Nigeria: At Lagos' Popular Commercial Sex District, COVID-19 Scares Away Customers

Nigeria COVID-19 cases rise.

Last Friday night at Allen Avenue, Lagos, there was a lull in human traffic.

Loud music from giant loudspeakers, however, was a constant at strategic locations along this road, in the heart of Ikeja, renowned as a convergence point for commercial sex workers and their potential customers.

Primarily a residential area, Allen Avenue has bulged; by day, it accommodates shopping centres, offices, and markets. At sunset, skimpily-clad ladies emerge and turn it into a night crawler's paradise.

Known in some quarters as Nigeria's 'Sin City,' it is home to nearly ten strip clubs, several bars, nightclubs, lounges, bars and much more.

One of the major converging spots for the commercial sex workers is in front of the popular Peka Hotel, adjacent to a well-known eatery at Opebi.

During the day, Peka looks like your regular average bar with open space where anyone can go for a drink. At night, it transforms into a beehive of activities - fun-seekers, food vendors, and commercial sex workers mingle freely as businesses vigorously prospect for clients.

Last Friday night was different; there was a handful of people in the vicinity even as the clock raced towards midnight. It may not be unconnected with the outbreak of coronavirus which has led over 10,000 people dead globally.

In Nigeria, 30 cases of the disease have been recorded, 22 of them in Lagos.

Poor patronage

The Lagos State government recently announced a ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people, later reducing the crowd to 20.

On Saturday, however, Lagosians defied the directive, trooping put in their numbers to attend wedding engagements and party at night clubs.

As at 11 p.m., on Friday, bars and parking lots at several joints at Allen were largely empty.

It was the same at Peka where security guards, wearing nose masks, point thermometers at customers and then administer hand sanitisers.

"I will not allow you in again, can't you just stay somewhere or go home if e no pay you?" a guard barked at a skimpily-clad lady, as I made my way into the sparsely-populated bar.

Hardly had I sat down when a lady appeared, introducing herself as Blessing.

"Oga I am available, I will do you well,' she said, giggling and pulling up another chair.

"Why is this place scanty tonight, did the police come to raid or what's going on?" I asked.

Surprise surfaced on Blessing's face.

"Are you not aware of Coro virus (coronavirus)? E be like say people dey fear oo."

I asked her if she's not scared of contracting the virus.

"It's not my portion," she snapped. "Me I know that kind thing no fit affect me if I no hustle how I would survive."

"I don't know why today (Friday) is like this, I think people will still come, most of the guys coming this night, just carry girls straight, they are not coming in to sit down to drink."

Blessing said she is a student at the School of Nursing in Port Harcourt and is in Lagos to raise some money. She added that she might have come at the wrong time because of the low patronage being witnessed with the growing cases of Covid-19.

"That N10,000 for all night is not good especially when you say we are going to Ipaja (a suburb in Lagos), this coronavirus is really affecting business," she mumbled as she gulped the drink offered.

'Divine protection'

Moments later, Blessing's friend, who identified herself as Chioma, joined us. She said she is aware of the coronavirus but believes in 'divine protection.' She, however, said she takes precautions.

"I have a sanitizer in my bag and I am very choosy at my client," Chioma said.

"I usually prefer those I know before but if the money is good, I can take the risk, Nah God dey protect all of us."

The taxi drivers and food vendors at Allen Avenue corroborated what the ladies said, adding that they fear it may persist if the threat of the virus rises.

Sunday Olugbade, a taxi driver, said "market has been very slow."

"People no too come out like before."

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