The sparkling, yet dark world of entertainment called Gidan Drama or Yan Solo business continues to flourish across the country through the use of forced labour, torture, human trafficking, abuse and rape by owners.
The operators do all these to make quick and high profits but offer little hope and delusion for the so-called artists who are mostly, vulnerable girls.
Yet, all this is taking place without the knowledge of the Nigerian government and agencies like the National Law Drugs Enforcement Agency NDLEA, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, and the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.
The inhuman activities of the Gidan Drama are also carried out right in the presence of some police and military personnel.
Aside from supporting the criminal activities of Gidan and securing their locations, security personnel go to the extent of owning some of the Gidan Drama/ Solo Theaters.
At Gidan Baban Bariki in Lafiya, Nasarawa State, while the artiste Nafisa Ajo was performing, the owner of Gidan Drama, hails two police personnel for the roles and efforts they played in protecting the interest of Gidan Drama/Solo.
“I must recognise the presence of some police officers in our midst. In the whole of the country, police remain our friends and we thank you all for the protection you guys are given us. At the time when all the Gidans are under the police attacks in Lafia, you guys protected us from harassment and also worked it out in such a way that we give ‘returns’ to the office,” he said.
Ajo in Hausa means occasions where friends and well-wishers celebrate someone by offering gifts.
But at Gidan Drama, Ajo is another means of revenue generation for the patrons who use female artists as a tool of extracting cash from spectators.
Every girl has a day set aside for her Ajo.
Investigations revealed that the celebrant has to undergo a series of degrading treatments in the form of punishment, like squatting, kneeling, sitting on the floor and carrying a chair on the head as well as sitting on the chair till the end of the show.
The more the task, the more the MC solicits funds from the celebrant’s friends and well-wishers. People drop cash to save their friend and colleague from punishment until when she is finally asked to take a seat.
While Nafisa, a 19-year-old Solo artist is undergoing her own tasks, other girls are not left out. One of the spectators pays N300 to paint Brigit (one of the artistes) face with used engine oil.
The MC stops the music and calls out Brigit before the audience, and after the count of ten, he orders for the paint of her face with used engine oil.
Another spectator pays N500 to wet all the girls on the stage with sachets of water. The MC interrupts the music and orders for sachet water, and after a count of ten, he calls the girls one after the other and points at the specific positions he wants them wet.
The painting and wetting is part of the tradition. It can happen to anybody, once there is money involved, but this depends on the level of Gidan Drama and the status of girls.
Gidan Drama and Solo business commands high profits and low-risk, hence all manner of people, including security personnel run the ring.
Commenting on the involvement of security personnel, a retired Deputy Superintendent of Police DSP and former Divisional Police Office DPO says Gidan Soja, a popular Gidan Drama at Maraba, in Karu Local Government of Nasarawa State, belongs to serving military personnel.
He said 80 per cent of the activities in Gidan Soja (Drama) are illegal and full of criminal activities.
The former DPO attributed some of the criminal activities happening in the area to the ownership of Gidan Drama by a security man and in connivance with other security operatives.
He highlighted some of the activities of Gidan Drama and explained that Soja is not the only person that has Gidan Solo at that area, says because of his personality the area became one of the most dangerous places in Maraba.
According to him, the activities of the Gidajen (plural form of Gidan) Drama in that area resulted in so many loss of lives and property worth millions of naira.
“At no time will you not see cases of killings, stealing, fighting or injury, I am aware that more than fifty people have died in that area, it’s all about gangsterism. If I talk to that girl no one from any other group or outside should talk to her. They can easily kill that person for dating the same girl. So, men have their group as well as women too,” he said.
The retired DSP further explained the effect of security involvement in the criminal activities of Gidan Drama/ Solo.
“Because of the involvement and participation of some of the security people, in particular, the military, the police officers on duty failed to do their job.
He said some of the girls are married but run away from their matrimonial home, while some are underage, adding that unwanted pregnancy is not an obstacle because there is a place reserved for pregnant women.
According to the former DPO, most of the girls at the Maraba Gidanji Drama are drug addicts, prostitutes and susceptible HIV/AIDS infection.
“Buying, selling and the use of drugs is free at those places.”
The ex-security man mentioned one Buba as the major drug dealer in the area. According to him, he (Buba) is a popular person and does his business unchecked.
He called on the government to ban the activities of Gidan Drama/Solo in the country which according to him, contribute to the spread of insecurity in the land.
The Commissioner of Police in Nasarawa State, Mr Ademola Emmanuel-Longe, when contacted to speak on the challenge of the security situation in Maraba Gidan Dramas and the entire area, said he needed time to get a clearance from the Area Commander.
But when the reporter later called him, he refused to answer calls or return the calls.
Investigation revealed that most of the criminals operating in Maraba, Karu Local Government of Nasarawa State find refuge in Gidan Drama.
A mother of one of Solo artistes in Maraba, expressed bitterness at seeing her daughter being abused at Gidan Drama.
She said the day she met her daughter at one of the Gidan Drama in Abuja, she collapsed and was later admitted at the hospital due to shock.
Narrating her experience, she said the owners at the end of every show lined up the girls on the floor and asked them for Kudin Wanka (dressing allowance) which was put atN1, 500, and if the girl could not pay, she would be given out to any spectator who could pay, and those who fail to get someone that could pay would be bathed with dirty water or have a drink poured into her inner pants and everyone would be asked to call her Karfa – worthless girl.
The grieving mother said the owners of Gidan Solo use juju (black magic) to control the girls.
She said that an old food seller at former Nyanya Gidan Drama confided in her that “the owners of Gidan Solo in Nyanyan used to come early or late in the night, along with some people believed to be juju priests”, adding that “they do some incantations and dig holes and bury substances under the theatre. Any time they went out they came back with girls and the moments they enter the house no amount of disgrace or abuse will make them leave”.
The woman said she tried her best in order to bring back her daughter but to no avail. “Even if she comes back home, it is only for a short period”.
She called for the ban of Solo activities in the country and urged President Muhammadu Buhari, his wife Aisha Buhari to look into the plight of the many innocent and underage girls that are in bondage in Gidan Solo.
“They should see the girls as their daughters,” the mother said.
A staff of Kaduna State Ministry of Youth, Sport, Art and Culture and member of the state Cultural Troupe, Mallam Mohammed Auwal, said the idea of punishing an artist for not realizing enough money was not part of the Solo entertainment initiated by Lilisco (originator of Solo in 1999) in Kano.
He said what Lilisco started then as (Solo) at Tarauni Gidan Drama and later moved to Sani Abacha Youth Centre where he was only miming and dancing to songs from Kannywood film industry.
“I don’t know where the artists begging for money and punishment came from,” he said.
Mallam Auwal who happens to know the originator of Solo blamed the owners of Gidan Drama for subjecting and forcing the girls into prostitution.
He said the situation where girl-entertainers are asked to source money from the crowd and failure to realise a particular amount would be punished is bizarre.
He added that Lilisco is seriously regretting what he started (Gidan Solo) has turned out to be a menace to the society.
A comedian and veteran artist in Kannywood film industry, Musa Alhassan, popularly known as Kalla, called on the government to urgently ban activities of Yansolo in the country.
He said no serious country in the world would watch its youth being misled by miscreants without doing anything about it.
Kalla, who also performs stage drama at one of the Gidan Drama in Kaduna, said the government and relevant stakeholders must regulate the activities of the operators of Gidan Drama/Solo
The artiste, who has more than a hundred film appearances to his name and still performs stage drama, described the activities of Gidan Drama as modern-day slavery.
“Due to the absence of checks from the authorities, the owners are left on their own to enslave young, vulnerable girls. So the girls involved need to be rescued to have a better future”.
He described Gidan Drama as one of the non-formal sectors that is fast-growing, spreading across the country and engaging so many youths, precisely women at their prime age; and that calls for government attention.
Kalla said that by so doing, it would increase government revenue, as well as the owners’ and the artists’.
The artiste also frowns at some of the activities in Gidan Drama. For, example, Yan Dramas are artists that do the local dance (Koroso) and Hausa stage drama at Gidan Drama, while Solo artists are young men and women who specialise in copying dance and miming of songs from Kannywood soundtrack. Kalla said this practice violates copyright law.
A pioneer of Kannywood film industry and former Managing Director of Kaduna State Media Corporation, Alhaji Yakubu Lere, said Solo business is not part of the film industry they built. He said the so-called Solo artistes perform in secrecy.
According to him, unlike drama artists, they are known and being invited to perform at occasions. He said people like Dan Ibro, Maryam Indomie and Kalla as well as others were products of Gidan Drama.
Alhaji Yakubu explained that problems emanating from the Gidan Drama/ Solo phenomenon are the collective failure of the family, society and government.
He lamented that parents have relinquished the responsibility of protecting their children and thus exposed them to easy manipulation by unscrupulous people.
Alhaji Yakubu called on the government to reduce poverty, which forced many young girls to patronise Gidan Drama as many see it as a possible end to poverty.
He further tasked government agencies to regulate activities of Solo and urges the society to collaborate by assisting in providing information on the nefarious activities of the organisation.
The Deputy Director Department of Art and Culture, Kaduna State ministry of youth Sports, Art and Culture, Alhaji Abubakar Ilu, said the introduction of a solo entertainment by the Gidan Drama has made the ministry not to renew the registration of Gidan Drama in the state, pending the outcome of the General Meeting between the Ministry and owners of Gidan Drama.
Alhaji Abubakar said Solo is not in any way part of the Northern and Hausa tradition, adding that there is no government that would not welcome new innovation, but it has to be in accordance with the culture and the law of the land, and in a way that would not affect the wellbeing of the citizenry.
“The ministry registers the Gidan Drama as drama houses, but Solo is now taking the centre stage in almost all the houses. So, we suspended and refused to renew their registration. We have to sit together and deal with this phenomenon called solo”.
He said the ministry has designed new rules and regulations that every Gidan Drama/Solo must meet up with before registration.
Responding to the issue of the use of underage girls, the deputy director said the ministry frowns at it and that it recently shut down one Gidan Drama for that reason.
He reiterated the government’s readiness to sanitise the system and noting that the ministry would collaborate with security forces and embark on general patrol of the Gidan Drama house in the state.
He called on the youths to engage in a decent job rather than depend on earning a living at Gidan Solo.
“Unlike drama that has no limited years of practice, dancing (Solo) has an age limit, he reiterated.
The Public Relation Officer, National Human Rights Commission, Hajiya Fatima Agwai says based on the Radio Nigeria findings, the Gidan Drama/ Solo establishment is running an organized force labour, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, trafficking, violation of the Rights of the Child- Child Abuse as well as Rape in the name of entertainment.
She said the commission needs to investigate the allegations, therefore referred the reporter to the Department of Women, Children and Vulnerable Groups.
When contacted, the Director of the department Mr Henry Obey was not in the office on two different occasions, that he was attending a seminar in Abuja.
Trafficking, sex and global index
Since human trafficking is a high profit and a low-risk business that allows traffickers to generally operate with impunity, traffickers go to any length of keeping their victims isolated so that the crime is not discovered.
Global Slavery Index of (2018) Report shows that Nigeria is a primary source, transit and destination country when it comes to human trafficking. The nation is ranked 32/167 of the countries with the highest number of trafficked persons, estimated at 1,386,000.
And NAPTIP reports that the average age of trafficked children in Nigeria is 15 years.
NAPTIP added that 75 per cent of those who are trafficked within Nigeria are taken across states, while 23 per cent are trafficked within states.
Only two per cent of those who are trafficked in 2016 are taken outside the country, according to the federal agency. It is the third most common crime in Nigeria after drug trafficking and economic fraud, according to a UNESCO report.
According to 2016 Global Slavery Index Report, there are 834, 000 Nigerians who are victims of modern slavery. Of this figure, a huge number are recruited from rural areas within Nigeria’s borders − women and girls recruited for involuntary domestic servitude and sexual exploitation.
According to the Nigerian Immigration Service Command in Katsina, which shares a border with the Niger Republic, 12 suspected human traffickers were arrested and 93 victims rescued between January and December 2018.
Even though the federal government and its agencies are making efforts to curb the menace, the efforts have not reduced the incidents of human trafficking and sex slavery in the country.
In April, the NAPTIP said it rescued 3,500 victims of human trafficking from only two states: Edo and Delta.
Our reporter tried to get NAPTIP to react to the findings in both Lagos and the Headquarters in Abuja. The South West Zonal Commander Mr David Atokolo asked to allow the agency to investigate some of the allegations. Also, at the Headquarter in Abuja, the NAPTIP spokesman, Josiah Emerole declined to comment on the matter says until the agency investigations are concluded.
But while the nation worries about the trafficking of girls across borders, the sex trafficking industry known as Gidan Drama and Solo goes unnoticed by the authorities. Worse still, it keeps blossoming.
* This investigation was supported by the Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative reporting, ICIR.