In the early 1960s up till the late 1990s, the area used to be very popular among revelers from within and outside Lagos. Day and night, it was the place to be. Ask anybody around Yaba, Ojuelegba and even other parts of mainland Lagos and you won’t miss your way. Empire – a cluster of streets in the heart of Mushin, one of the city’s most densely populated areas, housing several chalets and offering plenty of cheap s*x, drugs and alcohol was the name on many people’s lips.
The arrival of Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, in 1962, increased traffic to the area. In those days, the area known as Empire which derived its name from Empire Hotel situated on Oguntokun Street, could be likened to a modern day ‘Sodom’ – immorality thrived at every corner.
Though, still playing host to a number of hotels, drinking joints and spots where drugs of all kinds are experimented, Empire has lost some of its spark over the years, with only few people turning to it today for entertainment. But even with such reduced traffic, commercial s*x workers operating in the community remain one of the most patronised in Lagos. Charging as low as N500 for a round of s*x in some cases, clients from far and near ensure the industry is well and alive.
However, some of the ladies in the illicit profession told PUNCH that much of what they earn these days go to policemen who come in weekly to collect compulsory ‘settlements’.
According to a handful of them, each lady pays between N7,000 and N8,000 every week to the leader of the hotel where they ‘hustle’. The fee, they revealed, covers rent for the week and ‘tax’ for the police among other such bills. The pressure of meeting up with such weekly obligation is taking its toll on many of the prostitutes who prospect for clients in Empire.
“Whether you work in a week or not, you must pay the regular dues to the head of the hotel,” said one of the ladies who spoke at ‘White House’, one of several chalets dotting the community’s landscape. “Each of us who ‘hustle’ here pays N8,000 every week to our boss who then ‘settles’ the police from it after removing money for rent and other levies. We are over 15 ‘hustling’ here and if you calculate what the police is making from each of us every week, then you’ll see that they are the ones benefiting from our ‘hard work’. If we fail to ‘settle’ them, they’ll come in to harass and intimidate us.
“For the eight months that I have worked here, I have seen a lot of things. It is just as if we have become ATMs for the police; we are like a source of income or a money pot for them. Just to meet up with their demand and avoid harassment, most of us now have to work more than we should. It has not been easy in recent times,” she said.
At ‘Cool Corner’, another hotel in the community where ladies of different ages and sizes flaunt their ‘assets’ in wait for prospective customers, one commercial sex worker who told our correspondent that she was 24 years old and had been servicing ‘clients’ who visit the place since 2012, revealed that the constant demand by police officers has become a big source of worry for many of them. According to her, at least each lady ‘hustling’ at the hotel pays around N5,000 as ‘settlement’ to law enforcement officers every week aside from what they churn out for rent. She told PUNCH that the situation makes them feel like cash cows to the police.
“It is not as if those of us doing this job are proud of it, no. Many of us are doing it because we don’t have other means of survival. But to now imagine that most of what we manage to make these days go into ‘settling’ the police, is really annoying. They don’t come to us directly, they deal with our boss but then we are the ones suffering the whole thing. The money these people make from us every week is just too much,” she said.
At other hotels within the area, the feeling was the same. Many of the prostitutes at three other active spots, ‘Number Six’, ‘Lido Hotel’ and ‘Seventeen Bar’, said the situation has piled pressure on a lot of them and eaten deep into the little funds they usually make at the end of each week.
Managers of two of the hotels refused to speak on the issue as a result of fear. They also refused to disclose which station the policemen they pay the weekly ‘royalty’ to come from even though a bar man in one of the hotels pointed that the officers came from all nearby police stations. Empire is in between Mushin and Jibowu in Yaba.
But apart from the dilemma now faced by commercial s*x workers in this Lagos neighbourhood, the spate of crime in the area in recent times has reduced life to a living nightmare for many of its residents, especially parents with young boys and girls. Some, for fear of the morals of their children, put them in boarding schools and also give them out to live with relatives and friends in other places.
“I don’t have money to move out of this area yet but I cannot afford to have my children grow up here and have their lives destroyed,” Mrs. Fatima Ahmed, a petty trader, told PUNCH.
A commercial motorcyclist, Stephen Okoli, who lives with his three daughters and wife on Oguntokun Street, said his girls only return to the area at weekends from his sister’s place in Ojota where they live and go to school at weekdays. He revealed that this was the best way he could protect them from being infected with the immoralities in the area at the moment.
“My wife and I decided to let them live with my sister at Ojota just to protect them,” Okoli said.
“They are little girls still growing up and we don’t want them to be corrupted by what people are doing here. Our fear is that there is no way they would grow up here and won’t be influenced one way or the other by the lifestyle here. Many of the ladies are prostitutes while the young men are into drugs and other crimes. I don’t want such for my children. We want them to have a better life than ours,” he added.