From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
We say that slavery has vanished from European civilization, but this is not true. Slavery still exists, but now it applies only to women and its name is prostitution.” –Victor Hugo, 1802-1885
Until recently when Gally Gally Hotel was exposed, following a raid by the police in Umusiome, Nkpor, Idemili North Local Government Area, Anambra State, not many knew of the atrocities going on there. In fact, only residents of the locality and its patrons were aware that a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, where anything but morality reigned, existed near Technical College, Nkpor.
Tucked from the prying eyes of the public in a location inaccessible by car owing to the bad condition of roads in the area and probably to insulate its patrons from close scrutiny, the hotel was a bad advertisement for any sane vicinity.
Following intelligence and tips from some concerned residents of the area, the Anambra State Police Command, led by the area commander of Onitsha Area Command, John Obuagbaka, busted the hotel, where it was discovered that teenage girls were being used for sex slavery.
At least 35 of them, aged between 14 and 17, were used for commercial sex slavery in the facility. Four of them were already pregnant with protruding bellies.
Privileged information by the police that most of the girls got trapped in the prostitution ring, having been tricked on the pretext that they were being employed as sales girls and waiteresses in the restaurant section of the hotel, was confirmed by some of the girls.
When the police paraded the girls, they said they came from different parts of the country, including Anambra, Delta, Rivers, Enugu, Ebonyi and Benue states, among others. They also revealed other sordid things taking place in the brothel.
Some of them said they were tricked into the business in the name of “coming to work as sales girls,” after which they were locked up and camped without their family members knowing their whereabouts.
Destiny Anthony, 17, from Aguleri, Anambra State, said it was her aunt (her father’s sister) that brought her to the place after tricking her father that she had found a better job for her in Onitsha. She said the woman was paid N40,000 by the hotel management for bringing her.
“She told my daddy that she had a job for me in Onitsha. When we got to her house, she later took me to the hotel, where I saw different girls in short skirts. They were drinking as men swarmed around them. My aunt told me that it was the job they were doing that I had come to do, but I said, no, and started crying.
“The lady manager at the hotel slapped me and told me pointblank to wise up, since they were there for serious business and not for games. By that time, they paid my aunt N40,000 as her fee for bringing me to the hotel and she abandoned me and left. They told me that I would work for an initial three months, after which I can go, if I did not want to continue. The rest is history,” she said.
Chidimma Oguejiofor from Awkuzu, Anambra State, who claimed to be 19 years old, said a woman named Chika brought her there since August last year. She revealed that they handed over the N1,000 they collected for a bout of sex to their madam (supervisor) in the hotel, while they were given N250 and sometimes N300 for feeding daily.
Another of the inmates, Favour Hezekiah, from Rivers State, said her friend introduced her to the place on the guise that they employed young girls as waitresses. She said, immediately she entered, she got hooked as the eagle eyed security in the place did not allow her to leave again. She disclosed that she had slept with 31 men so far while they were promised a pay package of N50,000 after every three months.
Blessing Isaac, who was already pregnant, said they used condoms during sex but the “rubber burst in the act” in one sex episode with a man but when she complained to the madam, she told her off saying it did not concern her. Blessing said they slept with an average of 10 men every day, while sometimes during weekends one girl could sleep with up to 15 men at N1,000 per round. She also divulged that some of the girls who carried their pregnancy to full term in the hotel were delivered of their babies and the babies were later taken away by the management without anybody giving proper account of them.
Ifeoma Uzor, 35, from Nneochi in Abia State, who doubled as the receiver and supervisor of the girls, claimed that she just stayed there to hustle. She denied being in charge of the girls, noting that they had many madams in the place, but they escaped when the police came. Uzor said she was unlucky to be caught.
Spokesman of the Anambra State Police Command, Deputy Superintendent of Police Tochukwu Ikenga, who briefed journalists during the parade, said, apart from the 35 teenage victims rescued, the police also arrested three suspects, including two men who guarded the premises, and the assistant manager of the hotel.
He said they also recovered three pump-action rifles, seven cartridges and the sum of N877,500 cash at the scene. Two registers where names of the teenage commercial sex workers and money collected from them were recorded were also recovered.
Ikenga said preliminary investigations revealed that the girls were trafficked to the hotel, where they were kept and used in commercial sex while they remitted the proceeds to their “madam” working for the owner of the brothel, both of whom were on the run.
The police public relations officer, who represented the Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Echeng Echeng, said the rescued girls would be handed over to the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) for proper “rehabilitation, reformation and reintegration,” while the suspects would be charged to court.
He conveyed the message of the commissioner of police in the matter thus: “Parents should learn how to monitor the activities of their kids and the company they keep. They should always create deliberate relationship with their wards and children. This will help them to know when their child is having issues. They should also look out for them because what we have here today is a typical case of parental failure.”
He also stated that the matter would be followed up to a logical conclusion.
On his part, Anambra State Commissioner for Culture, Tourism and Entertainment, Don Onyenji, said the state government had clamped down and completely sealed the hotel where underage girls were used as sex slaves, prostitutes and baby sellers.
Onyenji said his ministry went to the hotel and discovered that the said location did not qualify to be called a hotel because it did not meet the criteria for such classifications in the state. He added that the place was not certified and also not captured in the government’s list of hotels operating in the state.
Shockingly, when our reporter visited the hotel last Sunday to verify the commissioner’s claim, it was discovered that the place was still operating in full swing. Though without any signpost directing one to the place, Daily Sun, after painstaking enquiries located the place and was surprised to see fun seekers having a blast with loud music, drinks flowing ceaselessly and girls still selling their bodies for a fee in the brothel.
A highly placed source in Nkpor community (names withheld) told the reporter that the owner of the hotel, also an Nkpor indigene, was well connected and had activated his contacts to reach out to the government and the police hierarchy in the state. So, the matter, he said, has been relaxed and allowed to fizzle out with time.
The same source also said that the Ogidi Area Command of the police, in whose jurisdiction the hotel is located and who ordinarily should have acted on intelligence to stop the illegal sex trade perpetrated in the place before now, turned a blind eye because of the owner’s connections.
“This was the reason Onitsha Area Command led the operation because the Ogidi Command allegedly compromised and refused to act for so long,” our source stated.
A resident of the area who simply identified himself as Onyeka said activities at the hotel remained a potent danger to the society. He said they heaved a sigh of relief when the police raided the place but were disappointment that government had not shown a strong responsive mechanism by following up and taking stringent measures to stop the anomaly going on there, which residents of the area have endured for long.