By Abdullah Lamino
GIDAN Drama is a Hausa local theatre where plays or other dramatic acts are performed. It is also a setting where local audiences are entertained and a place where upcoming actors nurture their dream to become a movie star. But in the name of entertainment, the place has turned out to be a ground that breeds drug addicts and prostitutes, some sort of jungle and brothel where cheap sex is procured and young girls are devalued and their self-esteem destroyed. In the end, the promising youths grow to become a menace to society. Radio Nigeria examines the activities in Gidan drama and the peculiar intrigues that characterize the entertainment industry.
GIDAN Drama is an old entertainment hub found in almost every urban city in northern Nigeria. Gidan became prominent and known due to the success recorded by Kannywood, Hausa-speaking branch of the Nigerian film industry headquartered in Kano.
The ‘House’ is to train prospective actors who are mostly youths for a chance in Kannywood. It is supposedly a stepping-stone to stardom.
But, with the creation of Solo and Yansolo(solo artists) by a man called Lilisco in 1999 at Tarauni Gidan Drama in Kano city, the stage drama begins to lose prominence and evolves into the new establishment that deprives many females of their dignity and self-esteem.
The business of this new establishment is medieval in nature, miming and dancing of Hausa soundtrack from Kannywood.
Even though professionals see it as another means of violating the copyright law because it copies the artistic work of other producers, some houses combine the stage Drama and Solo together.
It starts with the promise of a better life for teenagers, especially girls. Good job and steady income. But investigation reveals that is not how it works out.
Little is known of the true extents of the quirks of the so-called “House or Solo (Entertainment)”, that has managed to stay under the radar for many years.
However, allegations are mounting against the establishment for running a highly organised and lucrative forced labour, human trafficking, drugs, and sexual slavery ring.
Unlike drama artist, Solo artistes or Yansolo as a popular name, camp within the theatre premises and thus give room for accommodations of underage girls and thugs that make the environment ever busy more especially during the show.
Investigations reveal that activities of this establishment have ruined so many young girls’ lives and led to the deaths of many men in some areas.
Nigeria, like most African countries, is faced with so many problems such as poverty, unemployment, insecurity and natural disaster, and the problem of forced labour and human trafficking have added to the problem.
In addition to that, attitude toward education in northern Nigeria is persistently low. According to Rachel Hatch in his article, “Schooling in northern Nigeria: Challenge for girl’s education,” in many northern states, more than 50 per cent of young women age 15-24 have no formal education.
This situation has confined many young people, especially women exclusively to households with no source of livelihood, leaving many, especially teenage girls, to be susceptible to manipulation. and lured them into the Gidan-Drama / Yansolo ring as many interviewed claimed.
With the assistance of truck drivers, agents, and owners of Gidan, many teenage girls from the country and beyond have been trafficked from state to state and from the North to the southern part of the country to find abode in the Gidan Drama/Yansolo to keep the empire sustained and the business interest active.
Once at Gidan, the girls are subjected to all manners of abuse.
In the actual entertainment industry, the relationship between a director and actors is mostly professional, but the relationship between the girls and owners of Gidan Drama is of total control, a pimp–prostituting type of relationship.
Also, cameras are friendly kits in the real entertainment industry, but Gidan Drama prohibits the use of the camera, more especially during the show, in order to keep the secret activities within the four walls of Gidan.
At Usman Aroke Gidan Drama in Ogere Remo, a border town on Lagos-Ibadan road, many of the girls came from the northern part of Nigeria and permanently stay there.
A 20-year-old Khadija TJ is one of such girls, though not displaced by insurgency; she came from Kamba, a small impoverished town on the border of Nigeria and Niger Republic.
According to her, she was introduced to the business by a friend. Khadija’s parents do not know her exact location because associating with Gidan Drama is not a proud occupation to share with one’s family.
She dresses lustfully to the satisfaction of male customers, jam-packed in a loud music Arena (theatre).
Khadija TJ and the other girls at the beginning of the show were made to go round the arena in a more respectful, submissive manner and welcome the spectators.
As the girls were dancing on stage, the Master of Ceremony, MC stopped the music and challenged them to go and find N300.
For the girls and spectators, it is normal and part of the activities of Gidan Drama/ Yansolo.
The girls submissively move to the spectators and forcefully find a friend, tender their helplessness to get money as instructed by the master of ceremony.
The girls will continue to go back for more money, as the MC continues to pester them until each and every one of the girls realises a significant amount of money, or sometimes, until when a deal is reached for an all-night sex romp with a customer who is willing to ‘drop’ more currency.
Those who couldn’t make enough money, they would be made to sit or lay flat on the ground and wait for punishment that would be determined by the girls who get the most money, or by the MC.
The submission to the state of vulnerabilities makes spectators and visitors to Gidan attractive, one can be sure of getting a girl who must come to ask.
According to investigations, some of the punishments include drenching the unsuccessful ladies with water, or with waste engine oil, or asking them to roll on the ground, and in some cases confining them in a room (cell) until a bailout.
The girls are programmed to kowtow before their guests, subdued and liberty-tamed.
According to the Secretary of Arola Gidan Drama, Gali, the girls are cunning and street-wise, always finding ways to beat negotiators. They play over the intelligence of men; reap the profit without rendering the services, if possible.
It’s also very risky on the part of the ladies as there are other smart guys, indeed very dangerous, who would not tolerate excuses or disappointment. In most cases, this clash of interest creates a serious problem at Gidan Drama.
Chairman of Ogun state Gidan drama, Mr Usman Aroke who started his career in 1999 as a local boxer before joining cultural troop’s dance in Gombe, said he married out seven girls from his Gidan Drama. He claimed that most of his artists voluntarily join his troupe and that they are much more disciplined.
Aroke prevents his girls from being interviewed and disguises the activities at his Gidan Drama as Hausa Cultural Dance Troupe.
One of the male artists Iliyasu Alhassan from Gombe, started dancing at his secondary school days, though, a mechanic by profession said he came to Ogere based on Aroke’s invitation.
And one of the spectators who simply mentioned his name as Abdullahi said he always attended Gidan Drama for entertainment sake.
Also at the Apapa Gidan Drama and Yansolo, the girls are matured, experienced and expensive.
But some of the girls express their displeasure and depression. In fact, some of them want to go back home because they are no longer happy.
Though most of the girls attribute crises and security problem as leading factors of being in Gidan drama, they also crave for divine intervention to enable them leave the business and start a new life.
Among those ones who said they have had enough of Gidan Drama are Grace Musa (not real name) from Michika Local Government of Adamawa, Asabe Iliya from Daddare in Lafia Local Government of Nasarawa state and Aisha Musa from Maiduguri, Borno state.
But others such as Hadiza Mammadu from Dosou, in the Niger Republic and Maryam from Plateau state said they enjoy the business since according to them, it is lucrative.
Grace Musa said she left home with her parents because of the insurgency. Looking so weak and sad, she said: “I am not happy staying in the Gidan Drama because here you are on your own, nobody to advise you”.
Maryam, a divorcee from Plateau State said she started the business way back in Jabi Daki Biyu, in the FCT, and got to Lagos through a former chairman (owner of Gidan Drama) who took them to Apapa for performances’.
She hopes that one day she would leave Gidan Drama in pursuit of a better dream.
Asabe Iliya from Daddari in Lafia Local Government of Nasarawa state said she left home with her parent because of farmers/herdsmen clash after their home was burnt down during the crisis.
She called on governments to come to their aid. She said Gidan Drama was a temporary transit before something better comes along.
Hadiza Mammadu from Dosou in the Niger Republic said she’s orphan as a result of Boko Haram crisis that killed both her parents, husband and left her with five younger ones, and her children.
Hadiza was a bit older, explained that she’s more or less Nigerian because of Gidan Drama business which took her around the country, adding that she married three of her sisters out with proceeds from her performances.
Aisha Musa from Borno State left Maiduguri for Port Harcourt and later Lagos because of Boko Haram insurgency that renders many homeless.
She said her prayer always was for the opportunity to leave the business and get married.
The Sarkin Hausawa of Idi Araba and Mushin, Lagos, Hassan Auyo describes trafficking, forced labour and commercial sex as a global phenomenon, but blames the girls’ situation on the government for not being proactive on the cases of orphans and the IDPs.
He called on the state and federal government to borrow a leaf from developed countries, and use the social security budget to sponsor the education of orphans and the IDPs.
The traditional ruler added that the six Hausa traditional rulers in the southwestern state are ready to collaborate with the relevant stakeholders in the fight against girls trafficking.
Ogere Remo hosted three Gidan Dramas, while investigations revealed that Oyo State and Ogun state have over 12 Gidan Dramas and about twenty -five Gidan Drama/ Yansolo is estimated to be in existence in the whole of the southwest.
It is interesting to note that as the industry seems to flourish; the authorities in Southwest seem unaware of its existence, and therefore has not done anything about it.
Truck drivers as agents of Gidan Drama
The investigation by Radio Nigeria revealed that tanker drivers are the best customers for Gidan Drama. The nature of their job allows them to visit towns and villages in every state.
The girls are usually packed under the trucks and brought en-masse to their destination. As such they services the industry not only in terms of patronage but also serves as a traffic link.
A truck driver, Akilu Mohammed says the drivers are contributing largely in conveying the young girls to various Gidan Drama in the country, he said.
Akilu popularly called Baban Jummai, said apart from transporting; they feed the girls and give them money when departing.
He said truck drivers usually patronise all manner of joints, adding that some have girlfriends in the joints visited.
He advises parents to always do their best in training their children. He also urges the government, securities and relevant agencies to as a matter of urgency step-up their duties and reduce trafficking of young girls.
Though, not an artist of Gidan drama, Hauwa a 21- year- old from Kano state, says she is in Ogere with her tanker driver lover. She says her boyfriend brought her from Abuja and rented a room for her so that anytime he is going to Lagos he will have a stopover at Ogere.
According to Hauwa, she was forcefully married to a cousin she did not love and asked the husband for a divorce and he refused. She later filed a case in a court demanding for a divorce, which the husband also rejected, she said.
Being a beautiful Fulani woman, Hauwa says a judge who earlier made sexual advances at her, helped nullify the marriage.
“He gave me divorce papers as against my parents and husband wishes, as a result of that my ex-husband slumped at the court, and was consequently hospitalised and still receiving treatment, she said.
As a result, Hauwa said her family rejected her which forced her to relocate.
She said that “the whole of my family was not happy with the circumstance, so I left Kano for my uncle place in Abuja and met the same situation.
Hauwa added that there are so many girls from the north, who are in Ogere with their tanker driver lovers.
Gidan Drama/ Yansolo is also associated with the purchase and consumption of illicit drugs: Heroin, Indian hemp, codeine, sheesha, tramadol and many others.
The investigation also revealed that there is a significant link between sex work and drug use. Sometimes sex traffickers use drugs to keep young girls under their control and at times men share drugs with sex workers as a way to enhance the pleasure.
According to a regular attendant of Gidan in Lafia, Nasarawa State, Sarki Hassan, due to the nature of Gidan and its activities, most of the girls involved are associated with drugs.
He said the girls cannot yield to the command of their masters publicly without being high.
According to Sarki, most of the girls are introduced into the business were innocent before they were introduced to drugs.
Investigations also revealed that other people in the chain are the big madams, who go to villages and towns to lure girls to join the business.
It further revealed that the big madams connect and receive payments from patrons who seek the girls for their pleasure.
A cross-dresser and also agent called Aljan said the work of an agent has been reduced drastically due to the involvement of a high number of girls in the activities of Gidan Drama and YanSolo.
He said various tribes are involved adding that it cuts across religious, tribes and regions, citing an example of one Igbo girl called ba-Hausa.
According to Aljan, some of the girls initially resisted compliance with activities at Gidan, but later succumbed and joined the rest.
This Investigative Report is supported by the Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.