What does “hustling” mean to you? One person’s hustle might be a 9-5. Another’s hustle might be their budding business. To Sarah, “hustling” is the world’s oldest profession.
“I prefer the word ‘escort’ but ‘runz girls’ is the well known term given to girls that sleep with men for money. I don’t know where Nigerians found that name o. It is a hustle and we are hustlers.”
It was easy to fall into this lifestyle as a young student at the University of Lagos.
“I have always loved and wanted flashy things but couldn’t afford them. Unfortunately, my first set of friends in uni were hustling. They had really nice and flashy things and they went out to clubs a lot. Naturally, I followed them and I got sucked in. Since then, I haven’t looked back.”
If hustling is the profession, and sex is the product, clubs are the market place. Women like Sarah mostly go out in groups and the aim is simple – to find clients.
“Sourcing for a client isn’t an easy job. We have to go to clubs at night and wear heels and body-hugging dresses. We go in groups to keep each other company while we laugh our hearts out so these men think we are easily approachable. The only downside to hanging out in groups is when you are the only one left with no money. You might have to settle for anybody that might pay as low as 5k.”
By some means unknown to Sarah herself, clients usually know exactly who to approach. They can differentiate between women who are at the club to “work” and those simply there to hang out and have fun.
“See, they always know. I don’t know how. Sometimes, they walk up to us or we walk up to them. We say hi, smiling sweetly, and then start gisting. He orders for drinks and then later says he wants to spend the night with you. Thereafter, you negotiate price.”
Price negotiation is a fine art in this business. It takes experience to know exactly how much to offer at different price points, and earnings can vary quite significantly. The first time Sarah tried to navigate this minefield, she got burned.
“I thought, since the man was paying me money, he could do whatever he wanted with me. It was my first time so I had not learned the ropes yet. We had sex like three times and he gave me 10k. I told my friends about it and they laughed at me ehn?! They told me I’m supposed to sleep with him once and then stylishly chase him away. I felt bad after the whole ordeal and decided not to do it again but who was I kidding? I couldn’t stop.”
On another occasion, Sarah was effectively defrauded by a customer who simply refused to pay.
“I hooked up with this white guy once and, after sex, he refused to pay me. He said he didn’t have money and would pay me later. I looked around the house: it was empty. It pained me ehn?! But I had to leave. You really can’t do anything in that situation because you don’t know if the man has a gun or something. Just accept it and leave.”
So, how much can a runz girl realistically expect to earn from each transaction? Sarah says the lowest she has ever earned is N10,000 while the highest she has ever made is N400,000 – the latter was paid in two instalments.
“See, don’t let anyone lie to you. Any Nigerian man that is making a very honest living cannot give you more than 500k. It is only these politicians that can give you 700k or pay in dollars or something. The highest top industry captains pay is 500k.
“One of the state governors pays in dollars whenever he is drunk – like $2000 or $5000. It is very easy to give out dollars ‘cause it is small till you change it, but naira is always a lot.”
It’s easy to see how a “white collar hustle” could be a steep downgrade for these women, given how lucrative this business can be. Expensive weaves, nice clothes, the latest phones and gadgets, not to mention regular trips to Dubai… Their lifestyles are nothing short of luxurious.
But Sarah wants people to know these fancy things are all part of one thing – packaging. The money made from hustling is usually reinvested for this purpose. It is a necessary cost of the business in order to maintain a particular clientele. There are certain types of clubs you won’t gain access to if you don’t look a certain way. And an entrepreneur is nothing without a market place. She adds that the extravagance most people see comes with a lot of stress.
“Okay, those things come eventually but it’s basically liabilities that are being acquired, mostly. If you are among those who have had those notions, then please get off that ladder of lies. We are constantly working. Even when we travel to Dubai for vacation, we are scouting for potential clients. We don’t have pimps or anything. We have to source for our clients ourselves.”
Despite hunting in packs, the constant pressure to find new clients breeds competition and suspicion, sometimes causing disputes among women in this business.
“First off, you have to know who is your friend, and who isn’t. These men are for sharing. There is no code or set rules. We steal numbers from each other’s phones all the time. Even when the phone is locked, we find a way around it. Stealing numbers from each other’s phones is an act of betrayal, so we end up fighting a lot without speaking to each other for as long as 6 months to 1 year.”
Sadly, dog-eat-dog tactics don’t always benefit the bold – at least not as much as expected.
“The thing is, if you steal a number from your friend’s phone because the man gave your friend lots of money, you will appear desperate to the man. So if the man gave your friend 200k, it will be a miracle if you get 50 from him no matter how great the sex is.”
Despite this constant climate of distrust, Sarah says most women make up eventually because they realise they need each other. Runz is not a profession for lone rangers. These women face real risks at all times, from unpredictable clients to even more life-threatening situations. They have to stick together.
“Some of these clients can be eccentric and, because they have lots of cash to throw around, they request for the weirdest things. A friend of mine has had sex with a dog for a porn site. You see, the amount of traffic a porn site page pulls if it involves an African and an animal is tremendous. My friend was paid 5 million naira but I’m not sure if she decreased (the value she told us) so we won’t beg or increased it so we will be jealous. All I know is, during that period, she spent lavishly. She even bought a car, but that car is spoilt now.”
There is also a real danger of STDs and unplanned pregnancies in this line of work since unprotected sex attracts a higher fee. Sarah says she doesn’t indulge in this with clients she sees for one night only, but allows this with regular sugar daddies. Though the latter does not guarantee immunity from STDs, it is a risk she is willing to take. Others take similar risks and are not as lucky as Sarah has been. A friend of hers has been diagnosed with HIV. She is still hustling.
“She takes her drugs religiously and always uses condoms. Always. She claims she is okay but deep down, I know she isn’t. I check my HIV status every 3 months and visit the gynaecologist whenever I remember.”
In addition to remaining STD-free so far, Sarah also says she has never been pregnant.
“I have never been pregnant but a couple of my friends have. Some got pregnant to trap the guy but it always ended badly. The guys don’t want to marry you. They just want a quick fix and that’s what you are to them. Getting pregnant is not a big deal though; it can always be taken care of.”
Some girls are willing to undertake even more risk than others for a higher reward. Stealing is common and, for this reason, many girls prefer to be invited to a client’s home.
“A friend hooked up with a white guy and he gave her access to his safe and went out because he liked her. She opened the safe and saw lots of money and his passport. She stole his passport, left and called him a week later demanding for a million naira. He negotiated to 600k and they agreed on where to drop off the passport.
“She came to the spot with agberos and he came with police. She said she didn’t know where the liver came from but she jumped over a fence and ran. She didn’t talk to the man for a while and then he called and started begging her, saying that he won’t bring police. He transferred the money to her account and she lived large throughout that period.”
From close shaves with STDs to run-ins with police, this job is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Such an occupation must take an emotional toll, considering how powerful sexual intimacy can be in and of itself. Sharing this with strangers on a regular basis, in addition to other associated risks, seems like a lot to bear. Sarah doesn’t have time for that. She knows better than to get her feelings involved.
“In this hustle, you can’t afford to do things with emotions. In fact, the guy will just treat you anyhow if he knows there are feelings involved. Sometimes, these clients even request for your friends after they have had a go with you. You have no choice than to oblige him. It is business.”
Seeing sex purely as a transaction not only helps her to detach her feelings from her work, it also serves a practical purpose. For Sarah, getting “in the mood” is never a problem. Money is a powerful aphrodisiac.
“Getting turned on is easy. You just think of the money you will be making after the sex and that will get you wet sharp sharp. One time, I was on my period. This was in the early stage of hustling. I told a friend that I wasn’t following them out that night because I was on my period. She laughed and told me to stuff my vagina with cotton wool. It absorbs the blood and the man doesn’t even feel it during sex. The only downside is that you are dry and the sex will be painful.”
Pain is also something Sarah has come to accept as part of the job from time to time. Her approach to dealing with this is straightforward. Endure and get paid.
‘There is really nothing you can do about it. Just close your eyes and pray it is over soon.”
Sarah has found a way to cope with her profession – warts and all – but what impact do her choices have on others? When asked about how her loved ones view what she does, Sarah surprisingly admits that they are unaware. She maintains the façade by hiding her expensive possessions from her family and accepting the little pocket money they give her.
“We are five in my group and three of us have cars. The remaining two will soon get cars too. I usually park mine at my friend’s whenever I’m going home.”
Even more surprisingly, she reveals she has a boyfriend who is also in the dark about her true source of income.
“My boyfriend can never know of my hustling. He is in Abuja and I’m in Lagos. I know he has lots of girls too because he is fine and rich. But I don’t care; I know he really likes me. I might not be the main chick but it doesn’t bother me one bit. I don’t even give him that much face. That is why he keeps coming back.”
Unlike Sarah’s boyfriend and relatives, one group of people is fully aware of what she does and who she does it with. She is constantly harassed by her clients’ wives and girlfriends, many of whom call and text to insult and sometimes even plead with her. Sarah is unmoved by their actions.
“We are actually helping their marriages, really, and they should be grateful. We don’t want to marry their husbands at all or take them away from them. It’s just business, really.”
The reality of Sarah’s work is that she will probably have to lead a double life for the foreseeable future, maintaining a modest front for loved ones while receiving abuse from clients’ spouses amidst other hassles of the job. But Sarah is simply not ready to quit.
“Can I really stop? I don’t think so. I’ll keep on meeting people so it won’t be easy to stop.”
Her ability to quit is further complicated by clients recognising her and propositioning her for sex, even when she isn’t actively scouting for business.
“I don’t go clubbing all the time to hustle. Sometimes, I just go to chill and maybe talk. One time I was bored and lonely so I went to the club and a guy walked up to me. Without saying hi or anything, he said he wanted to spend the night with me and asked “How much?”. I told him I wasn’t interested and he said he knew I was a regular there and told me to stop pretending. I felt very insulted and wanted to quit the whole thing but I really couldn’t.”
Quitting isn’t exactly at the top of her “to-do” list, but Sarah certainly has other plans for her future. From training in interior decoration, which she is very passionate about, to pursuing a Masters in Law abroad, Sarah is committed to furthering her education after her first degree. She already has a sponsor for her Masters abroad. After her education, Sarah wants to marry rich.
“My dream is actually to meet a very wealthy old widower that is about to die so I can inherit his money. That’s my ideal husband. Or a family friend that is rich and we have a good relationship as a result of friendship between families.”
That’s Sarah for you. Unashamedly honest. She knows how society views what she does and she has made peace with it. She is truthful enough to admit that, despite the risks and stigma, the financial gains of her work will continue to lure her back into this lifestyle. One thing she refuses to do, however, is glamourise her job.
“It is very tiring and the sex is horrible. I fake orgasms a lot. I have only cum maybe once or twice with only one guy. This is a hustle. In life we hustle differently. This life is not a bed of roses. It’s not the way people see it that you open your legs and money will come in no time. You start from the bottom and work your way up. If you are fortunate, you might meet a rich guy that will want to take care of you. If not, you will open that leg and do the work. It’s not as easy as everyone thinks. It is serious hard work.”
The rewards are high, but the risks can be even higher. Sarah is prepared to juggle both for as long as she can, and she owns up to that fact. Take it or leave it.
People Like Us is an exclusive column created by TNC to document the lives of everyday Nigerians.
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