Much ado about “Islamic Torture Chambers”, by Hassan Gimba


The Arbiter

We so much like to abuse ourselves as a nation. And hypocritically too. We forget late General Mamman Vatsa’s advice to his childhood friend, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB). When the late General was indicted by a military tribunal over an attempt to overthrow IBB’s junta, he, before being tied to the stake, told his friend: “We (probably the army or friends who should cover for one another) should not throw stones at ourselves or else others would join us”.

We enjoy throwing stones at ourselves, and as if that is not enough, we look for the most pain inflicting koboko and flog ourselves silly, or how else would you describe the din over the so-called “Islamic Torture Schools”?

The outcry over these so-called “torture chambers”, started by Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufa’i, necessitated our president to order a crack down on them after a second police raid in less than a month revealed men and boys subjected to beatings, abuses and squalid conditions.

Such torture chambers were found in numbers in Kaduna, Kano and even the president’s home town of Daura, in Katsina State, where nearly 300 had been held captive at such school, where police said they discovered “inhuman and degrading treatment.” 

The president promptly directed the police to disband all such centres and return the inmates to their parents.

A “freed captive” even told Reuters that the instructors beat, raped and even killed some of the men and boys held at the facility, who ranged from 7 to 40 years of age.

This self flogging has even made the international media such as CNN, Aljazeera, VoA and BBC beam their searchlights on us. 

But who are these “captives” and what brought them there? 

The statement of a father, Alhaji Lawal Garka, to Reuters:  “I deeply regret taking my child to the rehabilitation centre because I was ignorant of what was actually going on here,” can offer us a window into this poser.

When Nigeria was Nigeria, when it was blessed with leaders who wanted the best for the people, leaders who sacrificed their comfort for the citizens, at that time, there used to be government-owned correctional institutions meant to take care of recalcitrant, truant, deviant, wayward youths who were not mature enough for prison.

The correctional institutions, fondly called Tandari in Hausa (possibly from the English word ‘tendering’) evoked fear in kids. Parents used the word tandari to ‘threaten’ their children if they misbehaved. “We will take you to tandari” was enough to make the child docile for some days.

Those schools, then under the Social Welfare Department, had psychologists and psychiatrists doing the rounds and there was a semblance of schooling as elementary lessons were taught. Such teachings also had religious content considered the bedrock of moral upbringing.

But where are those centres now? There are people who argue that the British should have remained in Nigeria till at least 1980 by which time we would have boasted of at least three generations that have been well trained and the institutions they bequeathed to us would have been deeply rooted and strong.

Like everything left us by the British that were gradually allowed to waste away,  the correctional institutions became carcasses and cash cows to officials. 

It is not only power that abhors vacuum, for hence came the plethora of these homes that give parents the impression that they were Islamic teaching centres that would help straighten out wayward family members.

If government and parents fail to educate or guide their young, they open up their flanks for all manner of ‘educators’ to fill the void.  

It is not rocket science to realise that the society now has a crisis in its hands. These “freed captives” are really a nuisance and allowing them  to roam freely in the name of human rights will ultimately do no one no good. They were “captives” because it was in the interest of their families and the larger society. This is not, however, condoning the abuses meted out to some of them.

But government has done no one any favour by releasing them without straightening them out,that is, treating, training and empowering them to become productive citizens.

The most effective strategy for eliminating poverty and achieving sustainable development in any country is to expand educational access and improve educational quality. And if China or India, with their massive populations can do so, why not us?

A  United Nation’s report had it that – according to the 2000 census, China’s rural population was 810 million, which was 64 percent of the country’s population. Over 80 percent of primary schools and 64 percent of lower secondary schools are in rural areas. The government focused on universalizing nine-year compulsory education to eliminate illiteracy among the youth and adults and to upgrade the rural population’s quality of life. Since the 1986 passage of its compulsory education law, China has fundamentally achieved the national goal for the “Two Basics,” namely, extending universal nine-year compulsory education among the school-age population and literacy among those less than 20 years old. Consequently, the enrollment rates at the primary and lower secondary levels reached 98.6 percent and 90 percent, respectively, in 2002. At the same time, the quality of education was raised.

China’s persistent efforts to provide compulsory education resulted in developing strong human resources that, in turn, reduced poverty in the land. The poor population in China was 250 million in 1978; it declined to 80 million in 1995, and further decreased to roughly 30 million by the end of 2000. 

India followed a similar pattern, targeting to empower its poor masses through education. Since 2001, its almost two decades of basic education programmes have expanded access to schools in the country. Today, India’s Education for All programme – Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) – caters to some 200 million children living in over a million habitations across the country, making it one of the largest elementary education programmes in the world. Twenty four of India’s states have already achieved universal primary enrollment and many others are approaching it. Most of the newly-enrolled children are first generation learners from long-deprived communities or children with special needs.  

The country is now seeking to improve the quality of primary education as well as improve access and quality of secondary education.

 Such success has also been recorded in black Africa. Today a child born in Rwanda is guaranteed a minimum of nine years basic education, six at primary and three at secondary school. The number of students at primary level has more than doubled. There are almost nine times more students in secondary and those in higher education are a massive 17 times more than before. The funding allocation to education is equivalent to 16 percent of the national budget, reflecting the high priority that the government of Rwanda places on education.

The country has achieved a net primary school enrollment rate of 91.7 percent. No wonder Rwanda is one African country that made huge economic strides in the last two decade despite a genocidal war that plagued the country in 1994. 

What of us? In his valedictory address on May 27 this year, Malam Adamu Adamu, who has since returned as minister of education, revealed that Nigeria needs two trillion naira every year as budgetary allocation to meet the demands of the education sector. That is roughly a fifth of the 2020 proposed budget.

According to him, the money will help to tackle the out-of-school children syndrome for which Nigeria has the highest prevalence in the world by far.

But the allocation to the education sector in this year’s budget is a mere N620.5bn (about 7.05 per cent), where the United Nation’s Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation advised between 15 and 25 percent for developing nations.

You see, we get it wrong with our children’s upbringing as a nation. That is where to begin from.


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