Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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It all started about a month ago on Thursday, September 26, 2019 when the police in Kaduna threw open the gates of what the inmates later described as “hell on earth”.
They set free 190 inmates (77 children and 113 adults) from an Islamic school called Imamu Ahmad Bn Hambal School located at Layin Maidubun Tsumma in Rigasa Community of Igabi LGA of Kaduna State. Thereafter seven teachers were arrested. Inmates were discovered chained to metal railings and with their hands and feet shackled together. Some bore scars from alleged beatings while others recounted being sexually abused.
“If you are praying they will beat you. If you are studying they will beat you,” Isa Ibrahim, 29, a rescued inmate told the BBC.
“If you want to run away from this place and they caught you, they would hang you, they would chain you,” one of the victims Abdallah Hamza said.
The police, which raided the Islamic school alleged that children were kept in dehumanising conditions, cramped in rooms, with some of them in chains. Others had big scars and injuries on their bodies. Proprietors of the school denied the allegations; saying all the children were there with the consent of their parents.
‘The parents signed a form before their children were enrolled in the school. The parents bring food for their children daily and they also know the condition they are in’, said Shehu, a preacher in the school. Facts that emerged later showed that operators of the school use it as a rehabilitation centre for reforming the character of delinquent children.
Barely three weeks after the raid on the Imamu Ahmad Bn Hambal School in Rigasa area took place, another traditional rehabilitation centre known as Malam Niga Rehabilitation and Skills Acquisition Centre was busted in the same Rigasa community on Saturday, October 19, 2019. The centre is located at Kwanar Gurguwa in Rigasa community. In this raid, 147 captives including men, women and children were rescued. The detainees comprised of 125 males and 22 females, among whom four were foreigners from Cameroon and Niger republics. Most of them were found in chains.
Although the proprietor of the Malam Niga Centre, Lawal Yusuf Muduru, claimed to have a licence to operate the complex, it was reported in the media that Governor Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai of Kaduna state who was at Malam Niga’s rehabilitation home alongside the police discovered that the detainees were not being kept in good condition. About seven of the inmates were alleged to have been sexually molested by other inmates.
The discovery of and rescue of more detainees from illegal rehabilitation centres had almost become a daily experience. After busting Malam Niga’s centre in Rigasa, others include the clampdown on a rehabilitation home in Daura; the raid of the Qur’anic and Rehabilitation Centre, popularly known as ‘Makarantar Malam Niga’ located in Kofar Durbi area of Katsina metropolis; and the shutdown of another one in Zaria from where11 inmates were evacuated and four teachers arrested by personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. The counting, no doubt, is ongoing.
Another raid carried out by the police at a rehabilitation centre in Gaa Odota in Ilorin, Kwara State capital has led to the rescue of 108 inmates of the facility.
The State Commissioner of Police, Kayode Egbetokun who countered claims of the owner of the facility, Abdulraheem Owotutu on the center being a place where Islam and Arabic is taught as well as healing of mentally ill people, drug addicts and stubborn children, stated that they received intelligence and surveyed the place for some days before carrying out the raid.
Speaking to newsmen, some of the rescued inmates identified as Collins Temitope Owonifaari and Warith Hussein said they were tortured at the facility they spent four months and 20 days in. They also disclosed that their parents paid N100,000 for the commencement of their treatment and also sent in N15,000 monthly for their upkeep.
One of the female inmates revealed that they were raped by one of the owner’s brothers and his sons.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s has openly commended the Nigeria Police Force on these raids and urged them not to relent in its efforts to bust all illegal correctional centres in the country. The President said his administration has zero tolerance for criminality and human rights abuse such as the enslavement of children in fake rehabilitation centres.
Some obvious realities have emerged from these raids carried out on the local rehabilitation homes. Most of the detainees found in the local rehabilitation centres are either drug addicts or young boys and girls with maladjusted personalities whose parents or guardians desperately needed a correctional intervention from wherever they could find one. The end result is that, given governments failure in providing rehabilitation homes operated by trained experts, proprietors who have no licence to operate behavioural reform homes stepped into the void.
The problem calls for more presidential action than mere commendation of police raids by the president.
While I was working in Kano in the 80’s, the people of the state launched Kano Foundation. They called it Gidauniyar. One of the cardinal ambitions of that Foundation was to integrate Almajari system of education with the western type. I hear very little of Gidauniyar and even less of its laudable ideals again.
In 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan launched a very laudable and ambitious program to build Almajari schools. It is sad that this progressive initiative has suffered comprehensive neglect.
I have always argued that the Almajari system of education is a security nightmare for Nigeria. We are breeding hordes of young lads without skills for relevance and survival in a modern economy.
The only skills they have is a half-baked understanding of Islam and the learning of Quran by rote. This is a recipe for the state of insecurity plaguing the north and Nigeria today.