Nigerian youths battle unemployment and poverty in a dangerous, yet inventive art form.
The tempting inscription comes across at first as the funny pranks of a mischievous customer. More so, that it is neatly scrawled on the restroom door of a popular fast food joint in Ikeja.
“In need of hot sex? Call Tina on this number, 081343I(...),” the bold lines scream.
Then another announcement, captioned in tiny bright blue marker, jumps to focus: "Need a Sugar mummy or want a sexual experience of a lifetime? Call Pamela on this number, 080562(...)".
“Hello, Tina, how you dey now?”
“Fine. Please, who am I speaking with?”
“I’m (name). I got your message and number…”
“My message? How? Where?”
“From the eatery“
“Yes. Can we play games?”
“If we’re doing it at your place that’s 7k. In my room 3k. In a hotel, along with refreshment, that’s 5k.”
“I don’t mind… Anywhere will do. But what are you offering?”
“Two life-size oranges. An electrifying backside. And if you’re heading south straight, abeg come with plenty Viagra oh!”
“Is that a threat or a promise?”
“Ah oga, just try me and you go forget ya wife! If I like you, you’ll get blowjob as extra!”
“Before we conclude, let me tell you I’m a blind person.”
“Ha! Ha! Ha! You make me laugh oga. Abeg leave that thing… This is a business transaction not a relationship!”
“Can we meet then?”
“Oh, sure, yes…”
It is no joke, I soon found out when Tina and I finally met. Her graffiti, like those I had come across in the past, are desperate signs of the time leaping through the walls and doors of rest rooms in most popular eateries in Lagos and other high-traffic parts of Nigeria.
Call it a revolution in sex marketing - and you will not be wrong. But to the sex graffiti artists, it is an imaginative way of tearing off the poverty cancer eating up their youth without hassles. The truth is, that what initially began as a locker room pranks among students, has become a creative tool of trade among sex hawkers and disillusioned young Nigerians who scribble their names and telephone numbers across doors and walls of public places to attract customers.
The shocker is not about to end yet. Homosexuals are equally exploring the graffiti revolution here. Both gays and lesbians now find fulfilment in their sexual urge despite stiff legislation outlawing same sex romance in Nigeria.
Ralph belongs to that minority class, and he had no qualms discussing erotic matters even when it becomes obvious that his prospect is a journalist.
“Hello, is that Ralph?”
“Right. Who’s on the line?”
“I got your number and message at the restroom in the eatery.”
“Are you gay and hearty?”
“How do we hook up? My name’s (name).”
"And where we can homogeneously shag!”
“Hope you don’t mind that I’m blind?”
“How blind can it be? Your rod should find my arse, 'cos I’ll play the wife.”
For the homosexuals, sexual fulfilment, more than cash rewards, is the force propelling their graffiti artistry. But for young Tina and Jennifer, survival in the midst of escalating poverty level is the motivation. Tina makes a full time job of sex hawking, she confesses to me over lunch at Calabar Kitchen on Emina Crescent in Ikeja.
“So why are you not in the hotel like others?” I asked.
“I used to be in the hotel but could not cope with the mess. One, you are in stiff competition with other ladies, and then there is the tenancy for you to pay whether you get patronage or not. The worst is the constant police raid," she narrates.
Jennifer, unlike Tina, claims to be an undergraduate at the University of Lagos.
“I’ve got bills to pay in school and also fend for my siblings and aged parents,” she reveals after initially confirming from me where I got her number and what I do for a living.
How it all began, no one can say. What is obvious is that sex-graffiti not only exist as an art, it is also thriving too, a waitress in one of the eateries who spoke on condition of anonymity reveals.
“In our place, one cleaner just noticed the number one day and told others about it, and we all joked that it was someone among us being naughty. But before we knew what was happening, different numbers started springing up all over the place both in the gents and the ladies wing.”
“And then the human traffic towards the rest rooms became larger than it used to be. Often, some will just come in, head for the rest room and come out without buying anything at the restaurant. And when it got embarrassing, we started watching ourselves to see whether a culprit would be caught but there was little we could do about customers, because we cannot afford to offend them,” she narrates.
Customers are indeed the kings, and they are all the time right. Including gigolos, pimps and the creative at heart who exploit the ample spaces in eateries and other public surfaces to advertise erotic offers at no cost. The arrays of offers too are as endless as they range from the mundane to the sublime.
“For hot sex and blowjob for any rich sugar mummy, call Michael 080546(...).” Another reads “Handsome guy, i enjoy sucking pussy and am hot call: 070391(...).” And then “For contract wedding please call me on this line: 0813434(...).”
It is not as easy as it appears. Sex graffiti is a marketplace of mysteries and uncertainties. Although their numbers and the ensuing negotiation are real, oftentimes the names are fictitious. It is also difficult to ascertain the real health status of any prospective sex partner.
“It is only natural for anyone in the game to think about the money first before giving thoughts to health and security implications of the act,” Florence Adetunji, a Programme Officer at Disabled Rights Advocacy and Accountability Group (DRAAG) reasons.
“And that is where gender activists need to come in with targeted advocacy interventions. Otherwise, we may have to deal with escalating HIV prevalence and other health challenges soon,” Florence says.
Perhaps Florence’s proposed advocacy campaigns will make sense after an initial war against the geometric poverty rating in Nigeria and growing unemployment among its youth population. According to the 2011 Nigerian Poverty Profile report of the National Bureau of Statistics, a huge 112.6 million Nigerians are still deeply enmeshed in poverty. The grim revelation is coming after a similar World Bank verdict that Nigeria occupies an unenviable position in the league of Low Income Countries Under Stress.
Not for the fun of it, though. What proprietors of eateries and restaurants where sex graffiti thrives now do is to paint their walls at regular intervals. Some would even change the colours of their toilet doors from the usual white to other dull colours such as deep green and blue.
But the desperate youths of Nigeria who make money through sex hawking are far from being dispirited. Obliterating the sex adverts only serves a temporary deterrence.
The graffiti-writers still write on newly painted doors and even use bright markers when ordinary pen refuses to work on the new oily surfaces. Repainting restrooms doors and other wooden surfaces in the rest rooms has therefore become a regular practice for eateries where management is concerned with public image.
“This is about the third time this toilet will be repainted since I started work here two years ago. It is not because of dirt but that nonsense some people write on the doors. Though it is not only here that it happens, our oga finds it repulsive, which is why this place is repainted like that. In some other places they just leave it like that and nobody cares,” Agnes, a cleaner in one of the eateries reveals.
As I moved from one eatery to the other, compiling sex advertisements in company of my female intern reporter, I brooded over my naughty escapade with Tina and became more petrified.
What if something tragic had happened to Tina in my custody? What if her next prospect is a ritual killer?
Then the Fund For Peace report for 2012 came out with Nigeria ranking as one of the top 10 failed states in Africa and the 14th in the world. I juxtaposed the damning verdict with the reaction of the Nigerian government which chewed out the ranking as baseless. Immediately, Tina and the idle youths of Nigeria loomed large in the whole picture. Like other frustrated youths in those poorly-rated African nations, the youths of Africa are dying slowly. And the continent is fast becoming a land of living mummies.