Simon Utebor, Yenagoa
Sunday, January 7, 2018, won’t be forgotten in a hurry by residents of Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital, particularly the sex workers, who ply their trade at the city’s red-light district.
On that day, at the red-light district, a small fire that started in one of the rooms of the sex workers later unleashed its fury, destroying buildings, including about 100 shanties used by the sex workers.
The incident, which has thrown many sex workers into sorrow, has also affected business on the popular red-light district, which boasts the highest concentration of activities of commercial sex workers in the state.
The area usually bustled with human traffic of customers and sex workers, who paraded their barely concealed nakedness under the glare of traffic lights in the night.
The place, which stretches from the Hospital Road Junction to Alamieyeseigha Way, has all the trappings of a red-light district where prostitutes in different shapes, colours, sizes, ages and classes also stay at all times of the day.
It was learnt that no life was lost as the inferno ripped through the area, the fire was however said to have destroyed a fast-food restaurant and a telecoms mast in the area.
Sources said the fire would have caused more destruction if firefighters had not arrived to put out the fire. It was also learnt that the fire started by the action of a sex worker, who had placed a lit mosquito coil on a toilet roll in her room.
A sex worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that a neighbour, who noticed that the toilet roll had caught fire, asked the sex worker to throw the toilet paper outside and put out the small fire with water.
“But rather than heed the warning, the lady decided to throw the tissue paper and the unquenched fire together into a nearby dustbin. With the aid of the dry weather caused by the harmattan, the fire burnt furiously and spread to other areas.
“However, if not for the quick intervention of some boys from the neighbourhood and the arrival of the state fire service, more damage would have been done. They were the ones who did everything to put out the raging fire and save the structures left in the area. Still, the fire destroyed many buildings, particularly the shacks we use for our ‘runs’ (sex work),” the sex worker said.
During a visit to the area, our correspondent observed as commercial sex lamented their losses during the incident.
One of the affected sex workers, who simply gave her name as Joy, said she could not save all that she had in her place.
Joy said, “I went out to give N50, 000 to my landlord. When I returned, I saw fire everywhere – my room was on fire. I could not save anything.
“The N45,000 that I ‘hustled to get’ (got through prostitution), the N25,000 my boyfriend gave to me and some money my friends gave me during the Christmas period, were all burnt. I was just shouting ‘my money, my money’. I wanted to send part of the money to my children in Delta State.”
Another victim, identified as Uzoma Otes, said she had suffered fire incident four times in her 12 years of experience as a sex worker in Bayelsa.
Otes, who bemoaned her fate, said with her room burnt down, her biggest challenge was how to continue to service her clientele.
She, however, said that if the state government or any philanthropist would give her a reasonable sum of money, she would leave prostitution and look for another business to do.
“Prostitution is no business,” she said as she listed all that she lost to the fire incident.
She continued: “Since I started this business (prostitution), I have been unable to point at any reasonable thing I have done.
“My brother, this business is not it at all (sic). But what can one do? No job to do, no money to do business. One is really in a fix. Do I leave the business without anything else to do? How do I feed? Who will take care of me?
“I am just so confused. Now, the little place I am using to ‘hustle’ has been destroyed. I am now staying in my friend’s room. She was not affected by it, but her room is too small. If I have a customer and she has hers, where will I take my customer to? I will have to leave the room for her to use. It is just so bad!”
Another worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said that since the incident, she had been putting up with her friend.
“My girlfriend is also a ‘runs girl’ (sex worker). We are adopting what is called “pillow houses”, where prostitutes are separated by cloth dividers in tiny rooms.
“As small as her room is, we divided it into two. Men who want ‘quickies’ are always taken there. But if someone wants to take me out and have me till daybreak, I am so happy; at least, it will give my girlfriend some breathing space.”
Another victim, who identified herself simply as Flora, responded angrily when asked to narrate the incident.
She said, “Even if we talk from now till tomorrow, the government is not ready to help us. Is this the first time we have suffered this kind of disaster here? What did the government do?
“Please, I want to be left alone. Let me carry my own cross. I have lost everything I had to the inferno. My beddings, my TV set, my money, phone, all have been lost. As I speak to you now, I am in pains. I have two children in my village and I am the one taking care of them. See what has happened now (sic).
“How will I be able to take care of them? We are suffering from all of this because our parents did not take care of us. Now, as if it is a curse, the way things are going, my children may take after this useless business. I am terribly distraught.”
Meanwhile, it was learnt that the sex worker, who allegedly caused the fire incident, had been arrested.
She is said to have been detained at the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department of the Bayelsa State Police Command, Yenagoa.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Bayelsa State Command, Mr. Asinim Butswat, confirmed the fire incident.
Butswat, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, said a 23-year-old lady, identified as Tochukwu Odiocha, had been arrested for allegedly causing the inferno.
He, however, said the police could not ascertain the worth of the property destroyed yet as investigation was still ongoing.
He said, “A fire incident occurred on January 7, 2018 about 7. 30 am. The police were alerted about the fire outbreak on Alameyeseigha Road behind Skippers Fast Food building. Fire service was contacted and the fire was put out.
“Value of property lost cannot be ascertained at the moment. One Tochukwu Odiocha, a 23-year-old female, was arrested and investigation is ongoing.”
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