Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination. Far too often they receive no, or very little, protection from the law or means for redress”- Tawanda Mutasah, (Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Law and Policy).

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By virtue of being human, there exists for everyone certain inalienable rights. A commercial sex worker by virtue of being human enjoys the full access to these rights too. S/he is not to be considered less to the nun as a human being. 

The provisions of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between Sections 33 and 44 that cover human rights also applies to the Commercial Sex Worker as much as it does to everyone else. These provisions cover the protection against indiscriminate arrests, right to fair hearing and freedom against torture. Thus, one wonders why all these were lacking in the treatment of the Abuja CSW’s and arrested innocent women.

The claim is correct that commercial sex workers are one of the most patronized in Nigeria. CSW’s are heavily patronized to the extent of having recognized associations that endorsed Muhammadu Buhari for President in 2015 and Atiku Abubakar In 2019 known as the National Association of Nigerian Prostitutes.

Since commercial sex workers are receiving so much patronage including customers among people in the coffers of powers, why does the country again sweep in on them with allegations of gross human rights violations in recent actions in Abuja where a spree of arrests were made on the commercial sex workers.

The arrests were not even limited to the Commercial Sex Workers but also to well-meaning women who went about their normal business but were perceived as being commercial sex workers too and were promptly arrested.Abuja is the capital of Nigeria and by virtue of this houses the politicians including the core of business and society. The commercial sex workers found in the Abuja region are present there because there is a ready demand of their services by the people who stay in Abuja.

Presumably including those who make the laws that render their operation illegal or criminal. In Nigeria, sections 223, 224 and 225 of the Nigerian Criminal Code effectively illegalises the operation and ownership of brothels, the activities of pimps or madams and underage prostitution. 

The commendable part of this legislation is that it outlaws underage prostitution which is a crime. Nigerian law does not fully illegalise commercial sex work but renders illegal the ownership and operation of brothels. Nigeria also correctly prohibits national and trans-national trafficking of women for commercial sex or forced labour.

Nigeria is a signatory to the 2000 United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.The Nigerian law banning the operation of brothels must have been drafted to block out profiteers who would turn the demand for sex into a market and solicit the use of human beings to commercial ends while keeping them under terrible conditions which is sometimes the nature of brothels. 

A lot of the women in brothels have become mere tools and items of a business kept under terrible condition to be used for commercial sex work. The need to ensure commercial sex workers are not being used against their will is very urgent too. Brothels may operate that keep ladies against their will for a paid fee to some kingpin. The arrest of 59 in Calabar brothel by the men of the Nigerian Police Force on May 5, 2019 lends credence to this suspicion.

In all Northern states of Nigeria that use the Penal Code and operate Sharia Law, Commercial sex work is totally illegal. However, it may interest the reader that a popular legislator from these parts was caught on tape having sexual intimacy with women who were not his wives.

If the recent arrests and alleged rape of commercial sex workers  in Abuja is anything to go by, the Nigerian law enforcement has ignored the rights of these people who have even been allegedly subjected by Law enforcement officers to the same sort of which the Commercials sex workers were alleged. How else does one explain the rape of people alleged of prostitution? Is there any logic in this at all?

The arguments that seek to render commercial sex work illegal revolve around issues of dignity. The proponents of the illegality claim that legal approval of Commercial Sex Work is a corruption of public morality, a reduction of the dignity of the human person and a means for the spread of diseases. These arguments would be correct if not for the fact that the patrons and those who choose to indulge have fully considered these issues. The intervention of government thus becomes to setup measures for protection as the illegalisation comes with foreseeable difficulties.

The nature of commercial sex work being illegal and hunted by security operatives renders it potentially dangerous due to health practices that may be used on the women for issues such as abortion, the potential for Human Trafficking as the CSW’s would operate in a clandestine manner, the potential for rape which would be unreported, the potential to use these women by those who make money from their profits, the potential too for the commercial sex workers to be used for human rituals, the potential to be used without pay because they cannot report to the police, the potential for all sort of vicious fantasies to be effected on the commercial sex workers.

As long as it is illegal but the demand for sex is still present, the danger for those who indulge in it becomes higher. The state has to ensure the role of protection of her citizens even if they are commercial sex workers. Human rights apply to the nun as much as it does to the Commercial Sex worker. It applies to everyone regardless by virtue of being human.

Koye-Ladele Mofehintoluwa writes from Obafemi Awolowo University. He is a member of several volunteer organizations and human rights bodies. He can be reached on or on Twitter @Koye_tolu.Linked In: Koye-Ladele Mofehintoluw

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