FJA 2020 Shortlist

Category: Outstanding Investigative Reporting

Olatunji Ololade (Nigeria)

21st Century Slaves

The Nation (Nigeria)

Part 1 

February 22, 2020

The original publication is available via the following link: 

  • Tragic fate of Nigerian girls sold to servitude in Oman, Lebanon   
  • Over 300 girls are stranded in Ivory Coast as sex slaves – Returnee  
  • 20,000 girls forced into prostitution in Mali  – NAPTIP

Growing up, Zainab wanted to be an actress. She yearned to “write stories and act them.” She lived for her dream even when quick with monsters.

Then she grew up as all adults do, in time, to a sort of apprehension: that a little girl’s dreams, like a dismembered doll, may unfurl buried in quilted sleep. Ultimately, it gets tossed in the dump. Thus her imperative for a backup dream; Zainab decided to be a hairdresser.

It’s two decades from childhood and the 25-year-old has startled to knowledge. Zainab is a hairdresser now. From her remote base in Ijegun, Lagos, she recounted her forays into acting. But contrary to her fantasies of bliss, she would act as a prostitute and live as a sex slave, in a grisly reality that ran too deep.

Her “journey to hell” started several years after her parents’ separation. Zainab moved in with her aunt in Abuja as a young adult. There, she learnt hairdressing but the need to raise money to pay for her graduation and buy her equipment put her under severe pressure.


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Part 2

April 25, 2020

The original publication is available via the following link: 

  • Tragic fate of Nigeria’s underage girls sold into sexual slavery across West Africa
  • Victims allege gang rape, forced abortion and physical abuse by their captors
  • The economics of sex trafficking

Late Monday evening in Bracody, on the outskirts of Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, I enter the darkness of a Nigerian nightmare. My taxi’s headlamps cast brilliant spokes of light onto swarms of people eddying through the night. My driver and guide, Dominique, turns off the ignition outside a decrepit bar. Together we alight and walk into the street, melding into the shanty’s nightly traffic.

Few paces down the road, Dominique nudges me by the elbow, it was a mild gesture, a perfunctory prod, signalling a sudden detour off the busy street into a shed occupied by violent thugs otherwise known as “vagabonds.”

Dominique approaches a gangly teen, with a deep scar on his face. He engages him in conversation, in a pidgin version of French.

Two minutes into their conversation, Dominique walks up to me with the teen and introduces him. “His name is Yoofi. He will take us to the bitch bar where we will find your Nigerian bitch…Follow me closely behind. This is a very dangerous place,” he says, taking after Yoofi, into a pitch dark alley. I follow suit.


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Part 3

May 2, 2020

The original publication is available via the following link: 

Nkechi is capable of “love” in any kind of weather. Come rain or shine, in intense heat or cloudburst, she hitches up her skirt by the hem for random male clients “to penetrate,” by the roadside.

“Sometimes, I take men in abandoned buildings and in deserted market stalls,” she said. For the 20-year-old, it’s the practical thing to do since the government shut down brothels and bars in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

“I do female customers and couples too, sometimes. In this business, I can do anything as long as the price is right,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes.

“Couples pay good money. In the last week of February, I collected CFA65, 000 servicing an old customer and his wife, from 1:00 am till daybreak. They even gave me breakfast before I left. Some of these people are crazy but na money I find come here,” she said.

But how did she get here? What’s her backstory? Her eyes, weary and gaunt, darkened like two open graves, at the mention of her backstory. She said, “My father was a carpenter and my mother was a trader. I lost them both in a road accident in January 2017.”

Soon after their demise, precisely July 2017, Nkechi was taken from her home in Ebonyi to Lagos by her late mom’s cousin, Aunt Clara, who promised to send her to school. But rather than send her to school, Aunt Clara apprenticed her to a hairdresser in Shomolu, Lagos.


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Part 4

May 23, 2020

The original publication is available via the following link: 

Precious thought if she broke out of her jail cell, she would run into freedom. She thought if she fled Jane’s Ghetto (brothel), she would break into blossom, and finally set on the path to achieve her dreams.

One month after The Nation revealed her predicament as a sex slave in Bracody’s underworld in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, she has fled captivity by Lady Jane, her Nigerian madame, to whom she was sold by her boyfriend, Nonso, for a paltry N220, 000. Lady Jane, the trafficker and sex merchant, claimed that she owed her N480, 000, however.

“There was no way I could work off the debt. I am tired. My body is tired. My genitals are worn. Because I was too eager to make money and pay off my debt, I slept with an average of 17 men daily, ‘short time’ and till day break.

They were violent and mean. Most of my clients were vagabonds; street urchins, park thugs and criminals, and they did lots of wicked things to me,” she said, showing the scars of multiple cigarette burns on her left breast to the reporter.

She said: “I got these scars from Lady Jane’s body guard. His name is Franc. He is an enforcer. He is deployed to discipline girls who claim to be sick and whose daily remittances were incomplete.

The day he burned me with cigarettes, I was very sick. I serviced six customers between 4 am and 6 am. Then I became tired and I could not go on.

I felt truly sick but my madame (Lady Jane) did not believe me. So she told Franc to discipline me. Franc beat me with a rod.


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