Saturday, August 15, 2015

Kuramo: ■ Inside one of Lagos’ crime, sex and drug empires

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Kuramo Beach on Lagos Island fell to ocean fury and the rage of the Lagos State government in 2012. The state government had closed down the popular beach, following the confirmation that the known relaxation spot and a tourist site, had morphed into a danger zone where nefarious activities like prostitution and crime throve.
However, after that clampdown, hun­dreds of the prostitutes, drug peddlers and other criminal elements that previously op­erated in Kuramo Beach migrated to Lekki and set up businesses near the Lekki Beach. They ‘invaded’ a neighbourhood, an ex­panse of land beside Alhaji Lateef Jakande Low Cost Housing Estate, located on Beach Gate Road. This road leads to the Lekki Beach from Jakande Second Gate. This is a thoroughfare into other four communities: Igbara, Maiyegun, Aro and Ologolo.

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This neighbourhood, Saturday Sun gath­ered, used to be an open place, after what was known as the Artists Village there was demolished by the government. A few of the evicted residents of Kuramo Island came there and asked to be given space to erect make-shift shelters while they sorted out their lives. The omo onile (land owners) saw their request as a source of business, and then rented a small space to them for about N10,000. That was how they built the lounges seen along the beach road.
The omo oniles gave an inch, but these ‘investors’ took miles, as they turned the lo­cale into a modern day Sodom and Gomor­rah, and even named their new base ‘Small Kuramo’. Now immoral and criminal activ­ities that lead to the demolition of Kuramo Beach now flourish in this neighbourhood. And this has changed this community from a normal residential environment to a ter­ritory where drugs and sex are the major articles of trade.
Walking down Beach Gate Road from Jakande Roundabout in the daytime, Small Kuramo, appears like any other Lagos ghet­to. Shanties dot both sides of the road, most of which are bars and eateries. A lounge in New Kuramo is a makeshift structure constructed with wood. The proprietor of the lounge would build a bar at the fore­ground, displaying assorted drinks. There is also a sound system with huge outdoor speakers from which music blasts. Electric bulbs of exotic colours and other kinds of fancy lights, hang in front of the lounges small proprietors. They or their agents sit in front of the lounges to sell food and drink. They also use that to monitor the number of guests their occupants have, so that there would be no excuses when it is time to col­lect the sum the red light ladies are expect­ed to pay daily.
Saturday Sun learnt that the red light ladies pay between N700 and N1000 daily as rent, depending on how new or old the lounge is, or where the lounge is situated. Small Kuramo has two main phases- Phase One and Phase Two. Accommodation at the Phase One area of Small Kuramo is cheap­er. This is because this area is known for seediness, and has been designated to be an area for individuals with less class and low taste. Phase Two is like the capitol of Small Kuramo. There are newer shanties here, and it is labelled to be for people with class, ac­cording to one of the patrons, “people with swag.” Outside this abstract factor, nothing much differentiates the lounges in Phase One and Two.
Each lounge has a bar. And after the bar, one heads into ‘rooms’ lined up on both sides of the narrow corridor. Each lounge has nothing less than 10 small cabins. Each of them measures about six feet by five and all that the room can take is a small, flattened, worn-out two-by-six mattress. To enter the room, one would have to squeeze through the partially open door because the narrow bed has taken up most of the space. The room has a very small window, and the fan that dangles above the bed can do little to diffuse the unpleasant odour that hangs in room like devil’s fart.
In Small Kuramo, as soon as the sun goes down, and darkness envelopes the earth, coloured bulbs begin to shine as the whole vicinity turns into a mélange of mis­creants, hoodlums and prostitutes. Sex and lewd lifestyle are enthroned in the locale, drug dealers begin brisk business, as scores of sew workers of different shapes and sizes begin to troop out in skimpy attires.
Although the sex trade occurs on both sides of the road, the real hub is on the left hand side as one heads towards Lekki Beach. Behind the row of buildings beside the main road is where the real sexual esca­pades occur at night. Some dark walkways lead to the back buildings where the red light women line up and make all manner of suggestive comments and gestures as a man approaches.
The back buildings are where the real ac­tion is. This place is another world on its own. When this reporter went there, young men and women were displaying sugges­tive dance steps like possessed beings. Many of these dancers seem to be dancing under the influence of alcohol or probably some hard drugs. The smell of marijuana was strong everywhere and at every cor­ner. Scantily dressed ladies hiss at men that throws a gaze at them; calling on potential customers to come in for some raunchy sex.
Competition for customers is often stiff among the scarlet ladies. In Small Kuramo they don’t only compete with each other to make the most money. But every sex worker competes with herself also. It is a rat race to find customers that would pay up, so that they would raise N1000 to pay their rent, buy illicit drugs and alcohols, feed and clothes themselves, save for their future and also send money back to fami­lies. With these pressures hanging on their neck, many of them are very willing to offer cheap sex.
Timing and the perceived influx of cus­tomers are major factors that influence price of sex. During weekends, and peak hours which is usually between 8pm till midnight, a round of sex could be got for N1000, while N2000 or N3000 is charged for an all-night sexual rendezvous. Older ladies or less attractive girls could accept lesser demanding on one’s ability to bargain for sex. But when the market gets dull from around 2am or 3am, sex workers that are yet to get patronage would be very ready to collect as low as N200 or N300 for a sex romp.
At nightfall, Small Kuramo is a dan­gerous place for any poor mixer or lily-livered individual. This is because thugs, miscreants, thieves and drug peddlers file out to carry out their nefarious activities. This reporter noticed shady looking young men lurking in dark corners, whistling and shakily flashing small handset torchlights at  passersby. Saturday Sun gathered that these young men are peddlers and racketeers of all sorts of illicit drugs. And they stock assorted substances from ‘weed’ (Indian hemp) to Crack, Rephenol, Heroine and other illicit drugs. These drug sellers target younger and newly initiated sex workers, to get them hooked on drugs. The young initiates now binge on drugs, to get high and cover their shame for being a sex worker. shakily flashing small handset torchlights at
Small Kuramo parades all sheds of sex hawkers, and is notoriously known to har­bour a lots of child prostitutes. Here young girls of 14 years, and women as old as 60 years all scramble to survive in Small Kura­mo. Investigation revealed that most of the young girls run away from their homes, only to be sucked into the sordidness of Small Kuramo.
A resident of this community, who plead­ed anonymity, alleged that many owners of the lounges bury charms in their bars to lure girls from the community into this red light district. “Small Kuramo has polluted this neighbourhood. It has turned to a place where child prostitution thrives. When you go to some of these lounges, you’ll find girls of 14, 15, 16 and 17 years prostituting there. These are children that should be at home helping their parents, and thinking of their future. But they get bewitched and are lured into the dirty life of Small Kuramo where they become sex workers and drug addicts.”
With the booming drug and sex trade, an­other factor that makes Small Kuramo a safe haven for criminal activities is the Police. One of the residents that only gave her name as Samantha Utubu disclosed that policemen mingle freely with thugs and even patronize these drug peddlers. That is why they sel­dom make serious arrests. “If we have real police men here, Small Kuramo would not exist and these criminals would be operating underground,” Utubu said.


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