A long way from home, some girls and women looked for greener pastures in local entertainment houses, popularly known as Gidan Gala. However, their hopes were dashed when their expectations turned nightmares leaving many with deep scars of regrets. Daily Trust on Sunday goes undercover to investigate the abuse and exploitations of girls at Gidan Gala in Kaduna and Abuja.
Talatu (not real name) left her hometown in Bauchi following a small family tiff for Abuja where she went in search of greener pastures: make money and maybe get access into the Kannywood industry.
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Thinking Gidan Gala will help actualize her dream, she pushed her way in and soon became a household name. Several years later, Talatu is neither a Kannywood actor nor rich. Instead, she is left with profound regret for leaving her hometown for Abuja, where she said she has suffered a lot with almost nothing to show as a benefit.
Talatu now lives as a single mother left with the responsibilities of providing for the needs of her little daughter.
“We were like slaves,” she said remorsefully.
Gidan Drama, Gidan Solo or Gidan Gala is the name given to the old local Hausa entertainment houses that are now gathering momentum in major cities across Nigeria, including Abuja.
Gidan Gala became more popular after some of their artistes such as Shuaibu Lilisco that started gala and Sani Musa Mai Iska graduated to become popular Kannywood stars; thus making it a breeding ground for Kannywood actors and actresses.
Outwardly, these places seem normal going by the performances put up, but investigations show they are a cover mission, as the girls are mere sex workers.
The ‘chairmen’ exploit the girls, beating them at the slightest misstep, which could be anything he fancies, among other abuses and if they fail to generate money for them.
There are claims that the places have the backing of security agencies who receive ‘returns’ (bribe) periodically from the operators. It is also alleged that proprietors use ‘charms’ to hold unto the girls that fetch them more money.
To get to the root of what is actually happening, our reporter investigated some selected houses and reports what is actually transpiring.
Undercover mission to Gidan Gala
Within Magadishu area close to Ahmadu Bello Way in Kaduna metropolis, there are no fewer than three Gidan Gala.
In Abuja, there are Gidan Gala at Zuba, there are two at Daki-Biyu Jabi, Nyanya, Kubwa and other areas attracting a high population of northerners as patrons and operators.
At ‘Yan Doya Gidan Gala in Kaduna, our reporter paid his entrance fee, instead of a ticket. On entering the place, there were many young girls and boys; and many adults already seated.
The show started at exactly 4pm and 6pm, the MC announced that they would go for a break to enable people to pray the Maghrib prayer.
At Galaxy Gidan Gala at Kaduna, tickets were availed, and our reporter purchased one at N200.
A girl our reporter met there told him the show would start by 8pm.
“Are you one of the artistes here?” our reporter asked.
“Yes. Can I help you?”
“I see you’re smoking a cigarette, where did you buy it from?”
“It is over there,” she said pointing at a small kiosk.
“What about weed or codeine and other hard drugs. Can I get them there?”
“No, you can’t. The dealers come in, and you can only buy them if you are a regular here. They are hiding it,” she said.
At exactly quarter to 8pm, the show started at Galaxy Gidan Gala. All the entertainers came out and danced in what they called ‘all artistes’; and after that the girls were asked to come and greet the audience, and get some money to pay what they call dressing money (kudin wanka).
Those who pay are allowed to come on the stage and select the music they want to dance to. As you are dancing, the onlookers spray money on you. That is what is done for all the artistes. And at the end, the MC, who is the chairman of the house, will ask the audience to come and ‘bail’ the artiste. Fan then take turns to bail the artiste.
With the help of fixers, our reporter was able to convince some girls to speak to him after a long ‘bargain’.
You must be like a prostitute to get money – Rabi
Rabi is a 22-year-old young woman, who said she started acting in gidan gala when she was 15.
She said she started acting in Gidan Gala in Abuja before relocating to Kaduna.
“It was my friend that introduced me. The first day I danced, one Alhaji sprayed money on me. After the show, the chairman asked me to go and thank him. I went, and he asked for my contact but I didn’t have a phone then. The next day, he came again, sprayed more money on me and gave me a phone. After the show, I thanked him again, and he said he would take me out. I said to him I am not a prostitute, I was just there to get money.
“The next day, he refused to spray money on me. That was when my friend called me and told me the standard. She said if I truly wanted money, then the money the chairman would be paying me will not be anything,” she said.
“I have to be doing my runs with men to get money. And, that was how I started going to that Alhaji. On the first day, he gave me N20,000.
“Before I realized it, I became an expert runs girl. If you spray money on me and you want me to go out with you, we will bargain, and I will go with you.”
Is your chairman aware of the runs you are doing? Our reporter asked Rabi.
“Yes, he is aware. Everybody knows. Nobody will come and spray money like N100,000 or even more on you for nothing. What the chairman wants is the money they are spraying, not what will happen.
“The arrangement is that the chairman rents a house for his artistes. He will warn you not to bring men to the house. But you can go out and meet them.”
On the allegation that the chairmen seized money the girls make going out with men, Rabi said, “No, they don’t seize it. But if you are in love with a male artiste we call it (soyayya da dan solo) which means love between male and female solo artistes, they don’t get money outside what the chairmen give them. So in that case, some give them money out of what they got outside. But I can’t do that. You will become like husband and wife. In many cases, the guys maltreat the girls.
“You will go out with a man, give your body to him, get money and bring it to your lover. He will also sleep with you, collect your money and even beat you at the slightest mistake. In most cases if you hear of abortion, it is from pregnancy in this kind of relationship,” she said.
On the allegation that the police collect bribe at such places, Rabi said, “If the chairman knows what he is doing, he must be settling the police. So they hardly come and arrest us.
“I was once arrested in Kaduna. But other than that I have never seen any arrest.”
On drug abuse, she said, “I can confidently tell you that one-third of the artistes are drug addicts. It was there that I was introduced to drugs. In some cases, our chairman tells us not to take drugs because if the police, who come in mufti, see us dancing and notice we are high on something, there could be a problem.”
On the sale of drugs, Rabi said “in the house I am staying now, we used to smoke shisha and even weed in the open. But now the chairman has stopped that. But we still smoke, but not as freely as before. We know the dealers; you can go and buy what you want to buy without anybody knowing. If you want to smoke, you sneak into a toilet or go and find a place where the chairman will not see you.”
On whether the chairmen go to bed with the girls, Rabi said “They do. If he wants to sleep with you, he will ask you out. If you refuse, which is very unlikely, he will hate you. And sometimes, he will ask you to go out with his friend, especially if the friend is fund of spraying money on the dance floor.
Asked if she has aborted a pregnancy, she said, “Haba! If you know what you are doing, you will not get pregnant. But I had accompanied many of my friends to go and abort pregnancies.”
Asked if she knew the number of men that slept with her, she laugh, and said “how? I can’t. To be frank with you, I get a lot of money from this gala. And most of the money I get is from my runs not dancing.”
On the allegation that the chairmen are using charm on them, she said “Yes, they are doing that. I know I have tried many times to quit, but couldn’t. But I have the feeling that it is perhaps because I am enjoying it now not necessarily a charm.
“I am planning to quit in the near future though. I want to marry and settle down.”
I escaped killing in Port Harcourt – Maryam
Maryam (not her real name) is another gala artist who has spent more than eight years in the industry crisscrossing Maiduguri, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Abia.
She was lured by a friend who said she will introduce her to Hausa film, but instead of film, Maryam is now a drug addict that narrowly escaped being killed in one of the crises in Port Harcourt.
“My friend took me to Maiduguri to start a Hausa film. On my arrival, I was asked to dance, which I refused to, but the chairman threatened to send me out. That was how I started.
“The first day I danced, the name of the place is Home Theatre in Maiduguri. I got money, but I suffered. In no time, I became a runs girl.
“The first day one man asked me out, I refused. The next day, he paid the chairman and asked the chairman to make sure I was molested on the floor. And I was so molested in front of the crowd. I will never forget that in my life.
“After that, I still refuse to follow him, and you know there are people that are spending a lot of money, if they want you and you refuse, they will stop spraying money. And the chairman will be angry with you. I was later locked in one small cage they call cell. It was then that a man bailed me out and started spraying money for me.
“You see, I had no option than to start doing the normal thing to avoid the abuse and molestation. Some guys will come direct and ask for sex. Some will ask for love relationship we call (dadiro) where he will camp you in his house. You will come and perform, and after performing you will go back to his house. You will be staying with him like his wife.”
On drugs, she said, “it was my friend that took me there that introduced me to drugs. Now I smoke anything. From Maiduguri, I went to Abuja, and from Abuja to Port Harcourt then to Abia all for gala.”
My worst experience
“It was at Port Harcourt. My boyfriend kept me in a room at Eleme Junction. He bought me food and drugs, and whenever he is around he will come and spend the night with me.
“One fateful night, I was alone in the room when NDLEA operative storm the room and arrested me. At their office, I called him, and he said he will not come. After serious begging and beating, they released me. When I came out, the Obibo crisis broke out. I saw many corpses at Obadu junction. That was my worst experience.
“Another bad experience was when my chairman at Abuja asked me for sex and I refused because he liked too many girls, and if you are with him you can never follow another man. He will not pay you much, and he will not allow you to go out and get money. So I refused. He started molesting me.”
On the allegation that they used charm on them, she said, “it is not an allegation, they are using charm. Girls hardly run away. Even if you run, you will come back except if you are lucky. Even the audience, if you start going there, you will hardly stop it. Some girls will spend up to five years without going back home.
“But I am praying for God to help me and get me out of this. I want to marry.”
Gidan Gala is like slavery – Talatu
Talatu left Bauchi State for Abuja. She told our reporter that acting in Gidan Gala is the worst thing she has ever done in her life.
Talatu acted for many years before she retired after realizing she is only wasting her time helping other people to get rich. She left Bauchi because of a small family misunderstanding, but here she is now full of regret, with no money to show and has to do petty work to cater for her needs and that of her daughter.
“All that you are talking about is real. The girls in Gidan Gala are prostitutes. And you must just do it that way.
“The way they are doing it is that when you are dancing on the floor, guys will be spraying money on you. After the show, the chairman of the house will ask you to go and thank the people that sprayed you. That is where you will make your arrangement with the man spraying money on you if he is a newcomer. If you wish, you will follow him to his house or a hotel.
“But in some cases, you must follow him because if you refuse to follow him, he will not come back to the place again, and that is a big loss to the chairman. So he will force you to go with him.”
So the leaders of the house are the ones pushing the girls to become sex workers? our reporter asked.
“Yes, they are. They don’t have any problem with that. It is the money they want. You know all the money people sprayed for the artist are for the chairman. The only money that is fully yours is the one you get when you follow a guy out. So if you want to get money, you just have to be following men out.”
“I left Bauchi to Abuja not knowing where to go. It was one okada man that took me to the Gidan Gala. I stayed at Shagari Villa Gidan Gala that is at Yan Lemu for a very long time before I went to Bayelsa State to continue there in one Gidan Jogodo house.
My worst experience
“While at Bayelsa, we had a small disagreement with my chairman. I was sick, and I told him I cannot perform that day, and he said I must perform. For just that disagreement, he started beating me and even hit me with a stick on my eye. I thought I will lose my eye that day. I ran out and called one of my guys who is a soldier that took me to his house and later took me to hospital.”
On drug abuse, Talatu said, “majority of the artistes are drug addicts. That is why they hardly save money. Some of them cannot perform unless they are high.
On pregnancy and abortion, she said, “That is very common. This is a group of people living together both boys and girls, some sleeping together in one room. Even when I left Bayelsa back to Abuja, some of my friends were pregnant; some have even given birth.
“But at Shagari Villa in Abuja, our chairman, late Shagari did not allow pregnancy. If you are pregnant, he will give you money to go and abort it.”
Regret, advice to young girls
“My main regret is how I worked for many years just to get money for someone else. In a gidan gala, they can get between N200,000 and N500,000 a day, using us as their tools. We are the ones who dance for the audience, but the money sprayed is for him. He only pays us some token.
“I am now regretting all the years I wasted. The chairmen are getting rich, while we only suffer. It is even better to go into full-time prostitution than to go to Gidan Gala because at least in prostitution, the whole money is yours. Not this one that you will join both prostitution and working for someone to get rich.
So I will advise young girls to know what they are doing. The earlier, the better for them.
How I started Gala-Lilisco
Shuaibu Lilisco, a veteran Kannywood actor, said he is the one that started gala.
In a chat with our reporter, he said the way the gala is going on now is not what he started, saying they have derailed.
“We started gala in 1999. I was the one that named it gala. Before, it was stage drama and ‘koroso’ dance.
“I was the first person that started modern music and dance in Hausa film in my movie ‘Dashen Allah’ with my friend, Sani Musa Mai Iska. So after the film, I organized a show in Lale Cinema in Kano, and instead of the usual stage drama, I brought stereo speakers and we played songs and danced and I called it gala.
“It was supposed to be a one-day show, but people seeing a new thing begged us to continue, and we had to do the show for three days straight. It was after that that many places started organising gala shows. So that is how it started.
“It was mainly for entertainment reasons. That was why it is usually in the evening, and up till now, it is an evening thing because it is assumed people have closed from work and are exhausted. So they go to the gala places and catch some fun.”
On how the event has derailed, he said, “there are a lot of differences between what we started and what is happening now. During our time, the girls wore decent clothes and there is space between the girls and the boys if they are dancing. But now, some girls even wear a pair of short trousers, and even skin tight to dance. What we did, we considered our tradition and religion, but now they are only after the entertainment aspect.”
On the allegation that gala is now a hiding place for criminals and sex workers in the guise of entertainers, he said, “This problem is common in some houses. If you go to some gala places, you will think you are in a jungle of smokers. And I think it is the fault of the chairmen.”
“I will advise the chairmen to retrace their steps and take full control. They shouldn’t allow people to be engaging in immorality. They should tell them the business they are doing.
“And on the girls that are acting, they should encourage them to seek for their parents’ consent. If they didn’t, they should take them to their parents and tell the parents what their children are doing. If the parents agree, they should also help the girls by encouraging them to save some money and help themselves. And most importantly, they should be advising the girls to get married in time.”
How we are handling our artistes – Chairman
In a phone interview with our reporter, the chairman of Freedom Theatre in Lagos, Alhaji Mamuda Akashe, said they have standing orders on receiving artistes.
He said, “There are leaders in all gala houses. If you want to start, you will have to register with Art and Culture, or at least meet some leaders of the industry and ask them.”
On receiving new artistes, he said, “If a new artiste arrives, we have those that will receive him and brief him. We will ask him which gala house he is coming from and if he is an artiste. We will then call them to verify his claim. We will also ask for his parents’ address where we will call and confirm his details.
“You see, in our place, smoking and other forms of drug abuse are not allowed. And no artiste is allowed to go out without permission.”
On the allegation that the girls go out as runs girls, he said, “we have a house where we keep them. We do not stay with them, but we try our best to look after them. If we notice any bad thing, we try to stop it by all means by advising them and other ways.
“If you are in love with one of our artistes, we connect them up with their parents. In our place, we have connected more than 10 marriages. I travelled to Niger Republic with one of our artistes after a guy said he loved her, and they got married. So we are not doing things anyhow.”
He however said some chairmen are not doing the right thing. “I am calling on such chairmen to please respect these children. In the near future, they are housewives and mothers. So they deserve respect from their chairmen. Don’t allow anybody to disrespect them because of money.
“We know that in some houses, the chairmen treat the girls like animals. They expose them to all sorts of abuse and molestation. They send the girls to the people that spray them with money. That is bad. Nobody will try that with us.”
He also called on the government to invest in them, saying they can do well in producing films and other cultural activities if given the capital and orientation.
We are different from them – Kaduna film industry chairman
Speaking with our reporter, the chairman of Kaduna film industry, Kadawood, Nura MC said, “Before, we were together because most old Hausa film actors started from stage drama. But as time went on, it was observed that most of the gala artistes, most especially the girls, are independent girls or runs girls.
“That started affecting our industry negatively which was why the film industry introduced registration, where in the form your parents must sign. That was how they had no option but to leave. So now most of our actors are coming from their parents’ homes and are under their care.
“Most gala artistes have a bad image. So we have no relationship with them anymore. We, however, still use the boys that dance for them in our background dance in our movies.”
Government should do something about gala houses – Girls rights advocate
Speaking over the phone with our reporter, the Women Leader of International Northern Women Forum (AHAD), Peace Ambassador and girl child rights activist, Hajiya Ummi Mohammad said the girls in gala places are exposed to a slavery of sorts.
“As a girl child rights activist, and a mother, this issue of Gidan Gala is very disturbing. It has been disturbing us for long. This is a place you will find girls between the age of say 14 or 15 to 18 years. Their so-called chairmen will camp them in a place.
Their work is to come on the stage in the evening to dance. You see a girl dance to a point that she is very tired. And after the show, their leaders will ask people from the crowd to come and bail them. And they know that if a man bails a girl, he will take her to his place. This is a big problem. It is also at the gala houses that they learn drug abuse.”
She then called on government to check the activities of the gala houses. “Government should do something. These girls are exploited and are molested in a very cheap manner. They are forced to endure, and the leaders that get more of the money.
“I recently traveled to Nasarawa State, and the place I went to was close to a gala house. Even the people close to them are suffering because they disturb them with noise and music late into the night. This is a big challenge to us as mothers, and should be to government.”
‘Why we are patronising Gidan Gala’
One Abdul (not real name) a regular patron of gidan gala in Seme Border and Alaba Rago of Lagos State, spoke to our reporter, said the leaders of the places are just using the girls to enrich themselves.
“You can’t go and spray money on a girl for nothing. They know if you spray money for them, they will follow you after the show. You this is prostitution,” he said.
Another patron, who also preferred anonymity, said such places are aiding girls to run away from home and later find it difficult to marry.
He said some of the girls ran away from their hometowns because they didn’t want to stay with their husbands, and so they find the places as hideaway from their parents and relatives.
He, however, said the patronizers spend money unnecessarily on the girls. “That is why when a wife discovers that her husband goes to gidan gala, trouble always ensued. This is because in most cases the money they spend or spray at the gala house, they hardly spend it on their wives,” he added.
We have our men undercover in their midst – Police
Reacting, Kaduna State Police PPRO, ASP Muhammad Jalige, in a phone interview with our reporter said, “We used to raid those places some times because criminals hide there. And drug dealers also go there because they get customers there. But we have our surveillance teams that are together with them in mufti. Whenever they see something wrong, they effect arrest. After the arrest, we will interrogate them, and take those found wanting to court.”
On the allegation that police officers collect bribe to allow criminal activities, he said, “Police is not so bad that our men will collect bribe from prostitutes. All we know is that our undercover teams go there. And if they detect anything wrong, they arrest and bring the culprit to us. We will later screen them and free the ones that are innocent. By so doing, we have tracked from among them some criminals we have been looking for over a long time after they have been trying to evade arrest.”
This report was supported by MacArthur Foundation through the Daily Trust Foundation