My name is Lawal Zainab and I am a native of Osogbo, Osun State. I recently returned to Nigeria from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, where I was tricked into prostitution. Before I travelled, I was living with my aunt in Abuja, where I was learning hairdressing, but the need to raise money to pay for my graduation and buy my equipments put me under pressure.
In the course of this, I met the agent who told me he would facilitate my trip to the Whiteman’s country, where I would make hair for big people and make big money.
But I ended up in Cote d’Iviore, where I saw hell. The first sign of scam I noticed was that the man, my agent, Mr. Ben, took me to a place where we boarded ‘The Young Shall Grow’ bus. I asked, ‘I thought we’re going to fly?’ But he allayed my fear, telling me the bus was to take us to where we’ll board the plane.
He even lodged me in a hotel for one night. On arriving Cote d’Ivoire, he took me straight to a village. There he handed me over to a woman, Madam Beauty, who told me my agent had sold me to her and that I would work for her for two years for her to recoup her money, 2.1million CFA francs.
Then she made me drink a certain water, which she said was an oath binding me to her. She warned me not to try to run away or betray her, else I would run mad or die.
She then told me it was prostitution job that I had been bought to do, she showed me a room in an area they called ghetto, from where she said I would be operating and that I would be delivering 20,000 CFA francs to her every day.
At this point I recoiled, saying I could not do that kind of job, but she said that would mean me refunding her 2million, which I couldn’t raise. She then reminded me of the oath water and the threat. We charged 2100 CFA (an equivalent of N1,200) per customer; and she gave me 500 CFA for feeding.
All other money, I submitted to her at the end of each day. Any day I did not deliver 20,000 CFA francs, she would harass me, sometimes, beat me. And I dared not tell her that I was tired or not feeling well.
Also, I had no access to medical care of any kind.
There was a day she had a case with the Nigerian Embassy officials and I tried to capitalise on that to escape, but it seemed like there was a conspiracy with them, as they simply told me to go and settle with my madam and pay her money. So I resigned myself to my fate and continued praying to God to come to my aid.
How do I even begin to narrate my ordeal at the hand of Madam Beauty or shall I say her customers?
Sometimes the men would go violent and beat me up. Some would slap me; one even broke a bottle and stabbed my hand. He said he paid money and I didn’t service him well. It was the security men standing guard who saved me. Some would even demand their money back.
One told me if I was tired, I should go back to my country. On the average, I slept with 15 men to gross the amount I needed to deliver to my madam; sometimes, more. On a particular Sallah day, because they are mostly Muslims, I slept with nearly double that number and raked in 200,000 CFA francs for my madam.
Sometimes, they would drug themselves and come and sleep with me. On such occasions, the condom would break and I would have to drink salt and water as the only antibiotic that I could afford, because my madam would not give me any money for medication or invite a doctor to examine us.
All she was interested in was the money. At other times, the customer would use as long as one hour or more on top of me.
That was how I carried on for two whole years until one day when she threw me out. That was in November 2019. I left Nigeria in October 2017.
She said she had recouped her money and that I was free and should go and fend for myself, or possibly go and scout for somebody that would work and make money for me. But I have sworn that I would not enslave a fellow human the way she did to me.
Besides, this was a job I would not recommend to my worst enemy. She gave me two days to work and raise money for myself towards my next move, but I just couldn’t.
It was while I was pondering over my next move that I met one of the women who came to sell Nigerian food to us, who took pity on me and agreed to squat me in her apartment.
It was at about that time that I stumbled on Sister Motilola of Project Ferry on Instagram, followed her and sent my video after an initial doubt. Long story short, she intervened and helped me come back home.
I went through a lot in that country, and every time I think of what I did with my body in that country, I just wonder if I would ever be able to marry or have my own children.
Let me tell you, the Nigerian population in that country is really huge and prostitution is the only job they are into; except for those who are married. Let nobody fool you that she is going there to do some high sounding job.
Some, when they gain their freedom, would become patrons like madam and continue enslaving others. My madam said she balanced 3million CFA francs in her time.
What did I not see in that country? Sometimes I even think my situation is better. There was a 17-year-old Nigerian girl they brought into the job; she is still there serving my madam. There was another, just 15.
Sometimes, the girls would come in pregnant and they would abort the pregnancy and put them into the sex trade. Some came as virgins and they used eggs to break their hymen. There were also Ghanaians and Ivorians in the trade.
I believe the divorce between my parents partly led to my situation. It was because my mother remarried that I had to drop out of school and go and live with my aunt in Abuja. Otherwise, I may not have met the agent who sold me into slavery.
I’ve been back since December now but I can’t even go visit or call my mum because she would ask for money, and if I told her I don’t have, she’d think I am being wicked. I currently squat with one ‘mummy’, she’s a member of Project Ferry, the organisation that helped me relocate to Nigeria.
She feeds me and is also helping me to look for where I would update myself in the hairdressing job.
No, because of the oath water I drank. I don’t think it was phoney because I saw ladies who ran mad; I saw some dying in mysterious ways; some just for stealing or keeping some of the money due for their madam.