- Prostitutes attend church with condoms in handbags
- Hotels serve as sales points for illicit drugs
Empire is a residential neighbourhood located between Yaba and Surulere areas of Lagos, where prostitutes of all shapes and sizes congregate. They are usually dressed in various skimpy dresses exposing their erogenous zones-the curves of their big, fat and small backsides as well as the heaves of their boobs. Here, the term indecent exposure is an understatement. It is also a notorious zone where psychotropic substances are used with reckless abandon.
A week-long investigation by The Point’s undercover reporter revealed that majority of the prostitutes, even sometimes, pretend to be very religious to The Point of attending churches every Sunday, clutching the Holy Bible, while at the same time, concealing packets of condoms or wraps of weed in their hand bags.
Lizzy, a commercial sex hawker, who peddles her body along the railway crossing in the Empire area, was at pains explaining to our reporter how circumstances forced her to trade her body for cash.
“It was hardship that forced me into this business because the business is too risky. I did not come to Lagos to become a prostitute. I came like every other reasonable fellow to seek greener pasture. But having worked with some companies without any career progression, I soon became tired as I got fired most of the time. It is either they sacked you today or made you go on half salary,” she said.
Lizzy further disclosed that when her brother she used to put up with sent her away from his home, a friend of hers came to her aid, saying, ”I thought that my friend who later became my helper was a nurse because she was always going out in the night and returned very early in the morning. She was the one that took me to one Bongo Hotel in Abule- Oja, Yaba. I had to hurriedly leave that place when frequent cases bearing on armed robbery became the order of the day. It was after this incident that my friend relocated me to Empire.
“My friend introduced me to other friends who taught me how to strike a deal and smoke. Initially, I was very shy but smoke makes me “high” and wild. Gradually, I became addicted because, it is not easy doing this job with “ordinary eye.” You have to be tough and rough. Therefore, my background as a Christian pricks my mind most of the time, which is why I go to church on Sundays”. Speaking further, she said, “There was a day I went to a nearby church and as I was about bringing out my offering for the week, a packet of condom fell out of my bag. I was ashamed, but I courageously bent down to take it and almost immediately danced back to my seat”.
Lizzy, later admitted to The Point that she felt ashamed about the way she had been earning her daily bread. “I normally tell my friends “outside’ that, I am a practicing Nurse and they believe me,” she said.
But there is more to life in Empire than being a haven for prostitutes. Other social miscreants find ready accommodation in this special area.
Entering the Empire community through Folarin Street, one could mistake the environment for Kano Street, Ebute-Metta, another squalor, with the number of street kids, who usually congregate by the road side to beg for alms from passersby. With the presence of the dirty-looking kids with bulging eyes, you do not need to be told that behind these nondescript characters are horrifying stories, bearing on abject poverty.
The kids loiter in the corners of the streets, oblivious of the traffic jam, unmindful of the time of day; just as enforcing early bedtime routine seem impossible partly because of the constant hum of traffic that the residents are already used to. The “suffering and smiling” look on the faces of the residents alike will make the sane sick for days, if not months. Therefore, telling anyone that you reside on any street within the Empire community may not necessarily make them envy you. The harried life the people live further exposes the hardship, strengths and survival skills that the less fortunate residents of Empire have to contend with.
Of course, from whichever angle one tends to look at it, Empire appears to be a community in contradictions, where residents have no leg to stand on because the rule of survival is that nobody can ever stop the moving train. All you need do to catch up with the train is just to continue moving, so as not to be left behind.
According to Alhaji Mukaila Ajagbe, daily survival in this community depended heavily on the use to which the female inhabitants could put their bodies.
The Point was informed that the name Empire was truly etched into the sub-consciousness of Nigerians in the 1970s by the late Afro-beat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti ,who not only stamped his identity and influence there, but also went ahead to create a republic of his own.
“The lifestyle of people in that era was freedom unlimited. The people, at best, were not under any written laws that could regulate their social behaviour. That was when the music legend christened a club, Kalakuta Republic, which was later razed by “unknown soldiers,” who allegedly killed his mother, Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ramsome Kuti.
“The killing of the strong woman was the fallout of a face-off between Fela and a group of disgruntled soldiers, who said there could never be a republic within a republic”, an inside source told our correspondent.
While the Kalakuta Republic lasted, many people, who were living witnesses to what went on at that period, would readily and easily attribute the moral decadence among the youths of the area to the lingering influence of the musician, whose songs and brand of music were considered rebellious to the authorities.
According to a resident of Atan Street in the Empire area, Mr. Musbau Ajekiigbe, “Fela’s brand of music, undoubtedly, has gone a long way in influencing the culture of the residents, most especially, their children, who today live a life only known to the jungles.”
He added that here, people live life on a fast lane due to the influence of “Fela, who was a rebel with a cause. He was very tough and rough, too. His philosophy was that every man was born free and that within the context of a complex society, freedom is never handed down to whoever that wants it, on a platter of gold. You have got to fight for your right. You’ve got to fight for it as a man. You’ve got to earn justice and liberty as a man. “Fela taught us that nobody was neither too small nor too big to fight a cause, inasmuch as the cause would be beneficial to all.
Fela, would tell us to go and sleep with a mosquito, if we thought a small thing was not capable of effecting a change. This philosophical thought sank deep into the consciousness of the people of Empire, who, in turn, pass the message down to their children. That is why, whoever is born here, and does his /her thing differently, would be called names.”
LIFE IN THE GHETTO
Undoubtedly, Empire is a ghetto, where shanties and mud houses are the known residential homes. Houses are built close to the roads, not only for residential purposes but commercial, too, mindless of the constant traffic. The residents have for long been contending with the stench oozing out of overflowing gutters or collapsed drainage system, and sewers that have been caving in with families cohabiting in dirty living quarters.
In the day time, Empire is known for a lot of social activities, whereas, at night, the sound of local artists singing blares from loud speakers at beer parlours and brothels alike, while the scarlet ladies would be seen lining up with their showy make-ups and neatly plaited hair as if they were on a parade for the Miss World beauty pageant.
On the spot investigation by The Point revealed that in spite of the big names that may come up as notable people in the Empire area, residents still live in shacks because, daily survival is the rule of the game.
At Empire, many residential homes have been converted to hotels/ brothels and pepper-soup joints where prostitutes ply their trade. The scarlet ladies, in the middle of the night usually dress provocatively to seduce unscrupulous men.
“The presence of churches around and the messages from the scriptures would not deter these birds of the night”, noted Evangelist Israel Alonge, whose church, Revelation of The Last Days, is just a stone throw tothe community.
“These commercial sex traders come from different locations to congregate here at night. Only few of them are known residents; may be that is why Empire has lately earned the notoriety of being called headquarters of prostitutes in Lagos. “Empire, as a community does not breed prostitutes and we cannot start sending people away on the suspicion that they are prostitutes. Men, too, who patronize them are prostitutes. We ought to even consider the fact that there is freedom of movement as enshrined in our Constitution. However, the influx of people here on daily basis, most especially at night, is what makes Empire tick. And the more the people do business here, the better for the community, at least so it seems”.
ORGANISED SALE OF ILLICIT DRUGS
Unlike Agege and Akala in Mushin areas of Lagos where illicit drugs are known to be sold in the open, the illegal trade in Empire seems to be well organized. The stuff is sold in secluded areas within the community. Many of the hotels within the community also serve as sales point for drugs. Checks revealed that uncompleted buildings are also meeting points between the buyer and the seller of the substances.
“National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency [NDLEA] officials hardly raid us here .We comport ourselves better and we do not go about selling drugs in groups. We all have our different beats”, revealed Ojo Rotimi, a resident who claimed to be from Ondo.
On the prevalence of fighting in the community, Rotimi said, “It was during the Community Development Association [CDA] elections that you could hear of that. The rich people here, who want power, would like to use us against their opponents. Empire is a good community. If you do not trouble us, we would not trouble you .You can even go and talk with our Baale, who is a retired soldier; he will tell you more”.
The Baale of Empire, Chief Davies Oju-Oluwa Oladunjoye told The Point, “Empire is wearing a new toga of being born again. The level of criminality has reduced to about 19 per cent. Those who are dealing in drugs have been consigned to a corner of the community from where they ply their trade.”
Responding to a question, the traditional ruler admitted that although there were many hotels making brisk business in the area, only four of them operated as brothels.
“We have been preaching to the prostitutes to repent; that they should look for other means of livelihood. The prostitutes are the ones giving us bad name. I cannot say with certainty if they harbor robbers because I don’t live with them,” Oladunjoye said.