Written by Patrick Dele Cole - Nigeria
ESOSA Susan is 5ft. 7 inches tall. Excellently proportioned; today she is wearing a designer dress she bought in Paris, at the Etienne Hugo. The dress fits perfectly and stops demurely at her knees. She is wearing a 7-inch Jimmy Choo heels killer sexy heels any other woman would die for. Her handbag is a small affair from Prada. The hair, the latest hair attachment - is full and luxurious looking as if she has just stepped out of a salon. Where others make or do their hair with three bunches, she did five, which is styled by a professional hair stylist. The total effect is stunning - get people - men and women - gapping at this apparition of beauty stepping down the road. Heads turn as she passes. She is a Benin girl whose name is Esosa Susan.
Her swagger is different from that of every other girl.
You cannot intimidate her; she has a peculiar life view - that life is for the present to be enjoyed in full. She speaks with a low voice but with a tilt that emphasizes the peculiar Pidgin English that is entirely unique to Benin in the same way as you can tell when a "Warri boy" or "Port Harcourt boy" speaks pidgin. But that voice can rise with particular venom when she is angry or distressed. All the sophistication of Esosan is skin deep. She is not beyond descending to the language of a gutter snip or fighting. Hers is a tough world and only the tough survive.
Furthermore, the Benin girl is a special phenomenon. It is unique - why? She is part of an industry - with world-wide implications and connections - it is the employment of young women who are upwardly mobile, beautiful, well "educated", trained in the sexual arts, able to make a lot of money through gifts from men: the closest comparable relationship is that of geisha girls in Japan (without the overt sexuality). She is obviously intelligent - street wise - but can fit in a sophisticated setting.
Benin is a centre, a confluence of several cultures - Edo, Ibo, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Ishan, Estshako, Isoko, Kwale, Agbor, Ubulu Uku, Isele Uke, Asaba, etc.
The early historical influence of Benin Empire went as far as present day Benin Republic, Lagos, Warri, Ife, Ishan etc. Moreover, there is a long historical connection with Benin Empire: today Benin is a confluence of beauty, brain, money, power and influence. Benin was the epicenter of the 419 scam until recently when it moved to Asia.
There are six or seven universities and tertiary institutions of varying competences in the Benin axis; many international boarding schools, and many ordinary schools. The level of education in Benin is very high; there is a long tradition of overseas travel. Benin is a cultural capital; it is a thriving city, once dominant in timber and rubber trade. Today it still wears a garb of affluence although where the money comes from cannot readily be identified.
There has been the explosion of possibilities by Internet: Benin is the centre of "Yahoo boys and girls" who have now moved on to Kuala Lumpur; and Accra.
Benin has a long tradition in the sex trade - Italy:- Rome, Florence, Naples (for gold trade); Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm, London, New York, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Bremen are all well known centres of Benin girls - (three or so years ago, there was a documentary of the sex trade and Benin).
Edosan Susan has, like other Benin girls, houses, cars, markets, boutiques etc; for herself and her mother. Her mother now drives a Toyota Camry but she is insisting that Edosan Susan, like other girls, buy her a 4-wheel drive Toyota Cruiser or Infiniti or BMWX6. Edosan Susan has beauty and brains, but with a belief that these can be enhanced by "jazz" traditional medicine, commonly known as juju.
As at today, Edosan Susan, like other Benin girls, would have in her house about N1 million worth of hairpieces, N1 million worth of hand bags, N1 million worth of shoes N1 million worth of cosmetics, several millions worth of jewelry, etc. By any standard, she is a rich girl but often short of ready cash which makes her do some stupid things.
Benin is a city constantly changing. It has refused to disappear even after the considerable assault by kidnappers, armed robbers (Anini and others) etc; Benin has the largest number of expensive "tokunboh" (fairly used imported cars) dealers in Nigeria; a major centre for traffic in drugs which used to be one of the most lucrative activities but has slowed down or is no longer reported.
A large number of Benin girls are married to European whites - thus legitimizing what may have started as part of the sex-drug network. With such legitimacy, the girls buy houses in both Benin and Europe and send for their siblings who they put through their own experiences.
These pressures both at home (e.g out bidding each other as to whose house is bigger, whose car is better) produces a very high competitive environment. Edosan Susan is married and has a daughter who stays with her mother. Her husband has disappeared.
Edosan got visas for three of her sisters to fuel existing trade relations. Many Benin girls want to marry and settle down. But many Benin boys are gigolos. Encouraging the gigolo cult - many "Benin boys" "yahoo boys"- are kept by the Benin girl in hope of marriage or settlement. Even the overseas resident Benin girl is subject to the land scams so prevalent between siblings living overseas and those in Nigeria. A sister living abroad sends money to her brother to buy land and build a house. The brother in Nigeria accepts the money but blows it, meanwhile sending fake photos of buildings to his sister to show progress to her house!! When sister finally arrives, she discovers the scam.
The Benin girl is a woman of steel - determined to succeed regardless of the dice fate has thrown her. She is also psychologically and philosophically and emotionally prepared to deal with her family, her friends, her enemies and competitors. Benin is largely a traditional society where trado-religions dominate. The priests have a solution for all problems!!! The juju priest in Benin has a high social status. The new eschatological religions have learnt a lot from the juju priests. The new Christian preachers sound exactly like the juju priests and offers like the juju ones and offer the same basket of rewards. Edosan Susan goes to church as fervently as she visits the traditional priest.
Any loose money in Benin goes into Hotel ownership and buildings - there seems to be more hotels in Benin than any other city in Nigeria. Edosan Susan is building a hotel while she waits for her "papers" to be ready. Acquiring "papers" for people like Edosan Susan is lucrative; sub trade for Europeans and Nigerians - diplomats and other shady characters.
Edosan Susan is emotionally and psychologically prepared for her business. The Italian connection had been with us long before Mrs. Eki Igbinedion set up her foundation to repatriate many. The sex trade is a harsh business and many of the girls go through hell before escaping usually through the help of an erstwhile client. Nevertheless many prefer the harshness of Europe to the indolence of Nigeria.
Edosan Susan's mother is the typical Mama Benin, who, like the Mama Saro, (to whom many Nigerians sent their children for "home training") is an essential clog in the Benin girls existence: in fact she is the anchor - providing for her children the necessary psychological prop made prominent by the pop song - "use what you've got to get what you want." The Mama Benin is constantly cooing to her brood about how God had physically endowed them with the essentials of success - a divine body - perfect breasts, flat tummy, and sexy boom - a gem in the eyes of men. She would go out and make sure that these assets are enhanced spiritually or by whatever means necessary; there are enough success stories to relate so and so just bought a house, car etc for her mum; etc. Unfortunately the tragedies are never mentioned; many Nigerians go to jail overseas; others overdose on cocaine; many die lonely deaths.
The Benin girl's attitude to university education is that it is a rite of passage - sacrifices must be made to gain admission, preferment, progress and a degree from lecturers and professors willing to play the game. She has a degree from an old-generation university in chemistry but never went to lectures once in four years; she does not know a pipette or what titration is!! But she is still extremely intelligent. This is not a question of morality but of necessity. People are welcome to the Benin girl's home; some examples will suffice - Edosan's roommate is now a major advertising asset for a large cosmetic manufacturer who was propositioned by a Benin Mama on behalf of her daughters. The man gets what he wants; the girl gets a larger job in the media/advertisement Industry.
But what really is the relationship between Edosan Susan, the typical Benin girl and a Benin Mama? In most instances the latter does not work outside being a locator for her girls, they love their "Mama-San" as the Japanese would call her; there is a proper contractual agreement between Girl and Mama - 50/50 arrangement. Many Benin girls may have children early - at 17 or 18; the children stay with mama while the Benin Girl marries or goes to university or goes overseas. Her husband is supposed to be responsible for the upkeep of mama. But the husbands hardly stay.
As anyone who visits the "jazz" organization - juju house - will tell you - there are consequences and sacrifices. One jazz made for Benin Girl who was properly outfitted and protected attracts men with incredible regularity: the men spend, sometimes millions but the down side is that the men pay the prize by losing what they have with incredible speed.
The babe moves on. Today Edosan Susan has Senators, Governors, and Heads of Federal Parastatals at her beck and call. Her fame has spread to Ghana and Dubai, which she visits regularly.
Conclusion: The Benin girl and Benin Mama are not confined to Benin people. The term is used to describe a phenomenon, not an actual Benin person or persons. It is further used to describe those who tend to have lived in Benin even if they do not come from there. It's the characteristic swagger, language, etiquette and outlook that characterize the Warri boy or Benin girl. All Benin girls are Internet savvy because sometimes they browse and meet friends overseas who turn out to be helpful but not always. There is a Benin girl who on Internet makes £500 a week from one client!! Edosan Susan is quintessentially a Benin girl. If this piece has raised any moral issues, it is for the reader to decide.
There is no attempt to pass judgment here: we describe what happens and suggest why it probably happens.
• Dr. Cole, a former Nigerian Ambassador, wrote from Lagos.