Prostitution in Nigeria

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Prostitution in Nigeria is illegal in all Northern States that practice Islamic penal code. In Southern Nigeria, the activities of pimps or madams, underage prostitution and the operation or ownership of brothels are penalized under sections 223, 224, and 225 of the Nigerian Criminal Code.[1] Even though Nigerian law does not legalize commercial sex work, it is vague if such work is performed by an independent individual who operates on his or her own accord without the use of pimps or a brothel.[2]

The Nigeria criminal system prohibits national and trans-national trafficking of women for commercial sex or forced labour. Nigeria is a signatory to the 2000 United Nations[2] Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.


Pre-Independence: Lagos[edit]

Starting in the early 1900s, the rising economic importance of Lagos as a seaport and capital city changed the political and economic landscape of the city and contributed to the arrival of Nigerians from the hinterland. The demographic and commercial changes also expanded to commoditization of sex and by 1910, commercial sex services had become prevalent[3] in Lagos. In 1916, the colonial government enacted a law prohibiting solicitation by women but the law did not define prostitution. The law was implemented discretionarily by the government and commercial sex work was tolerated as long it did not lead to public nuisance. In a country steeped with a religious and traditional moralist sentiments, sex work was not tolerated by some women in the community. In 1923, the Lagos Women League, an elite women organization wrote a petition to the police chief seeking the cancellation of restrictions placed on the recruitment of women as police officers. The petition was written partly to curb a rise in prostitution and also the patronage of prostitutes by male officers.[3] Public opinion was also critical of the sex trade linking it with juvenile delinquency. In 1932, Tijani Omoyele, a musician released an album, Asewo/ Omo j aguda (prostitutes are thieves or criminals). By the 1930s, prostitutes were linked with notorious delinquents’ groups like the Jagudas and Boma boys in Lagos and they were beginning to be called Ashewo or people who change money into lower denominations. During the pre-World War II period commercial sex workers solicited clients in brothels, cinemas and hotels bars[3] in the Lagos Island districts of Broad St, Breadfruit, Labinjo, Martins, Porto Novo Market- and Taiwo [4] In Lagos, commercial sex work was majorly practiced by non-Lagos natives and were called names like Ashewo (Yoruba word), Karuwaci (Hausa), Akwunakwuna (Igbo word) and Asape.[5] Many of the workers sometimes returned to their native land with enough money to earn the wrath of men who were not used to women being wealthier than them.

After the onset of World War II, British officials became apprehensive about any link between high venereal disease rates in West African Frontier Force soldiers and promiscuous sexual affairs with prostitutes.[3] During this period, forced prostitution of teenagers was becoming common. In 1943 Abidjan, a Nigerian born child prostitute named Lady was killed by her older handler, Mary Eyeamevber Eforghere of Warri Province, Nigeria, for refusing to have sex with a European sailor.[6] The combination of the fear of venereal diseases, child prostitution and controlling juvenile delinquency created a new impetus to prohibit prostitution. In 1941, an anti-vice squad was formed to prosecute offenders based on two newly created laws, the Unlicensed Guide (Prohibition) Ordinance and the Venereal Disease Ordinance. The former was also known informally as the loitering law which was designed to limit the link between foreign sex tourists and prostitutes. The law required tour guards to obtain license guards in order to perform their work. The law targeted both young delinquents who were considered the pimps and the prostitutes.[7] In addition, prostitutes who loiter on the street and make advances towards tourists were arrested by the anti-vice squad. In 1942, a hostel was built to rehabilitate child prostitutes in Lagos and a year later, the Children and Young Persons Ordinance was passed prohibiting child prostitution. [8] The colonial government also established a welfare and social services department to manage the hostel and rehabilitation of child prostitutes. By 1946, a set of law was enacted that clearly defined prostitution and its prohibition.

20th century: Tolerance and rise in sex trafficking[edit]

After independence in 1960, brothels and prostitution that had been prohibited in the middle 1940s began to spring up again. [9] The welfare and social services department created to rehabilitate child prostitutes started scaling down on its investigations of child prostitutes.[10] By the early 1980s, street prostitution became a common sight on Allen Avenue, Ikeja and in some areas of Oshodi and later Kuramo Beach.[10] In 1987, the Women's Center in Nigeria wrote a press release about the harassment, assault and rape of prostitute by law enforcement members.[11]

Trans-national commercial sex work which started during British colonial West Africa began to grow into a transcontinental business in the 1980s. Starting in the mid-1980s, the trafficking of Women to European countries such as Italy began to gain traction.[12] In many of the cases, there were examples of coercion. Coercion happened in situations whereby the women or adolescents to be trafficked were asked to swear an oath that was administered by an African religion or juju priest. Some personal items such as bodily fluids were taken by the priests for keeping or used to administer the oath and seal the agreement. [10] When the women reach the country of destination they are immediately indebted to the trafficker for transport and lodging fees and will have to pay off the debt before they are freed, if ever. The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks Nigeria as a 'Tier 2 Watch List' country.[13]

Some scholars have stated that prostitution in Nigeria increased as a result of the adverse economic effect of the drop in oil price in the early 1980s followed by the implementation of structural adjustment programs in the middle 1980s.[14] In the 1980s, brothels began to spring up in the cities and prostitutes who move into the city were charged daily rent for accommodation. The 1980s also contributed to the beginning of call-ups or part-time prostitution by young graduates and students. In Lagos during the early 1980s, politicians accommodated in housing estates such as 1004 requested the services of young students as call girls and spent lavishly on these students with trips abroad. [15]

In Benin City, the red-light district is around Ugbague Street. This started to be an area of prostitution in the 1940s when young Esan women came to the area. The women are known locally as asewo.[16]

21st century[edit]

Commercial sex work and human trafficking continues to thrive in Nigeria. Based on the estimates of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, about 8,000 – 10,000 women of Nigerian descent practiced prostitution in Italy between 2000–2009.[12] Cross-border commercial work also resorted to re-instating child trafficking for sex. A Nigerian envoy in Côte d'Ivoire noted the frequency of adolescent girls among Nigerian commercial workers in Abidjan.[17]

Within Nigeria, the most common form of sex work is found within brothels or residences of sex workers. A steady rise in young students and unemployed graduates who use sex to earn income and acting as part-time prostitutes or call girls[18] or sometimes called Aristo girls are changing the strategies used by sex workers. These young graduates and students use the services of pimps and call-ups as a modus of operation, while some frequent bars and restaurants.[18]

In some cases, porters or hotel staff acts as pimps and links between upper class Nigerians and the call girls. The aristo girls mostly serve upper class citizens and foreigners are better paid than the sex workers in brothels. Almost two thirds of brothel and street sex workers are traders, bar girls, hair dressers or have a second type of job. Brothels are in virtually every major city in Nigeria and offer the cheapest form of service. [19] The brothels are located in highly populated districts and slums within the city. [18]

In 2003, the Trafficking in Person Prohibition Act was passed into law and an agency, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficked Persons was formed to handle human trafficking in the country.

Corporate prostitution[edit]

A different form of prostitution known as corporate prostitution, a relatively new phenomenon and mostly limited to financial institutions began to gain notability in the 2000s. In 2004, a bankers’ union threatened to go on strike due to allegations that some female staffers sleep with men for accounts. Though most financial institutions do not force women to engage in sexual activities in order to meet financial targets it is implied that many banks are not against such actions. In 2010, hearings were held on the floor of the House of Representative about the Bill for an Act to Prohibit Corporate Prostitution and Exploitation of Women and for Other Matters Connected Therewith.[20]

Statistics on commercial sex workers[edit]

In a survey of commercial sex workers, almost two thirds or about 63% mentioned that they started commercial sex work before the age of 19.[21] A majority of them (63%) work from brothels.[22] Due to the negative public perception of commercial sex work, 88% of workers operate in cities far from their childhood home.[23]

A majority came from households within the low income bracket.[24] The sex workers are trained by an older professional or pimp prior to commencement on the job. Training lessons concern how to deal with a difficult man, STD's and self-defence.[25] A large number of sex workers had limited information about STD's and a majority mentioned that they did not utilize a clinic for treatment.

UNAIDS estimate there to be 103,506 prostitutes in the country.[26]


  1. ^ "Criminal Code Act-Tables". Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  2. ^ a b Sessou, Ebun (October 15, 2011). "Legalising Prostitution: Women give Ekweremadu hard knocks". Vanguard. Lagos.
  3. ^ a b c d Aderinto, Saheed (2012). "Of gender, race, and class". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 33 (3): 71–92. doi:10.5250/fronjwomestud.33.3.0071. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  4. ^ Aderinto 2014, p. 57.
  5. ^ Aderinto 2014, p. 54.
  6. ^ Aderinto, S. (2015). Journey to work: Transnational prostitution in colonial British West Africa. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 24(1), 99–124
  7. ^ Aderinto 2014, p. 119.
  8. ^ Aderinto 2014, p. 121.
  9. ^ Aderinto 2014, p. 170.
  10. ^ a b c Aderinto 2014, p. 172.
  11. ^ Nigeria: Prostitutes' problems. (1987, Nov 30). Off our Backs, 17, 10. Retrieved from Proquest
  12. ^ a b Aluko-Daniels 2015, p. 75.
  13. ^ "Nigeria 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 30 July 2018. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  14. ^ Amadiume 2000, p. 131.
  15. ^ Amadiume 2000, pp. 131–131.
  16. ^ "UGBAGUE STREET: Inside Benin's oldest prostitutes' den". Free Press. 12 January 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  17. ^ Terfa 2001, p. 24.
  18. ^ a b c Amadiume 2000, p. 140.
  19. ^ Terfa 2001, p. 21.
  20. ^ Nzeshi, Onwuka (May 14, 2010). "Banks Kick Against Corporate Prostitution Bill". This Day. Lagos.
  21. ^ Nnabugwu-Otesanya 2005, p. 4.
  22. ^ Nnabugwu-Otesanya 2005, p. 8.
  23. ^ Nnabugwu-Otesanya 2005, p. 14.
  24. ^ Nnabugwu-Otesanya 2005, p. 16.
  25. ^ Nnabugwu-Otesanya 2005, p. 59.
  26. ^ "Sex workers: Population size estimate - Number, 2016". UNAIDS. Archived from the original on 4 June 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2018.


  • Terfa, Ahom (2001). "Chapter 2: Adolescents' Prostitution and the Educational Prospects of the Girl-Child". In Dalla, Rochelle (ed.). Global perspectives on prostitution and sex trafficking. Lexington Books. pp. 100–110. ISBN 9780739132753.
  • Nnabugwu-Otesanya, Bernadette (2005). "6" (PDF). A Comparative Study of Prostitutes in Nigeria and Botswana (Thesis). University of South Africa.
  • Amadiume, Ifi (2000). Daughters of the Goddess, Daughters of Imperialism: African Women Struggle for Culture, Power and Democracy. London: Zed Books.
  • Aderinto, Saheed (December 2014). When Sex Threatened the State : Illicit Sexuality, Nationalism, and Politics in Colonial Nigeria, 1900–1958. Urbana Champaign: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252038884.
  • Aluko-Daniels, Olufunke (2015). "At the Margins of Consent: Sex Trafficking from Nigeria to Italy". In Coluccello, Rino (ed.). Global perspectives on prostitution and sex trafficking. Palgrave Pivo.