Noah Ebije, Kaduna And John Adams, Minna
Recently, Nigerians were naturally horrified upon seeing the emaciated inmates who were released by security operatives following the discovery of rehabilitation centres in Kaduna, Kwara and some other northern cities, where they had been held in torturous confinement.
The revelation that such degree of dehumanisation had been going on under the nose of the authorities and within the communities triggered big shock among the citizenry.
People wondered how such atrocious activities could have been carried on and hidden for so long in open view, to the extend that the concerned state governments were ignorant of the goings on at the centres, which were passed off as Islamic education and awareness centres. The discoveries also raised concerns about whether the practice was in line with Islamic practice, especially as people who run the facilities claimed to be doing so ostensibly to enhance and deepen the Islamic knowledge of the inmates.
However, in stout defence of Islam and strong dismissal of this wrong notion, Chief Imam of Kaduna NUJ Secretariat mosque, Alhaji Mohammed Auwal, unequivocally denounced the practice of sending children and other adults to the so-called rehabilitation centres, and affirmed it was against the tenets of Islam.
Alhaji Auwal said: “God does not tell us to torture anybody in the name of correcting him or her. However, such persons are to be prayed for in the custody of their parents so that God will heal them of whatever illness or mental problems they are going through. We are not taught that someone should torture somebody to get well.”
Recall that the Kaduna Police Command, in September, rescued over 300 people from a house where they were chained and maltreated in the name of rehabilitating them. The raid was conducted after the police got a tipoff about suspicious activities in the so-called Islamic school.
When the news broke, it drew strong condemnation from many people, who described it as a classic example of man’s inhumanity to man.
The house located in Rigasa area of Kaduna, where the police rescued the inmates wore the façade of an Islamic school and rehabilitation camp, which was operated by seven men, led by 39-year-old Ismaila Abubakar.
The Kaduna State police spokesperson, Yakubu Sabo, who spoke to newsmen on the discovery said that children as young as 10 and teenage young men were chained by the ankle. The victims were reportedly taken from different areas in Kaduna following complaints of drug addiction and related offences alleged against them.
Few weeks after the first discovery of the torture house, another centre in the same Rigasa community known as Nigga Rehabilitation and Skill Acquisition Centre, was found to be a decoy for what it was really doing. The Commissioner for Human Services and Social Development, Hajiya Hafsat Baba disclosed that some of the victims of torture were found to have been in chains for eight years.
While the dust raised by the discovery was still swirling, the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, accompanied by security operatives, visited the centre to evacuate 147 inmates and then shut down the facility.
As Sunday Sun learnt from Hajiya Baba, the ministry was in the process of profiling them to ascertain their true identity.
Her words: “Some of their families have come for them. We are trying to segregate them according to their states because majority of them are not from Kaduna State. There are four foreigners among them – two from Cameroon and two from Niger Republic.
“We have been in and out of hospitals. We have conducted HIV test for all of them. We have found those that tested positive and linked them up with clinics. Those that were sexually assaulted have made statements to the police.
“All in all, they are doing fine, but we have some with mental issues and we have taken them to the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Barnawa, Kaduna, for proper management while the sick ones were taken to Barrau Dikko Specialist Hospital. None of them is in admission for now.
“Of course, they have been under torture. They were all in chains. We had to engage the services of welders, cut the chains on their legs. Some of them had been in chains for eight years.”
On why it took the state government this long before taking action after several media reports, she said: “People have been talking about the centre and they started asking questions after the first one that the police raided a few weeks after. So, the governor just paid unscheduled visit to the place and shut it down.”
As Nigerians were still trying to absorb the shocking discovery, another illegal rehabilitation centre was discovered in Zaria, from where the police rescued 11 persons, some chained on the legs and hands.
In the rescue operation carried out by men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), two children and nine adults were set free, following intelligence information gathered by the corps..
The acting Governor of Kaduna State, Dr Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe, later visited the rescued persons at the command headquarters of NSCDC in the state.
Balarabe assured that the government would take appropriate action against the operators while the survivors would be provided with necessary medical care before handing them over to their families.
Deputy Commandant of NSCDC, Kaduna Command, Mr Nnegha Aloysious Onyema, disclosed that three of the inmates were dead following unbearable torture meted out to them by their tormentors.
From Minna, the capital of Niger State, the Registrar of the Niger State College of Education, Mallam Alfa Yabagi stoutly disassociated Islam from the despicable practice of keeping children incarcerated in chains in the name of rehabilitation, describing the act as demonstration of man’s inhumanity to man.
He maintained that such rehabilitation centres have no place in the Islamic religion and stressed that the majority of evildoers hide under religion to perpetrate evil and criminality.
“What goes on at these centres is beyond mere rehabilitation as they want Nigerians to believe and the government must rise up to the occasion to quickly arrest he situation,” Yabagi, who is a respected Islamic scholar, said, noting that since independence in 1960 to date, the entire northern Nigeria has no history of the so-called rehabilitation centres.
“We really are all shocked by what we have seen concerning the rehabilitation centres, where you see people chained like animals, all in the name of Islam and the operators of the centres claim that those people were stubborn and, therefore, needed rehabilitation.
“To start with, that is not Islamic because the condition they were being kept is inhuman. Right from the time of Prophet Mohammed (SAW) we have not heard of any rehabilitation centre where people send their children simply because of their behaviours and they should be tortured.”
He pointed out that Islam is a religion of peace and respect for human dignity, adding that “in fact, there were stories during the time of the Prophet about a woman that was so religious, but she had a cat and locked the cat in the room without feeding it and the cat died, so because of that singular act the woman was admitted into hell fire. This is just because of the inhuman treatment that she meted out to that animal, so when you do that to a human being you can imagine the kind of punishment that you will receive.
“So from this, you can agree with me that Islam is a religion that respects human dignity. Islam, therefore, should not be associated with a rehabilitation centre where people are treated in an inhuman manner.”
He expressed regret that those who are doing it are now linking it with Islam, adding that it is a misconception about Islam. “From what is happening today I think Islamic clerics have a great role to play, to check these people who call themselves Islamic clerics.
“There are conditions that one must meet before someone becomes an Islamic cleric. There is the need for them to have good knowledge of Islam because just reading the Qu’ran does not make someone an Islamic cleric. Government, too, has a role to play because in the past when we had our independence, in Northern Nigeria, all the Qu’ranic schools were registered, the government knew them, their mallams (teacher) and pupils; the government knew what they were doing and their curriculum, so they were strictly monitored.
“If they saw anybody who is getting out of the way he was cautioned and if he was not doing the right thing, he was banned, that was what the government of northern Nigeria was doing. Again the traditional rulers too should come in, and I want to say that it is high time we defined the role of our traditional rulers in the constitution. It is very important because they are the closest to the people and they know everybody in their domain. Let all these stakeholders sit down and discuss this so that we can have a census of these places, know what they are doing, and if what they are doing is bad, you suspend them.
“We don’t have the history of rehabilitation centres in the North. This is so strange to me in all my life, since the time of independence there has been nothing like this type of rehabilitation centres. What we have are Islamic schools and they are not rehabilitation centres. They are Qu’ranic schools were people are taught about the Islamic religion, but it is very unfortunate now that we are having this type of centres called rehabilitation centers. It is something that is very new in northern Nigeria.”
Taking a panoramic view of parenting in general, Yabagi argued that the discovery of the centres is indicative of the significant shift in societal mores.
His words: “What is happening now goes to show that parents have relinquished their primary responsibility. Any parent that feels he cannot really handle his child, he takes such a child to the so-called rehabilitation centre. That is a failure on the part of the parents. This is because in Islam the training of your child is your primary responsibility. They say charity begins at home. Save yourself and your family from the fire. So, how do you do that, it is by training your child in the way of Allah. The training of children lies in the hands of the parents, and it is very important, that is what the Qu’ran says, but now the parents are relinquishing their responsibility and taking their children to the so-called rehabilitation centres.
“Such rehabilitation home shouldn’t exist, the stories that we are hearing that the parents are not paying anything so what do they do with them? You don’t know their level of hygiene, their health condition; it is unfortunate and I think this highest level of irresponsibility is on the part of parents. Nobody can train your children better than you.
“Again, it is unfortunate that the security architecture is failing and that is why people are advocating for state police where in every community they will monitor the activities of these kinds of people who operate these so-called rehabilitation centres. When we used to have what was known as native authority police, there were no incidents like these because they knew everybody in the community and they monitored the activities of every member of the community. It is unfortunate that the country is very polarized such that nobody is talking about community policing, but it is very important. We need it because the present system of policing is over-stretched. There is so much crime and criminality going on in this country and the so-called tortured centre is one of them. Who knows the kind of indoctrination they were being given in the centre. That is why we are having all kinds of insurgency in the country. When this insurgence started people did not take it serious.”
Mallam Yabagi, therefore, urged the government not to allow the operators of these illegal rehabilitation centres go unpunished, to serve as a deterrent to other criminally-minded individuals in the society who want to hide under religion to perpetrate evil.