Time was 5.30PM; the sleepy community was coming alive as the women, mostly petty traders began their daily fight for space along the rail road in an effort to display their wares. Most sell the locally brewed liquor (paraga) served with spiced fried meat or dried fish. Other sell Cigarettes, Sweets, and Cola. In groups, the men hover around them, gulping down the different mix of local brew, each noted with a potency that can cure ailments that ranges from back pain, to malaria, general tiredness and so on. But importantly, half the men believe it cures erectile dysfunctions.
The arena was filled with a blend of different genre of music blaring diffusely from speakers. To the beats were variety of twists mainly from lightly and suggestively clad young women, reeking with liquor and either smoking marijuana or one of the many brands of cigarettes on display. The scene was similar in the different corners of the community, with some variations only in the number of girls that converged in front of the shanties called apartments. On a closer observation, you get to know that these shanties are actually not just apartments but also serve as brothels. Most of them owned by a big madam.
Somewhere else in the locality, several people, male and females alike, were queuing up to have their bath or use the convenience. I became curious because I could not explain the logic for the long queue. It wasn’t long before I was told the facility serves the whole community and is just divided into compartments. However, the reason for the queue, as is always the case is because no one will like to miss out on the carnival outside.
I was soon to learn that the carnival is a daily affair. From far and wide, the men begin to troop in. This presented a puzzle for me. Findings will later reveal that sex (coitus) is probably the cheapest commodity in the community. With eighty naira (N80), you are guaranteed a round of sex. On the last count, we came across 48 brothels, with 30 girls in the average residing in each.
“It will be very difficult to find a 13-year old virgin in the community”, Victor and Ayinke explained. It wasn’t long before I agreed with them. The brothels are so strategically situated that by the time you count three residential apartments you must count a brothel. Badia is a peculiar community. Majority of residents are former evictees from demolished settlements from across Lagos who prefers the allure of Badia.
When the Ijora Vanguard, the organization that Victor and Ayinke heads invited the Salvation Army crew to the community, persuading residents to determine their HIV status, some people yielded their call and according to Victor “the results confirmed their fears”. Ayinke actually tested positive during this expenditure. However, in a rare show of courage, within two of her testing positive, she disclosed her status.
The community can be tagged high risk because of the allure of booze, sex and drugs that many people find appealing. Most settlers who have come lacked basic skills to elk a living, with very little prospects to secure employment, and they continue to raise new families despite lacking the resources to sustain one. So, like a vicious circle, it goes on and on. “By the time the kids grow up, usually with no access to education or any life skills-the girls easily turn to prostitution while the boys see an easy route in crime. What majority of the kids do now is either hawk or peddles drugs” says Victor.
Ijora being an oil depot has seen many truck drivers who are distance travelers set up base. This has translated into increase business for the scarlet ladies. Before long, as was noted, these men marry into the community, while still finding the bosom of their courtesans alluring. The implication is best imagined.
The Vanguard has been up and doing in raising awareness about HIV and AIDS in the community, with Victor and Ayinke, both openly positive leading the effort. They have recorded a lot of firsts. In our chat with some of the sex workers, we find out that awareness about condom use is really high. Majority says they insist their Johns wear the ‘rubber’ as is popularly called before sex. To make sure they maintain this practice, the Vanguard is collaborating with the Society for Family Health (SFH) in making sure that abundant supply of free condoms is available for use by the girls.
Interestingly, according to Ayinke, some of the girls actually subjected themselves willingly for HIV test when the Salvation Army team visited their base. This was a clear indication that their effort at creating awareness hasn’t been in vain. The Badia Vanguard obviously require more interventions from well meaning organizations and individuals and an enduring support for their activities if the campaign is to have any meaningful result.
As we were making our way out of Badia, it was indeed carnival like and I will not forget in a hurry how the queens of the dark hours were tugging at our shirts for a quickie.