 80 per cent of cases reported at the ministry on a daily basis.
“In fact, 5 in every 6 files I received were rape cases. The most alarming part of it is the rape of minors as young as two-year-old babies.
“When I came here, I was always disturbed. And anytime I got back home I would be worried, but as I was seeing it everyday, it became part of the work I had to face. But I have a huge concern about what we could do.”
The commissioner said she raised the issue when she received the country representative of United Nations on Drugs and Crimes, Oliver Stolpe last week, seeking the support of the organisation to eliminate drug and rape cases in the society.
“I raised this issue of rape at the Security Council meeting and at every opportunity I find to make a statement that will go further and make impact. That was why I mentioned it when the UN representative came to my office,” she said.
She also advocated that all hands must be on deck to address the menace, adding that the situation must not be left for security agencies alone to handle.
Also, the permanent secretary in the ministry, Garba Chibok, a lawyer, said the state government was making efforts to amend some of the laws to replace obsolete ones in order to provide stiffer penalties for offenders and serve as a deterrent to those who repeatedly commit crimes.
NHRC calls for demolition of brothels
The Borno State coordinator of the National Human Right Commission (NHRC), Jummai Usman Mshelia, said underage prostitution in Maiduguri was a matter of concern that needed collective efforts to deal with.
“Relevant stakeholders need to come on board so that we face it head on. We are going to involve the attorney-general and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) because they have the power to seal up any hotel harbouring these minors, and whoever is patronising them can be arrested.
“We will also meet the hierarchy of those who are patronising them based on our investigations, to let them know that the girls also pose a security risk to them because if they allow this to continue, the girls will get so much information that will be in danger to them,” she warned.
Parents our major challenge – NAPTIP
When contacted, the NAPTIP described underage sex trade as one of the major challenges faced in Maiduguri.
The zonal head of the Public Enlightenment Department of the agency, Zainab Abba Bashir, said they never relented in their efforts at curbing juvenile sex-for-money in Maiduguri.
“Violation of minors has been a major phenomenon in Borno State. Hundreds of vulnerable underage girls have either been violated or forced into exchanging sex for money,” she said.
She said that last year, the state government helped the agency to demolish two brothels that were known for camping underage girls.
“We rescued over 100 underage girls from various brothels with the help of the military, including the ones in Shagari Low-cost.
“We always bring them to our office, counsel them and reunite them with their families. We always go out to sensitise these girls on the danger of juvenile sex and its consequences,” she added.
She decried the nonchalant attitude of parents, saying it is a setback to their operations.
“Parents are looking at it as if it was normal. It is frustrating that after rescuing these girls, counselling and treating them of sexually transmitted diseases and reuniting them with their families, their parents always allow them to return to the brothels,” she lamented.
She also said that through the support of non-governmental organisations they trained and empowered some of the underage girls rescued from brothels.
On whether they were able to arrest their ring leaders she said, “We are yet to arrest any of them, but we set up a joint team of the NAPTIP, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), military and the police, which is currently working to ensure that these culprits are arrested.
“The team raided the Shagari Low-cost area in January and rescued 17 juveniles. We will continue to carry out operations until we stop this menace.
“Months back, we arrested a trafficker that usually bought babies from these girls. We took her to court and she was prosecuted. So, we will not rest until we get to the ring leaders also.”
She commended the NDLEA for their quick response always, saying, “In fact, most times the agency would even be there before us. They do their arrests based on specifications of their jobs.”
Asked whether they are aware that some parents allowed their children to go into prostitution, she said, “According to the law, parents’ consent doesn’t matter at this age. And once we establish that, such parents will be made to face the wrath of the law.”
Residents desert area to save their children
A resident and retired civil servant who simply gave her name as Halima said, “We learnt that some of the girls are doing it with the consent of their evil parents. And with what is going on here, many residents and plot owners are deserting the place to save their children from the evil acts. We are going through hell in this place,” she said.
Another resident who identified himself as Bulus said, “The area is inundated by the activities of prostitutes, drug addicts and criminals at the expense of our children. We will appreciate it if the government relocates this place to Chabal or the outskirts of Maiduguri.
“Our parents, sisters and children are all living here, and you will see junkies and prostitutes fighting almost everyday, including the soldiers carrying guns.
“The worst part of it is that Maimalari Secondary School is here and young girls pass through the place everyday. Who knows what will happen to them.”
I must seek clearance before response – Army spokesman
When contacted for comments, the assistant director, Public Relations of the Theatre Command, Operation Hadin Kai, Major Samson Zhakom, said he would not respond to inquiries until he sought approval from their headquarters in Abuja.
However, a soldier who is not competent to speak to the press told our correspondent that military police usually raid such places and arrest soldiers on duty.
“Our men are not criminals, they only go there to womanise or drink. And the military police usually go there to arrest offenders. And if soldiers were part of it, they would take them to 7 Division.
“Those proven to have committed the offence would be punished based on their ranks, units and offences. This includes imprisonment with hard labour and other forms of punishment.
“Sometimes, after punishment some would be dismissed because it is only in the military that one gets double jeopardy, whereby they would be subjected to a second trial from the civilian court.
“On a particular case, the military authority had dismissed and sentenced a soldier to five years in prison for raping a 13-year-old girl and attempting to kill her. We don’t condone indiscipline once it is established,” he said.