Nigeria should legalize sex work and then tax it

Getting and keeping a job in Nigeria is a herculean task and when a person eventually succeeds, it is either they are underpaid or not recognised and this gives their employers or customers leverage to exploit and treat them poorly. This is seen with the trending issue with the Nigerian police force and the alleged 70 detained commercial sex workers that were arrested while clubbing in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

It was revealed that the women were arrested on April 27, 2019, during a raid on nightclubs and tagged as prostitutes by the authorities without any evidence of them engaging in the act. This brings our minds to the informal activities and the enforcement of the regulation in Nigeria.

In chapter 21, sections 214 and 223, of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended), the offences against morality in the Nigerian criminal code, does not explicitly state the illegality of commercial sex work for personal pleasure or profit without the use of pimps or a brothel. However, commercial sex work is illegal in all Northern States that practice Islamic penal code.

Commercial sex work remains a highly contested topic in many countries, including Nigeria and it has a largely negative public perception due to religious and moral beliefs. Despite the predominantly negative reception towards those who sell sex, the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/ AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that Nigeria has about 103,506 commercial sex workers in the country.

It is high time sex work is considered work and instead of criminalising commercial sex workers and perhaps, those that patronise them, the country should see selling sex as a mode of self-employment in the informal economy.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), roughly 10 to 12 million African youth enter the labour market every year. Yet, despite the increasing number of graduates leaving school each year, the number of available jobs is not sufficient to absorb all the young people entering the labour market.

Unemployment and vulnerable have been proven to be closely linked to poverty. Presently over 86.9 million of the 200 million Nigerian population lived in extreme poverty and a report by the World Poverty Clock also shows that Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria, is the poverty capital of the world. It is in this situation that these men and women have decided to offer sex-as-a-service to make ends meet.

As of September 2017, Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics noted that the country’s economically active or working population was 115.5 million people; 78 percent of whom are in vulnerable employment. Meanwhile, ILO estimates that sex workers support between five and eight other people with their earnings and they also contribute to the economy.

A survey by ILO discovered that the sex industry provides between 2 and 14 percent of gross domestic product. In 2014, the sex industry in the United Kingdom contributed an estimated £4.3 billion ($4.8 billion) in GDP and none of it went to the Treasury because it was not taxed.

In most cases, sex-as-a-service provides higher levels of income than many other forms of skilled labour and should be taxed, so far as it generates income as a form of work. The government cannot be blinded to the facts that the industry exists and is not going anywhere anytime soon and from this industry, millions of dollars exchange hands annually despite the current legal status, it only makes economic sense if the government legalize and regulate the industry as well as their share through taxes.

Recognizing sex-as-a-service as legal means would by far, reduce the exploitations and abuses meted out on these workers as well as ensuring that legal action can be taken whenever their fundamental human rights are abused. Understandably, most of the businesses operating in the informal sector do not keep proper records of their day-to-day transactions but with proper regulations, the industry would augment the government’s low tax base.