Wednesday, 17 October 2012


The controversy of whether “sex work” can be defined and treated as real work or not is one that evokes a lot of emotion and sentiments. This is not surprising because the answer to this will determine whether this area of “Work” deserves to be acknowledged and given as much legal and social protection and recognition as any other type of work recognized under the auspice of labour laws. It cannot be denied that “sex workers”, like them or hate them, provide a service. Since prostitution is commonly referred to as the oldest profession, sex work is a service as old as humankind.

With the advent of globalization, internet dating, chat rooms, cyber-sex etc, the world’s touted oldest profession has not been left behind in modernizing its trade and services to keep up with the ever changing technology; dynamism is indeed the name of the game. In today’s world, a sex worker is no longer just the woman in skimpy red dress and high heels, lurking at the corner of the street in the middle of the night looking for a customer. A sex worker now include prostitutes, pornography actors and actresses, chat room /telephone sex providers, escorts, gigolos etc.  

However, like all work, especially in this era of neo–globalization and privatisation of anything that generate profits, prostitutes in many cases do not own their bodies anymore, many are not really in a position to negotiate the prices for their services. The big lords, hotel owners, club owners, chat room owners, internet warlords are now the real employer of sex workers' labour. The money bags have the money to run the business, employ women and in a growing number of cases men too, to render sexual services, they act as the sub contractors, in fact, it is just an advanced stage of pimping.

‘IF YOU HAVE A BOSS, YOU NEED A UNION” is a popular slogan in Labor movement. It is increasingly obvious that sex workers are in most cases employed by other big time business operators, who like many employers, are basically concerned about profit and not necessarily the welfare of their employees. Even in cases where sex workers are their own bosses, instances of police brutality and harassment abound. Policemen have been known to extort sex workers, demand for cuts from their earnings, deny them protection, rape and torture them; in fact, sex workers are subjected to all sorts of indignities and degrading treatment when arrested.
In Nigeria, it is a common occurrence for policemen to raid a brothel, clubs or local joints to arrest young women, especially female students on the suspicion of prostitution. To the policemen, the  evidence  of the prostitution charge lies in the  way the women are dressed, their physical appearance, if they were smoking, drinking alcohol, the company they keep, or just the mere fact that they were in that environment at an 'ungodly' hour serves as evidence of prostitution.
Many women arrested in such circumstances are often tortured, extorted, blackmailed, raped and assaulted. In an effort to protect their identity and secure their freedom, these young women would do anything to please their torturers. Sometimes they are forced to confess to crimes they never committed and in many cases, are forced to perform sexual favours to gain their freedom. Of course, this action of the police is sexist, a violation of so many fundamental human rights and a restriction on the right of women to move freely in the country.

It is however interesting to note that the over-zealousness of the police is never extended to elitist clubs. Sex workers, who work for and provide services to the elites, enjoy a sort of coded protection. However the protection is only valid for as long as the boss is pleased, any disagreement or rancor could lead to withdrawal of that protection. Therefore the power to negotiate the terms and conditions of service is tacitly taken away from the vulnerable sex workers.
Also, sex workers are often looked at as disease carriers, a mobile carrier of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. While there is no gainsaying that exposure to many sexual partners without protection increases the risk of contacting a sexually transmitted disease, it is also important to note that the client could be as guilty if not more guilty than the service provider therefore it is important to involve and educate the clients too on the need to practice safer sex. It is important to have a holistic approach to this subject in order to curb sexually transmitted diseases. 

Sex workers must be accorded the respect they deserve and seen as stakeholders who can contribute meaningfully to creating awareness about HIV/AIDS and help curb its spread. We must also recognize that sexual health and well being of sex workers is also important.
The stigmatization and consequent exploitation of sex workers would be minimized if sex work is accorded its recognition as a bonafide job, a real job which has its challenges like every other job but which also has its rights and protections under the law.
Criminalization of sex-work in many countries and jurisdictions makes it difficult to create a safe, enabling environment and workplace for sex workers. The continued criminalization of sex-work, rather than serves as a deterrent has only succeeded in exposing sex workers to violence, intimidation, harassment, exploitation etc.

As was said in the Wolfenden Committee report of 1957, what two adults do in the privacy of their rooms is no business of the law. Decriminalization of sex work would make it easier to organize sex workers, improve their working conditions, curb exploitation and protect their rights and accord them the dignity in labour every worker deserves.

Recognizing sex work and organising sex workers within mainstream labour movement is a task not just for the unions but one that must jointly be carried out by both the trade unions and sex workers.  Sex workers must be ready to organise themselves from within, they must be prepared to approach unions that are capable of meeting their needs and willing to accept them as full members with all the rights accorded members.

Trade unions on their part must be ready to live up to its primary duties, which is organising workers and protecting their rights. In this time when the labour movement is concerned about dwindling membership mainly due to global economy down turn, trade unions should look towards organising this untapped membership.

Sex workers have bosses in many cases, they work under hazardous conditions, and sometimes under very demeaning circumstances, they need protection from dangerous clients, overzealous policemen, and even the larger society.

Organising sex workers would also give them the opportunity to build their capacity to negotiate their own services and contracts, educate and empower them enough for them to make a true choice or at least give them a chance to really have a choice. 

No one should be forced to be a sex worker; it should be voluntarily chosen. Unfortunately, our economy reality has restricted the power to freely choose our profession, however it is still imperative that conditions of work in this profession is subjected to international labour standards. Sex workers should not be abandoned to their fate just because they happened to be on the wrong side of a questionable law.

The key word is CHOICE and an ENABLING/EMPOWERING environment to make a CHOICE. Many choose 'prostitution' or what I'd rather refer to as 'Commercial Sex Work' to survive the brutal economy. Just the same way many women and men choose to enter into Marriage unions or relationships for economy reasons and same way many migrants are forced to marry or enter into contractual sexual relationships for a green card or entry visa. Mutual Adult choices that harm no one should be respected. 

We should all stand up against FORCED commercial sex work, FORCED LABOUR anywhere, anyhow should be condemned. Persons that have chosen sex work whether out of economic circumstances or just because they love it, should be accorded all respect and protection, not pity.

Commercial sex workers should not be denied workers’ rights because of societal stigmatization and moral judgments. They are adults, have made their choices and need not explain to a third party why they made their choice. Decriminalization can help minimize violence, sex trafficking and exploitation of sex workers and a UNION would give them the representation many other workers enjoy. 

Employment CHOICES, whether made out of economic frustration, lack of choice or real passion for the profession MUST BE RESPECTED.

Sex workers do not have to be viewed as people who need help, especially when they are in the profession voluntarily. Not everyone loves their jobs, including commercial sex workers. In almost all profession, you will find people who truly loathe their jobs but are constraint to stay in the jobs because it pays the bills. So next time someone says "but prostitutes don't love their jobs", well ask the person if they truly love their jobs? Also, not loving your job is not a reason for the society to criminalize  or stigmatize your chosen profession. 

Some sex workers are in the profession because, believe it or not, they have a passion for it, many are there because of limited choice but for whatever reasons they are in the profession, RESPECT is the key word, not PITY and certainly not moral judgment.

Sex workers while building their alliances with labour movements, must also build links with social movements that will protect their rights and interests. They should build alliances with  liberal women organisations, human rights organisations which in some cases also help to provide legal services to allies and of course the World Social Forum.

Social movements on their part must continue to demand for a better world, where the oppressed in the society can rise above their oppression, where poverty will not be the motivating factor behind sex work, where people can truly decide what type of work they want to do, be it providing medical service or providing sex service and have their choice equally respected.

It is indeed interesting that some unions have already started organising sex workers and admitting them into their unions while some sex workers have also started organising themselves. In Europe, America, Asia , tentative steps have been taken by unions like the Karnataka Sex workers union Bangalore, International union of sex workers, London, AMMAR, an organisation of sex workers in Argentina, CTA, an Argentine trade union, FNV union confederation in Netherlands UNITE, New Zealand, etc. It is important to build on these developments in order to reach out to many vulnerable and oppressed people in this work who otherwise would not have any valid spokesperson or means of channeling their grievances or opportunity of having their voices heard in the society.

Trade unions in Africa should also try to represent this group of workers, who most often, work in the most demeaning conditions.  Discrimination has no place in trade unionism, the interests of the sex workers must be protected, their voices must be heard and their concerns taken on board. Unions should not just be speaking for sex workers but must also let sex workers speak for themselves from within the unions.

In conclusion, we must bear in mind that organising sex workers itself is not about promoting the sex trade or sex services, it is about PROTECTING the rights of those who either out of choice or no choice find themselves working as sex workers. 

Trade unions cannot and should not discriminate on which category of workers they offer their services to. Workers of the world have always tried to unite against any form of slavery, freely chosen sex work is not slavery and where stifling environment encourages exploitation of this vulnerable group, union machinery should start working to defend the rights of these workers irrespective of status, class, color or gender.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

If the ALUU 4 victims were gays caught in the act, would the percentage of Nigerians condemning Jungle justice drop drastically?

When I read the story of the 4 students of University of Port Harcourt that were lynched on allegation of theft, I wept for my country one more time. I have not watched the video and I do not ever intend to watch it. It is very difficult getting an online report of the story without graphic images of the victims burnt alive, Nigerian bloggers and news reporters need to understand that such violent graphics should come with a trigger warning! I am already tormented at the thought of a human being burnt alive by a sick mob; I can do without the pictures and violent video.

Following the breaking of this horrible news, many Nigerians expressed shock that such barbaric acts could still so wantonly be carried out in Nigeria and with the tacit cooperation of members of the police force, state security men were said to be present at the scene of the lynching but chose not to intervene. 

Also, there were a few Nigerians who actually tried to justify the murders, they felt if these students actually stole phones and laptops as alleged, they deserved to be lynched, and some even cited their religious books to justify this atrocity.

This ghastly incident also brought to my mind the hideous views many Nigerians hold on homosexuality, and what many Nigerians think should happen to homosexuals.

Many Nigerians threaten Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transsexuals with public stoning. I have lost counts of the many times I have received messages and comments on social networks threatening just that.

Many Nigerians obviously think it is OK to threaten Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans with jungle justice and also think it is their civic duty to send threat messages, sometimes graphic violence messages to LGBT Rights advocates. My public advocacy for decriminalization of homosexual acts and the call for recognition of LGBT rights as human rights have indeed exposed me to this primitive side of Nigerians.

I wonder how many people that are indignantly condemning the lynching of the 4 UNIPORT students would also condemn this action if the accusation was not that of robbery but that of sodomy. What if these students were accused of being gay, would it be OK to lynch them?

I ask this question because many Nigerians often very casually mention that gays should be publicly ridiculed, mobbed and stoned to death. Many Nigerians make it a duty to leave threatening messages on social networks where any gay person, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual is featured.

 When I granted a National newspaper an interview where I condemned the anti same sex marriage bill and called for the recognition of LGBT rights as human rights, many Nigerians left comments calling for gay Nigerians to be lynched. Very few Nigerians ever bothered to condemn such comments. 

When Sir Richard Branson on his blog, condemned the anti same sex marriage bill as cruel, many Nigerians posted vitriolic comments on the blog, many went as far as calling for gays to be publicly stoned to death, they gleefully cited the case of Sodom and Gomorrah to justify this atrocity. As Voltaire said “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”.

Same hate-filled comments were posted under the interview I granted. In fact many Nigerians gossip blogs reposted the interview on their various naija gossips sites with malicious captions encouraging very violent comments. Some bloggers even go as far as publishing pictures unlawfully taken from LGBT Rights advocates’ facebook pages and post these online with malicious comments encouraging jungle justice to be carried out on these activists.

 Why do Nigerians think it is OK to threaten anyone with jungle justice, yet shed crocodile tears when jungle justice was carried out on the Aluu4? Is it that jungle justice is not acceptable when the victims are heterosexuals but acceptable if they are gays? Why the double standard?

Jungle justice is of course barbaric in every sense of the word, no right thinking human being should ever advocate for such an evil action, it is certainly not something we should wish on our worst enemies, yet many Nigerians wish this on gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals even though these people cannot cause harm to anyone with their sexual orientation.

Does anyone deserve to live in fear of Jungle justice?

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals face the threat of jungle justice every day in Nigeria; they know that getting to court alive would be a luxury. They could be mobbed to death instantly if ever caught in the act or even on mere suspicion. Would the percentage of Nigerians condemning jungle justice drastically drops if it involved gays and lesbians?

Not too long ago, a video was posted online of three female students who were allegedly ‘Lesbians’. They were forced to perform sexual act on themselves by a group of barbaric guys, they were flogged, tortured, humiliated and raped. I wrote an appeal calling for justice and urged people to stop sharing the video. I was indeed surprised by the number of ‘likes’ on the horrendous, violent rape video, and some of these who clicked like on the video were my facebook friends, needless to say I had them deleted shortly after sending them a short message on exactly why I was deleting them from my friendship list.

This horribly violent video did not receive a wide condemnation, the police never acted on it, the National Human rights commission was informed, various Human rights NGOs in Nigeria were contacted, and none felt it would be productive to demand for justice for the ladies. The fact that the tortured students were allegedly lesbians did not earn them much public sympathy, the allegation of Lesbianism already made them sub-humans in the eyes of Nigerians.

So I ask again, how many Nigerians would really stand up and speak against jungle justice if the Aluu 4 victims were gays caught in the act?

 State sanctioned Jungle Justice?

There have been many documented cases of public bullying and torture of gays and lesbians in Nigeria, yet we never heard a public condemnation of such barbaric threats and acts against LGBTs.

Under Shari’a law which has been adopted by 12 Northern states in Nigeria, Sodomy is a criminal offence which is penalize with death by stoning. Hate crimes are not uncommon in Nigeria as can be seen in the following cases and remarks:
 In the international arena, Nigeria has continued its campaign, openly calling for killing people who engage in homosexual conduct. At the UN Human Rights Council in September 2006, Nigeria ridiculed the notion that executions for offences such as homosexuality and lesbianism are excessive. Its diplomat said: “What may be seen by some as disproportional penalty in such serious offences and odious conduct may be seen by others as appropriate and just punishment.”  
(Source- "Recognizing Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity at the Human Rights Council Session 2," ARC International (2006); also available on Human Rights Council Website,, cited in This Alien Legacy, Human Rights Watch Report, December 2008, p.62)

Also, recently at the United Nations, Nigeria was one of the countries that voted in support of removing ‘sexual orientation’ as one of the grounds which extra judicial, summary and arbitrary execution would not be tolerated.  Need I point out that extra Judicial, summary and arbitrary execution include JUNGLE JUSTICE? Well, Nigeria actually voted that jungle justice be mete out to Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transsexuals.
 When Nigerians have so much hate for LGBT persons who have not caused them harm in anyway, how can they even have an iota of human feeling for those who actually harm them? Law enforcement agents are not sympathetic to sexual minority cases, the government seeks to further criminalize homosexuals and the majority of the citizens want to stone gays to death, what a country! 

When leaders of our country, our security agents and the generality of our citizens have such mindsets, how can we begin to talk of a social justice conscience and sanity in our nation?

Nigerians must rid themselves of mental slavery, self righteousness and religious stupidity before they can truly empathize with another human being or other earthlings, without a need to justify their actions with quotes from some imported ‘holy books’.

Selective justice is bad and jungle justice has no place in a civilized, sane society. Of course Nigeria is not yet a civilized, sane society, but this is not a reason for us to flaunt our primitiveness. Let us at least make an effort to rid ourselves of these primitive urges, and try to understand that every life matters.

To maintain sanity, law and order in our society, we must learn to rise above primitive urges, and give everyone a fair chance to be heard in a democratic court of law. Some would say it is easy to say this if one had never been attacked by armed robbers. Well, some of us had experienced armed robbery at gun point, we have had horrible people do despicable things to us and our loved ones, but what makes us above these despicable people is because we have refused to drag ourselves down to their evil level. An eye for an eye is never a good thing; it would leave everyone blind.

A nation is as good as the conscience of its citizens; a nation is also as bad as the conscience of its citizens. On the issue of Rights of Sexual minorities, many Nigerians lack a social conscience and no encompassing social justice can come from such a nation.

We can only fairly fight against that which we totally condemn, we cannot on one hand condemn jungle justice and on the other hand advocate or passively accept that it is OK for gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, or Trans to be mobbed and stoned to death.

Where do you stand on the issue of jungle justice; are you totally against Jungle Justice or is it No to Jungle Justice, but…?