•Infected with HIV at birth, trafficked to Libya for prostitution and eventually bundled back home and dumped in a Lagos street, 22-year-old homeless lady says she’s fed up with life
By Tessy Igomu
She has dreams. She also appears intelligent, speaking eloquently and with good diction. Listening to her, you would think she’s a young lady born with a silver spoon. Yet, she has neither seen nor tasted any form of affluence or comfort. Right now, she has no place to call her own. She is neither insane nor mentally unstable, but she lives and sleeps somewhere in the open somewhere at Oshodi, a notorious part of Lagos, at the mercy of the elements and street thugs domiciled in that axis. She has been staying in that environment for one month.
At 22, this innocent-looking young lady from Ohuhu in Umuahia, Abia State, has simply lost the will to live and has given up on people. Daily, she begs for death to take her life. Yet, death seems far away.
The story of Blessing is so pathetic even as it’s touchy. It is such that can make one cringe, one that might bring tears to many eyes.
Blessing is HIV Positive. It is a condition she was born with, but she only discovered her condition when she was nine. She had lost her mother at the age of 14 and had never met her father. Having been abandoned by her mother’s family and after several years of maltreatment during which she was left to fend for herself, she became a prostitute.
She was later lured into prostitution in Libya. After months of working under the most unhygienic condition and made to sleep with several men daily, Blessing said she was bundled back to Nigeria and abandoned in Ikorodu. At the time, she was unconscious, she said.
It was a chance meeting with this young lady where she sleeps in the open at Oshodi. Sitting alone, with a box full of her clothes nearby, she stared into space. From time to time, she looked at passers-by with vacant eyes.
“I was born to suffer and I have been suffering,” she said as the reporter sought to speak with her. “There is simply no reason for me to live. I go to sleep each night praying for death to come. But my prayers are never answered.”
Recalling her ordeal over the years and how she finally found herself in Oshodi, Blessing said after losing her mother, Rose, with whom she lived at Ilogbo, Lagos, she went to live with some relatives in Festac Town. She later left for the village to stay with her mother’s family, after her secondary school education in Festac Girls Secondary School.
She narrated that rather than get succour from members of her mother’s family, she was maltreated and beaten at the slightest provocation. She noted that despite going out of her way to please them, anything she did never seemed right and she suffered greatly in their hands.
“They just hated me. At a point, they stopped giving me food. That was when I ran away from them to Port Harcourt and later Lagos,” she said.
Unfortunately, when Blessing got to Lagos, her relatives whom she lived with in Festac Town had moved out to an unknown address.
“After looking for them for days without result, and since no one knew their present address, I was broken and felt lonely. With nowhere to go, I had to sleep in abandoned vehicles, under bridges and at times, at the front of people’s shops. Several times, I was sexually harassed,” she recalled.
To survive, Blessing resorted to hawking sachet water and soft drinks around motor parks. She, however, disclosed that she had to quit the trade when others in the same business felt uncomfortable with her and threatened to deal with her.
Saddened by the fact that she had no one to call family, no food and shelter, she felt abandoned and went into prostitution in 2015 at the age of 21.
In November last year, Blessing said she was very happy when a senior prostitute took a liking to her and subsequently became her adopted mother. She disclosed that during one of their discussions, the woman told her about a place in Dubai where she could get a legitimate job. The elderly sex worker said Blessing wouldn’t have to suffer or work as a prostitute again.
Happy at the prospect of working abroad, and with no family to look out for her, Blessing embraced the offer. She noted that the woman then took her to a man in Ajangbadi who helped to facilitate her trip to Dubai.
She further disclosed that alongside some other girls, they set out on the journey to Dubai by road, moving through the northern part of the country to Niger Republic. She noted that it was while in Niger that some boys told them they were being taken to Libya for prostitution.
“When I discovered, I cried for days. But then, there was nothing I could do because we were in the middle of nowhere. I thought about running into the desert, but I was afraid I might be devoured by animals. Another thing that came to my mind was that the men could kill me if they suspected that I wanted to run. When we finally got to Gatron in Libya, we were taken to a small market where people were sold like commodities. There, we were sold to a man. That was the last time I saw the men that brought us to Libya.”
Blessing said she later discovered that the real person that bought her was an Igbo woman from Enugu State, adding that they were many people that operated what was known as “Connection House”, a kind of brothel where girls trafficked from Nigerian were held hostage. She also discovered she was sold for 1,700 Dinas and was told by her ‘Madam’ that she would have to pay back twice the amount.
The young lady said despite towing the path of prostitution back home, she had made up her mind not to indulge in the trade in Libya, especially with her HIV status. Her decision, she said, almost cost her her life as she was beaten to the point of death.
After working for about four months, Blessing said she went against the rule to start disclosing her status to the men that patronized her.
“I had to start telling them because my conscience did not allow me to rest. Another reason why I had to tell them was because the men in Libya don’t like to use protection. Even when I tell some of them, they would beat me up and forcefully have sex with me,” she said.
Blessing noted that her madam became very unhappy with what she was doing and asked her to stop working. After being starved and kept in the cold for days, she was brought back to Nigeria in March, by road and abandoned at Ikorodu in an unconscious state.
From there, she found her way to Oshodi in the middle of the night and met a boy who asked her to sleep at the entrance of a house on Iretioluwa Street. Unfortunately, she was raped in the middle of the night by some boys.
The ugly experience, she lamented, prompted her to relocate to a shopping complex on the street, where she presently enjoys some form of reprieve from street urchins and other questionable characters that were constantly harassing her.
In the course of living and sleeping at the entrance of stalls within the complex, Blessing said she attempted suicide thrice by ingesting poison, stressing that she is still baffled that nothing happened to her.
“I have called my relatives but they have distanced themselves from me. Aunty, it is over for me,” she retorted with a faraway look in her eyes.” “I have taken otapiapia (rat poison) three times but death refused to come. I wanted to go and rest. It is over for me.”
She recalled how she had high hopes before the death of her mother,whom she recalled struggled as a fruit seller to ensure that she lacked nothing.
Her words: “My mother was HIV positive and despite being very sick, she sent me to a very good school. While she was alive, I was on anti-retroviral drug and was very healthy. I promised her that I would either become a doctor, lawyer or a very prominent leader that would impact on my generation and on this country. Her death and the fact that my people refused to take care of me changed everything.”
At this point, Blessing broke down and wept inconsolably. With encouragement from traders and other sympathizers around, she wiped her tears and got some water to wash her face.
“Even food doesn’t have any taste in my mouth again. I just sleep, wake and live the day with no hope of getting out of my predicament,” she said in a barely audible voice.
Asked if she thought she could have a second chance at living, Blessing said she didn’t believe in ‘second chance.’ She said she wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to live a dignified life.
Her experience with some residents and traders in Oshodi, according to her, further changed her perspective about life.
“How do I even live a decent life when no one is ready to help? I tried selling pure water and bottled water but some people here said nobody would buy from me. They told me that I would end up drinking the water by myself.”
After much counselling from concerned persons around and from the reporter, she finally sighed and said, “Even if I want to live, nobody is ready to help a girl like me. I am a walking corpse. There is nothing left.
“I want to live, but I need help to start life all over again,” she told the reporter.