The existence of spiritual rehabilitation centres where people are tortured and subjected to inhuman conditions in the North has been condemned by Nigerians and Islamic scholars.
The Nigerian Police Force on September 26, raided a torture centre at Rigasa in the Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State and rescued 300 inmates, including women and children, who were found chained together.
Some of the inmates stated that they are being sexually abused, while some others said they were tortured and made to recite the Holy Quran every day.
A few weeks later, another centre was spotted in the Sabongari area of Daura in Katsina State where teachers reportedly subjected about 300 inmates to torture and sexual abuse.
Two other spiritual rehabilitation centres, known as ‘Malam Aliyu Mai Adakan Salatul Fatih’ were uncovered by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps in the Zaria LGA of Kaduna State, rescuing 11 inmates, mostly men and children aged between 11 and 40 years, whose legs and hands were in chains.
Three inmates reportedly died as a result of the unbearable condition at the centre.
Last Thursday, the police also rescued 108 victims comprising children, women and men at Gaa’Odota in Ilorin West LGA of Kwara State. The malnourished inmates were said to have lived in the centre for five years and they had been infected with various diseases due to the unhygienic condition in which they were kept.
Some Islamic scholars and mental health experts condemned the torture centres in parts of the North.
Former Chief Missioner, Al Fathiu Quareeb, Imam Sulaiman Adangba, described the torture centres as a rehabilitation centre that were started as traditional Arabic schools.
He stated that in the beginning, parents and guardians kept their children and wards with the mallam, who would in turn care for them and teach them till they graduated from school.
He added, “Where Islam is predominant, a lot of people always want their children to attend Islamic school. But when they drop the children at the school, they don’t care about what happens to them until they are grown up and about to graduate.”
“Some parents don’t even bother to find out what happens to their children afterwards. They want them to go into the limelight there and start propagating Islam.”
“This thing has been going on for a long time. Imagine that a centre, which should not accommodate more than 20 kids, is now home to 200 kids. What do you expect? If the owner of the school does not have anything to give his pupils, he will be frustrated because nobody is assisting him financially.”
Adangba called on individuals aspiring to become Islamic leaders or teachers in such homes to standardise their schools.
He said, “If it’s a boarding school, it must be registered and the government must have a stake in what they are doing.”
“This is because those that are going to graduate from that school will become functional members of the society. If they are not raised in the normal way, then they will graduate from the school to become undesirable elements.”
Asked who was to blame for the rise of the torture centres, Adangba said, “The blame is on the system, not the parents or the teachers. If the system was the type that makes it possible to keep the record of every child born in this country, such children would be closely monitored by government so as to know their whereabouts at all times.”
A lecturer in the Department of Islamic Studies at Al-Hikmah University, Ilorin, Sanusi Lafiagi, during an interview with Punch said that the centres were illegally operated because their owners had no justification for keeping the inmates in such dehumanising conditions.
According to Lafiagi, even psychiatric centres or correctional facilities are not allowed by law to put people in chains or tie them to objects, such as the rims of cars, as witnessed in some parts of northern Nigeria recently.
He said, “My opinion, from the perspective of Islam, is that these are criminal centres that add no value to the lives of Nigerians.
“These places have nothing to do with religion. In fact, none of the rescued inmates who were interviewed has said they were taught anything worthwhile at the centres. Many of them were repeatedly sodomised and their families extorted.
“So government should intensify efforts to uncover more of such notorious centres and the operators should be immediately arrested and prosecuted. The inmates should be freed, reformed and reintegrated into the society.”
The Muslim scholar noted that although Islamic teachers were expected to teach their pupils the basic tenets of the religion, keeping their pupils under extremely poor conditions and in chains had nothing to do with Islam.
He said, “Islam has nothing to do with putting people in dehumanising conditions and torturing them for whatever reason. If anyone has committed any offence, the authorities should punish the culprits accordingly.
“Inmates that have psychiatric problems should be referred to hospitals where experts will take care of their conditions. But operating centres like the types we have seen in some parts of the country has nothing to do with religion and those operating them are nothing but criminals hiding under the guise of Islam to perpetrate their evil acts.”
The President, Association of Psychiatrists of Nigeria, Taiwo Sheikh, also criticised the actions of those who run the torture centres. He said that many parents, who took their children to such homes, did so out of ignorance.
According to him, most inmates were taken to the centres because they manifested signs of behavioural defects. He added that, however, the parents were in denial.
The APN boss explained, “Instead of taking their children or wards to mental health facilities, they took them to those places where they were shackled and subjected to constant physical abuse.
“Most, if not all, of them have one form of mental disorder or the other, ranging from problems caused by substance abuse to some mental ailments, such as schizophrenia.”
Sheikh noted that, in many of the cases, it was not the fault of parents or caregivers that the children ended up in rehabilitation centres.
He said public awareness of the right places to get proper treatment for certain ailments or disorders was low, adding that faith healing and traditional alternatives to orthodox medicine had become obstacles to mental health care. He said, “We know from research that seven out of 10 patients that are admitted to modern health care facilities would have visited one traditional, herbal or religious treatment centre.
“Many so-called institutions where patients are subjected to inhuman treatment are scattered around the country. In my opinion, all the people that are kept in such a place need mental assessment and treatment.”
Similarly, the Vice-President, National Association of Clinical Psychologists, Afolabi Aroyehun, said the discovery of torture centres showed that when people talk about trauma and abuse in Nigeria, it goes beyond what they see in the public space, such as kidnappings and violence.
Unknown to them, he added, many people live with such evils in their communities.
Aroyehun said, “The psychological implication of this is enormous. One, these people will find it very difficult to trust or confide in anybody again.
“Although some of those people went into the rehabilitation centres without mental health challenges, majority of them have now been crippled by one form of mental health issue or another.
“When you tie somebody down and beat him in the morning, afternoon and night, you are already modifying that behaviour in such a person to the extent that, if care is not taken, he will begin to mistake abnormal situations for normal ones.”
The psychologist stressed that children raised by people abused in such settings run the risk of having a similar experience.
He said, “We also have cases of people who have developed psychosis or one form of mental health challenge due to one form of abuse or another. Those people need help urgently.
“If they are not reformed now, a time will come when they will be angry with the society and government for not providing them enough protection and conclude that was why this happened to them.
“They are going to blame everybody for their misfortune. And nobody can predict what will happen next.”