Written by Laju Arenyeka, Anozie Egole, Iyabo Aina, Adeyeri Aderonke & Juliet Ebirim(Vanguard, Nigeria)
Prostitution—It is the oldest profession in the world; from before Deliliah’s seductive ways with Samson in Bible times, to last night in a dark corner at Ojuelegba bus stop in Lagos.
Women, selling their bodies for money; some pushed into this nefarious profession out of poverty, some, out of sheer greed and some others, simply for the love of sex. In this piece, Saturday Vanguard explores the lives students in our tertiary institutions who now appear more remarkable in their runs for men and money than their primary purpose of acquiring quality education.
‘Runs’ and ‘Aristoism’ in the ivory towers
In 2010, 19 year old Elizabeth Ehis (not real name), had the world at her feet. She was writing her West African Secondary School Certificate Examinations, WASSCE, hoping to fulfill her life-long dream of becoming an accountant. However, life took a different turn when she lost her father to the cold hands of death before finishing her exams.
In spite of this, Elizabeth, the first of four children, forged ahead and gained admission into the University of Benin in 2012. Things were tough for her widowed mother. But sending Elizabeth to the university was top priority for her. Her mother would never have guessed that disastrous blend of harsh conditions, bad company and wrong choices would lead Elizabeth into prostitution. Her mother would not know that Elizabeth told our reporters her story from a brothel.
Her bad company came in the person of a friend she calls Stephanie. She said: “I met Stephanie during our Matriculation ceremony in the school, we were and still are in the same department. But we did not really become close until we met at the party where we got talking and exchanged contacts. At first, I thought she was into lesbianism because of the way she was asking me about myself.
Later she told me that, I did not deserve the kind of poor life style I was living in school and that I needed to upgrade myself. She introduced me to some friends who would call me when there was a party to attend. At one of the parties we attended, they introduced me to some ‘big’ men.
At first I did not understand what was happening, until it was obvious that each girl had been paired up to have sex with an old man. I was very reluctant about that and I angrily left the party. The next day in school, she was so angry with me and asked me why I behaved like that. After much convictions and persuasions, I succumbed to what she asked for.
My first night was with a man who had just come from Malaysia and after a long night of sex, he gave me N10, 000. Though I was happy because, I was not used to getting that kind of money at once, I was angry because, the guy used me very rough in the night. He had so much energy and he never allowed me to sleep. He took me on more than five times and I was very weak.” she narrated.
After that first night, she never turned back from the trade. “I became used to the whole thing, and I was collecting more than N5, 000 per night. I had to give a cut to the person who brought me deals, and send some money back home.”
She says that if she finds a better source of income, she will desist from the trade. But this is her life for now. Across citadels of learning, cases such as Elizabeth’s are not uncommon. It is just the nomenclature used to refer to such girls that tends to vary. One of the popular terms is the word Aristo. The term evolved from the English word Aristocracy which means a class of persons holding exceptional rank and privileges, especially the hereditary nobility.
Suggests that the Aristo class of prostitutes are high ranking and in the commercial sex parlance, different from call girls who advertise their merchandise by the road side. Aristos also known as Runs girls are a brand of prostitutes found on the campuses. They are students.
Linda Okoye, an Aristo, at the Nigeria Institute of Journalism in Lagos attempted to give more insight into this. In an interview with Saturday Vanguard, she said: “There is no difference because they can both be classified as prostitution. But what differs between the two is that Runs pay more than the normal prostitution. From experience, I would say that runs are the advanced or high class prostitution. Also, runs are a kind of contract profession while road side prostitution is like daily sex work whereby the person who does it is being paid based on the time she spends with her customer.
“For example, a normal prostitute may collect N 2,000 for 15-20 minutes of sex. But an Aristo can be on call for twenty-four hours. Another thing about the normal prostitute is that they can have sex with their customers on the road sides like beside banks and filling stations but runs girls use the best hotels. They have class. They work based on contracts and people who normally patronize them are rich men like company executives, politicians, businessmen among others.
What these rich men do is to contact these girls through an agent. These agents are like normal students. If you go to any higher institution, you will always find them there because they are the ones that bring business to the girls in schools. Sometimes you can get N250, 000 or more to spend in one or two weeks with a rich man.
“So Runs girls are like high class prostitutes. You don’t see them around often. They only come around if you have a job for them. For example, I have couple of friends who go to school in Rivers state, Imo state, Cross River etc who go to work in either Lagos or Abuja. Runs girls don’t behave like prostitutes. In fact most of them are undergraduates and graduates.”
A 200-level student of University of Benin, Dorothy Akpenor (not real name) disclosed to Saturday Vanguard that her former roommate was involved in the runs business, adding that she had been invited to join the group, but she declined.
When asked what was it like living with such a student, she said: “I was very uncomfortable with it, and often would talk to her about giving it up. There was a time she came back and told me she was always emotionless during the actual intercourse and felt guilty when some Naira notes were given to her. But she felt better that she was able to meet her financial obligations especially about her studies.”
She stated further that she had advised her to stop the ‘runs’ but all to no avail. “I did ask her to stop. To me, her excuse was not tenable because I know her family was not that poor.”
She said that her friend returns with an average of N20,000 to N30,000. But that she would never resort to it, adding that if she was in need of money, she’d rather talk to her parents and family members instead of embarking on sex work.
Dorothy further said that some even do it with desperation, going as far as using charms on their unsuspecting male patrons in order to get huge amount of money from them.
Girls from higher institutions now flock into parties in many cities of Nigeria. Most times the agents who are fellow students organise them. Their presence is common not only in cities that have tertiary institutions but also the ones near and far. They are the Aristos in the social circles. They are everywhere. In parties organised by individuals, companies, political parties and very interestingly in many government houses, you find Aristos bubbling and ever ready to serve men who could be their grandfathers. It underscores how values have descended.
In a high class party in Warri last year which one of our reporters attended, the venue became colouful and warm when two buses, loaded with Aristos, arrived. The guests had a field day.
Hours after a CAF match in one of the Nigerian cities ended a party was on at the Government House to celebrate the victory. Aristos flooded the place. A top government official had booked for them. The party was interesting but so weird that a few guys went away with more than one Aristo. Orgy is not uncommon among Aristos once the pay is good.
The question of poverty may not be the absolute reason why many young female students take to this lifestyle but it surely contributes in some cases. However, findings show that it is usually more pronounced in girls who transit from living a normal school life, after a few Aristo runs, to living big and thereafter a struggle to maintaining the lifestyle to which they have become familiar. A posh naive female student with a taste for trendy clothes, shoes and designer handbags would be vulnerable to such act. She would go for the ‘less stress, more money runs’ with some randy executives for a night to maintain the lifestyle she chose for herself.
Nike, a 300 level student at UNILAG corroborated the idea saying: “it is a lifestyle and not about poverty as people say. Why can’t they do something more dignifying than
flirting around? Why is it that when they get some money that could set them up for a business they still don’t stop their trade? Why are they stuck in this immoral act? Some of them make so much money that you will agree that it has to do with morals otherwise they would quit if it was all about poverty. You will see them buying and wearing expensive clothes, shoes and handbags. Is that poverty?” Nike queried.
But what do you say of a girl returning to the campus and the parents give her just about N20,000 for her school fees and upkeep? There are some students in tertiary institutions who even get less. The boys struggle, appealing to one uncle or the other to help out. Some do odd jobs to survive. Some of the girls who suffer such poverty also approach relations to help. But many resort to runs in schools to make up. And once they start making money and living bigger than they were they find it difficult to quit.
Reacting to the situation, a mother, Mrs. Ayodele Kolawole, a retired teacher said: “It is frightening because you don’t know what these children are doing outside and you can’t be with them. I am confident about what my children do, but sometimes you can’t underestimate the peer pressure. I used to tell my children about all sorts of pressure in the university because I passed through the system. But to a large extent, I think it has to do with poverty. If a student has everything she needs, I don’t think she will involve herself in this act. Home training is also important, parents have a lot to do to lay good foundation for their children. This issue has to be resolved immediately because with diseases nowadays our children are at risk.”
Queen as she is fondly called, was indifferent when she told Saturday Vanguard that she was in the business simply for the love of money and sex. She targets men who have just arrived the country from abroad because they “have more cash to splash.” She said: “I just love sex; no condition pushed me into that. I love the money too, so I go for what I want.”
Sadly, University of Lagos, UNILAG, Akoka, is also known to be the spot for campus prostitution. Its closeness to places like Yaba, Surulere, ensures a constant flow of wealthy ‘customers’. Chidinma Akpan (not real name) a female student who spoke to Saturday Vanguard stays at the popular Moremi Hostel, notorious for housing such girls.
She said: “Men come to female hostels in the evenings to call on ladies. If the lady chooses to answer them, they both go to have a nice time. If she refuses, the men will move on to the next girl till they find what they are looking for. Some other times, it is more complex than that. Aristos work with some errand boys in female hostels. These boys show the rich men who come around the pictures of different girls and the men pick anyone they want. Just like picking a style of clothing from a catalogue
Felicia Jinadu also UNILAG student, lamented on what her experience has been like with these pleasure seeking men. “I have never been tempted to engage in this act but I get approached from time to time in the evenings, may be its because of my stature .I have heard of cases whereby some of our girls go with these men and never return. Some of these girls engage in it as a result of peer pressure .I heard somebody bought a car worth N7m for a lady They engage in it because of what they can get. Some of these girls come from good homes, but are not satisfied with what they get from their parents.”
Linda on this issue told Saturday Vanguard: The school runs have become some kind of profession for some people. It’s just like hard drug whereby if you don’t take it in a day you won’t be alright. Money is the attraction. But it is not a daily thing. However, when they go out, some make some good money. It all depends on who they meet.”
Students make runs from Abraka University in Delta, IMT and ESUTH in Enugu, University of Benin, University of Calabar. Abuja, Owerri, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ilorin are not left out.
Sex Education expert, and counselor, Mr. Praise Fowowe says that the roots of immorality among loose students or the real prostitutes can always be traced to a history of sexual abuse.
“I have counseled over 300 prostitutes,’ he said, ‘and I haven’t met anyone of them who was not abused as a child. Most of these girls have their fathers, uncles and even pastors sexually abusing them at a young age. By the time they get into higher institutions, many of them have become so weird that they are easily lured away into some kind of prostitution which they tag many things. For me, poverty has nothing to do with it. It is an issue of identity crisis. Such girls do not know who they are.
That is why parents must ensure that they are there for their children; That their children have a healthy self esteem, insist on moral upbringing no matter how tough the circumstances are. Why is it that many people are very poor yet their female children live a disciplined life? So, it’s not necessarily poverty although some argue that it contributes.”
Pastor (Mrs.) Chioma Akin-Adekeye, who has helped rehabilitate and counsel women who wanted a way out of the prostitution business had this to say: “The way out is for you to empathize with them and educate them on the alternatives. These girls who indulge in prostitution have an unusual boldness, so they don’t allow people to intimidate them. So if you go to them, accusing them down or running them down, you won’t succeed. You have to understand and empathise with them. Find out why they are into it and provide better alternatives for them. You don’t just tell them to quit without providing alternatives for them. Let them know what they can do to get out of it. Don’t start telling them the dangers and disadvantages of their actions because these are things they already know. Most of them are ready to face the consequences. Just like drug addiction, some are addicted to it. What they need is rehabilitation. The students who indulge in it need a lot of counseling but it is better to start early in the families before things get out of hand. Children who are close to their parents and who always receive counseling from their parents hardly go astray.”