Containing the Epidemic of ‘Detention’ Centres

Inmates in one of the detention centres

Government must properly prosecute the operators of illegal detention centres across the country, writes Olawale Olaleye

The images and stories of the experiences of many of the inmates are like a déjà vu – gunning for a quick recall of the slave trade history. They spoke to man’s inhumanity to man especially when one has to deal with the reality that they had endured the alleged suffering for many years.

They writhed in pains, anguish and humiliation, whilst their tormentors smiled away their subjugation. Sadly, nothing so far has justified this illegality apart from the fact that the operators of these satanic centres insisted that inmates were brought in out of the freewill of their folks.

Not in the foreseeable future did any one of the inmates think help would come so soon. But it did a few weeks back, starting, not surprisingly, with a BBC expose on the Rigasa, Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State detention centre hitherto believed to be an Islamic study centre.

However, reports, a fortnight ago, that President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered a nationwide raid of illegal detention centres in the name of Islamic or rehabilitation centres, further breathed some relief on the horizon.

This, of course, came in the wake of recent discoveries of different detention centres in many parts of the country, including Kano, Katsina, Kaduna and Kwara States.

The President also sounded a serious note of warning that his administration had zero tolerance for criminality and human rights abuses such as the enslavement of children, men and women in fake rehabilitation centres.

What started with a raid on September 26, in Rigasa, Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State, where over 300 male children and adults were reportedly rescued from a torture home soon opened up other discoveries from whence gory details of inhumanities were narrated with emotion-evoking voices!

The incident, of course, culminated in the arrest of seven teachers at the centre, including its proprietor, Mallam Ismaila Abubakar, who insisted he did nothing wrong other than teach the detainees Islam.

Less than two weeks after this development, the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, led men of the State Police Command to raid another torture home, known as the Mallam Niga Rehabilitation Centre, at the same Rigasa, Igabi Local Government Area of the state.

During this operation, 147 captives including men, women and children were also rescued. The detainees comprised of 125 males and 22 females, among whom four were said to be foreigners from Cameroon and Niger Republics. And typical of enslavement, most of them were found in chains.

Whilst the horrendous news from some of Kaduna’s detention centres was yet to subside, another yet illegal Islamic camp situated at Gaa-Odota (Idi-roko) of Ilorin West Local Government Area of Kwara State, was discovered. At this centre, 108 inmates, comprising 103 males and five females were rescued.

Unfortunately, the narrations of the experiences of all the victims, even though from different locations, were almost the same. Some of the victims as young as five years old said they had been held captive for many years. They said they were tortured, sexually abused and starved. Many of them, with visible injuries, had metal chains around their ankles.

The police also hinted that some of the inmates were from Burkina Faso, Mali and other African countries and that the students confessed to being abused homosexually, while some said they were subjected to the daily recitation of the Holy Quran and prayers with torture.

One of those who were saved by the police alleged that some of their fellow inmates had even died, whilst one of the sexually abused alleged to having had about five abortions for the operator of the centre and his children who took turns to abuse her sexually. The abortions, she claimed, were done locally with herbs. How more inhuman to someone else’s children can anyone be, sadly, in God’s name?

It was therefore in view of this development that President Buhari gave the order for nationwide raid of such centres and also commended the police for acting swiftly upon tipoff.

Although some of the operators of the centres had been reportedly arrested, the images presented by these discoveries suggested that government must ensure proper investigation of the abuses and make sure that everyone involved in the illegality faces the full wrath of the law. The allegations were too grave to merely scoff at.

What could also be deduced from the discoveries so far is that there could still be more detention centres in many parts of the country. Therefore, government must launch a nationwide campaign to expose these agents of the devil and their work by soliciting for cooperation from members of the public, who would offer information and be protected through confidentiality.

Truth is that no one can quantify the extent of damage that this development had caused the country; that in this age and time, such enslavement still existed in a nation of laws and constitutionality and yet, government had no clue it had gone on for many years.

It is also commendable that government was already taking the pains to reunite some of the people with their folks. What is of the essence in entire approach is the genuine rehabilitation of these detainees, some of who had lost touch with realities and might have been made monsters by no choice of theirs.

Even more compelling is their health care. There is a serious need to attend to their health, given the condition of where they had been kept for many years and had not received any serious medical attention especially, that a majority of them had one injury or the other that they now carry about.

Since certain infections could be contagious, it therefore behooves government that while it desires to reintegrate them with their folks, they do not bring along with them what could crush a large population by taking the medical angle very seriously.

But what’s crucial, in the final analysis, is that a very instructive and in fact, telling example is made of the ones already arrested by properly prosecuting them. Illegal detention centres cannot form part of the challenges that the Nigerian people have to deal with at this time, when government could make that go away in a jiffy.