By - Adedoyin Shittu
Following the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari to security operatives to crackdown all illegal correctional centres masking as Islamic schools, additional five correction facilities such as that discovered firstly in Kaduna State have been discovered in other locations mainly in the North including in the president’s hometown -Daura, Katsina State. Over 1000 victims have been freed from such facilities including females, the captives mostly teenagers but ranging from 5 years to 40 years have been discovered.
In nearly all of them, inmates had been detained for years and subjected to torture, sexual abuse and sheer dehumanisation. During the time of their release, inmates were discovered chained to metal railings and with their hands and feet shackled together. Some bore scars from alleged beatings while other recounted being sexually abused. The bizarre and unbelievable stories told by the inmates are usually filled with woes.
The first discovery was in late September in Ahmad bin Hambal Centre for Islamic Teachings, Rigasa neighbourhood of Kaduna city in the north-west, when the uncle of one of the victims in the Islamic school in Kaduna was prevented from seeing his nephew so he went to the police to report the matter. Following the tip-off, the police found nearly 500 people, including children, detained in appalling conditions. Videos showed rescued students looking dazed, their legs shackled and their bodies covered in blisters. Some of them were pictured dangling from the ceiling. Others had their hands or feet chained to car wheel rims.
According to one of the victims, Abdallah Hamza, “if they caught you if you want to run away from this place, they would hang you, they would chain you,”. “The school which has been operating for a decade, enrolled students brought by their families to learn the Koran and be rehabilitated from drug abuse and other illnesses,” Nigerian police said.
Unlike the males only in Sheikh Ahmad Bin Hambal Islamic School and Rehabilitation Centre in Kaduna and the one based in Zaria, Malam Niga Centre kept 147 inmates of both genders under alleged dehumanising conditions as inmates were allegedly raped on a daily basis. One of them, Hauwa Muhammad, an indegene of Nasarawa State, who lived with her parents in Abuja before she was taken to Malam Niga Centre by her father 11 months ago because she was addicted to hard drugs, alleged that she was raped repeatedly by some men at the centre, including the son-in-law of the proprietor.
Hauwa said: “I was abused by a lot of boys. I was abused several times by the son in-law of Malam Niga, Hassan Sani Dauda. We told Malam what Hassan was doing to us but he refused to believe because Hassan is his daughter’s husband. And he even refused to investigate the allegation.
“For his sexual pleasure and desire, Hassan made us to make love with ourselves. I mean he subjected us to lesbianism and would watch us for his pleasure. And when we refused, he would hit us with the gora (big stick) in his hand. Look at my wrist, my hand is no longer straight, because he hit me with a stick. “It was not only me; he raped seven of us often. In fact, there was a girl he deflowered and raped through her anus.
Another inmate, Maryam Lawal, a 21-year-old indigene of Kaduna State, said she was molested, raped and beaten on a daily basis. “Hassan beat us, raped us and they made us inhale smoke that they called medicine. It is not medicine but mere punishment. “On a few occasions, I almost passed out during the smoke inhalation process. My breath ceased. It was only God that helped me; I would have died. They would tell us that, we must not drink water until after 15 minutes of the inhalation process. We used to choke and gasp for air,” she said.
The shocking revelations made headlines and have been met with public outrage especially as the raids continue and more details emerge, but these institutions were no secret especially in the North, in fact it is preferred by guardians because many people in the north believe that these schools have the spiritual power to heal and as long as their child receives a Koranic education, they don’t mind how much the children are dehumanised.
According to Jaafar Jaafar, from online media platform the Daily Nigerian, “I don’t think there is any person who grows up in the north who can claim that they aren’t aware of these schools – we all know they abuse children there.” He adds that growing up in Kano in the 1980s and 1990s he was aware of a number of schools like these.
Isa Ibrahim survived the horrific conditions after being sent to the facility several weeks ago but says he has injuries all over his body. “Living there is very difficult. It’s like living in hellfire. If you are praying they will beat you. If you are studying they will beat you. Anything you do they will beat you,” the 29-year-old said.
Why do such correctional centers exist?
Inside the Kaduna horror house, a man had three of his children out of his more than 40 children. He claimed that a bag of rice lasts no more than five days in his house. For that reason, he needed to ‘offload’ some of these children to wherever he could, not only for survival but also for correctional duties. Sadly, we have thousands of such parents in the country today who see nothing in giving birth to more children but are looking for ways to transfer their responsibility to the society. This has been one of the major problems of the north, “irresponsible procreation” tied to culture and religion.
The Northern Nigeria has the volatile mix of high population density, high poverty rates, low literacy levels and government services are lacking. Many prefer to send their ward to Islamic schools to learn the Koran rather than a normal school because they cannot afford to buy books and uniforms required in tuition-free government schools. The insurgency th region is facing has also contributed because parents fear to send their wards to school for fear of the unknown.
Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children globally (about 13 million) and 70% of these number domicile in the Northern part of the country, many of these children are found in centers like this where they are only taught how to recite the Quran. This system is called the “Almajiri system” and experts have called it a “ticking time bomb” which fuelled the Boko Haram menace and have made the north a breeding ground for violent extremism.
Activists have long pushed the government to reform or end the Almajiri system, arguing that it fails to provide children with the basics of an education. In June, Nigeria’s presidency said that it wanted ultimately to ban the schools, but insisted it would not be doing so anytime soon for fear of creating “panic or a backlash.”
Islamic school a center for delinquent children
Abubakar Kari, a professor of political sociology at Abuja University, told RFI that the houses raided were not standard Koranic schools but traditional correctional institutions. “It’s part of the age-old culture of the Hausa and Fulani that has not faded away, to send delinquent children to such homes where corporal punishment is used, presumably to cure them of delinquent behaviour,” Kari notes. So these correctional centers are filling a gap and many parents believe that they are economically viable way to seek healing from their wayward children even when the children are minors.
Without giving it a political or religious colouration, it is common knowledge that drug abuse has been a debilitating phenomenon especially in the North and there is hardly a family that is not dealing with an offspring tragically addicted to drug or substance abuse in the region so many parents send their wards to these centers after trying unsuccessfully to address challenges of drug and substance abuse and general criminal tendencies by the children. The ploy is first to relieve themselves of the burden and then to hope that indeed their children would be rehabilitated and in truth taught the Quran. Shame that these correctional centers is just a hanky-panky, a house of torture, and a filthy dungeon.
However crackdown of these debasing facilities is not the solution, though it is a good start but that is not the ultimate solution. These correctional centers exist because there is a need for it and if it is not replaced, then crackdown of existing centers will only be a temporary solution. The drug epidemic also need to be addressed for the freed inmates, if not freed inmates will only return to drugs and their desperate parents will look for another Islamic correction center to bungle them to.
All State Governments should revive their moribund Remand Home facilities to address rehabilitation of drug victims professionally and the Federal government should also establish correctional facilities in the six geopolitical zones. All these institutions should be adequately funded and inspected from time to time. Public spirited philanthropists can also start up a correctional centre to address the gap that fake correctional facilities attempt to fill. There is also the need for the government to invest in the youth and also ban the Almajiri system NOT reform it because it has failed to serve its purpose. To compete with their peers in other regions of the country and globally, children and teenagers need to go to a standardised school where all subjects are taught. This will equip them to become economically independent. Recitation of the Quran will do them little good in today’s competitive society and the society need lesser number of religious zealots.
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