Sex work in Nigeria is always a thorny issue to navigate, with collective morality making it nearly impossible to have judgement-free conversations. There’s also the gray area that sex work presents in the eyes of the the law. Is it a criminal offense? And if so, is it universal across the thirty-six states?
Paystack has just been embroiled in this discourse. One of its users Ojochide Obidi on Twitter recently posted a birthday invitation tagged Zombie Marathon, with outlined activities such as dining, pool games, and an orgy. Seeking to monetize the upcoming event, especially as the orgy is seemingly positioned as the most attractive feature, the Abuja-based user had prospective payments linked to her Paystack.
Turns out, Paystack doesn’t condone such. In an email sent to her from the support team, she was notified that her business involves sexual activities such as orgy, contravening Section 2 of Paystack’s Acceptable Use Policy which states that Paystack can’t be used in connection with any product, service, transaction or activity that relates to the sale and/or purchase of certain sexually oriented materials or services.
This led to her account being disabled, regrettably from them, but with room to work together in the future where her business falls into the acceptable pool of regulations. Ojochide has drummed up noise about it on social media, on the account of Paystack disabling her account.
Paystack hasn’t been around for long, but the online payment infrastructure has garnered popularity and goodwill from a bloc of enterprising young Nigerians looking for better financial technological solutions. While startups like Paystack are subjected to various regulations from the state, it’s policy against ”certain sexually oriented materials or services” seems to be more about how the brand wants to be perceived.
Outrightly, the policy stands against transactions that are sexual in nature, which include escort services and sex camming. Even running a sex toy shop will get your business flagged down. In a large, undeniable way, one can still see the lasting impact of colonial-imposed purity culture, and the endemic hypocrisy Nigerians show around having sex but still maintaining purity constructs.
Ojochide has said that her orgy isn’t sex work. But that isn’t accurate as people are expected to pay a fee to access these services she’s rendering. Aside the fact that having a physical party in a pandemic is an outrageously bad idea, her real motives became clearer: she’s just been accepted into an Estonian university for a master’s program, and she’s crowdsourcing to fund her education.
As mentioned before, the Nigerian constitution doesn’t neatly define its stance on sex work. In the wake of the arrest of women in Abuja from a nightclub in 2019, on the grounds that there were sex workers, it feverishly shaped national discourse for weeks and built up women-focused activism that stemmed from social media and spilled into the streets. During that time, lawyers and legal practitioners tried to offer viewpoints about sex work and the law.
For example, the FCT Penal Code Act, 1990, criminalizes sex work and people who solicit for their services. It states:
”An ‘Idle person’ shall include a common prostitute behaving in a disorderly or indecent manner in a public place or persistently importuning or soliciting persons for the purpose of prostitution. The term vagabond shall include any male person who knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earning of a prostitute or in any public place solicits or importunes for immoral purposes; and whoever is convicted as a vagabond shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to four hundred and fifty naira or both.”
Admittedly, this Abuja law needs to be critically revised in a way that eradicates misogyny. That women continue to be on the receiving end of legislations against sex work while ignoring the other parties (men) that they render these services to is how (un)conscious bias can be embedded into law.
It’s a popular thing in Nigeria for religion and the state to collude with the shared goal of reinforcing patriarchal systems. For women sex workers, they often become easy targets of police violence, abuse, and exploitation. They are seen as disposable, their disposability bolstered by laws hatched in the same patriarchal violence that has, one way or another, extended itself to all women.
In our increasingly digital climate, sex work can be conducted in the relative safety of one’s home, with cam girls being the most popular facet. Companies offering digital payment options have made online sex work flourish, and while decriminalizing sex work in some Nigerian states can have payment providers like Paystack accommodate more users, there’s still a lurking, existential danger for women who are still dependent on physical encounters.
Pushing for sex work decriminalization means that sex workers can’t get arrested for doing sex work. The antithesis of this is legalization, which enables the state to enforce policies that often doesn’t have the best interest of sex workers. In the current coronavirus pandemic, there has been a large shift and further adaptability of sex work in digital spaces. And after coronavirus, sex work will still be here.
When Bernard Dayo isn’t writing about pop culture, he’s watching horror movies, anime and trying to pretend his addiction to Netflix isn’t a serious condition.