It has been one month of bizarre discovery in Kaduna State, as three houses of torture operating under the guise of rehabilitation centres have been busted by the authorities. ABDULGAFAR ALABELEWE reports on the twists and turns of the incidents.
First, it was Sheikh Ahmad Bin Hambal Islamic School and Rehabilitation Centre in the heart of Rigasa, Igabi Local Government Area, Kaduna State where about 300 chained inmates, including children, were rescued by the police. Three weeks later, Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai led security operatives to bust another popular rehabilitation centre called Malam Niga Centre, where he freed 147 inmates.
The dust was yet to settle on the discovery of the two homes of horror when men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps also unraveled a decade-old torture chamber called a rehabilitation centre in Zaria, also in Kaduna State. Although they are slightly different in terms of ideology and structure, the three rehabilitation centres are not different in their outlooks as homes of alleged torture and sexual abuse where inmates are chained like animals.
Unlike the males only 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.
In separate interviews with our correspondent, some of the rescued inmates narrated their ordeal, saying that, they were daily subjected to torture and sexual abuse but could not report to their unsuspecting parents who came on occasional visits.
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 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.
My story, by proprietor of ‘rehab centre’
But the Proprietor of Niga Rehabilitation and Skill Acquisition Centre, Malam Lawal Yusuf Muduru, otherwise known as Mallam Niga, denied the allegations of torture and sexual abuse leveled against him by the rescued inmates while he spoke with our correspondent after he was released on bail by the police in Kaduna.
Narrating how he came about the centre, Maduru, who was born in Muduru, Katsina State in 1965, said: “I was at a barber’s shop in Rigasa on a certain day some time in 2006, when I found some highly intoxicated youths dancing to all sorts of disco songs and even falling into the gutter. I asked what happened and I was told they were under the influence of drugs. I gathered my close friends to tell them about what I saw.
Since I have experience on drugs and Islam, I decided to open a centre to address the high rate of drug abuse among the youth. The moment I got the go ahead from them, I opened this Malam Niga centre.
“I established this rehabilitation centre in March, 2006 and started with just a student named Hamza. Then I got another student named Aliyu while the third student was Dauda Bukar.
“Dauda Bukar, it was a chieftain of Makera that handed him over to me. Then inmates started multiplying. So far, I have rehabilitated and trained more than 2,300.”
He said there were procedures the centre followed before returning the inmates to their parents or relatives.
He said: “Those who their sanity is ascertained and their parents feel they have gone through some changes, we reunite them with their families after a while of training them, while some abandoned ones get skill acquisition under my watch.
“I have rehabilitated and freed more than 2,000 inmates and currently, I have 147 students under me. Among them are 22 females and 125 males, before they were taken away.
“In fact, for so long, my fight against drug abuse has gone international. We have organised about 12 retreats on drug abuse. We paid courtesy visits to all the people that are in authority, ranging from government house to ministries and parastatals and informed Commissioners of Police, the governor, the GOC 1 Division and NDLEA on best ways to tackle drug abuse.
“We hold conferences and meetings on drug abuse. We often organise shows to campaign against drug abuse and dignitaries usually grace our events. In fact, during the last event we had, the governor of Kaduna State sent a representative over to witness the event.
“We have been inviting Kaduna State ministries, organisations and the state government to come and assess what we have on ground in the rehabilitation centre; to come and see how we empower inmates, the type of training we offer them, and to look at ways to assist us.
“This is not all about money but on advice and ways in which we can improve and deliver better services, especially the modern ways.
“It was not quite long we heard that Governor El-Rufai sent security operatives to raid the Arabic school and rehabilitation centre here in Rigasa, where inmates were found to have been chained to generators and rim so that they would not run away. But when I visited him last Thursday, I told the Commissioner of Police that I do nothing of such in my rehabilitation centre.
“But still, on Saturday, the governor came in a convoy with security men to my centre, asking that how come I am chaining children. But I explained to him that all I do is teach the inmates trade. I showed them everything. I explained that some inmates do run away from the centre and never return home to meet their relatives, and if they run away from my rehabilitation centre, the parents confront me.
“I also explained that in most cases, the inmates usually run into trouble once they are not within the rehabilitation centre premises. Some may even lose their lives and the relatives take me to court if I can’t provide their children.
“There was even a time the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development brought nine persons to me to take care of them. She went on the streets and brought mad people to my rehabilitation centre for treatment. They spent four months with me and the commissioner eventually came to pick them up after they regained their sanity. People can be my witness on this.
“With all that I have mentioned, if they are to be fair to me, they are supposed to bring inspectors around to ask what really is happening in my rehabilitation centre. They should have asked the mad people brought over by the commissioner to answer whether they were sexually molested or there is anything bad going on here.
“They are supposed to investigate if truly there are people practising lesbianism or raping people in this centre.
“It has been long that I have been asking for inputs from the state government on how best to operate with standard practices and improve my centre. We have written several times to the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, requesting for courtesy visit, to meet him and discuss and to chart the way forward.
“We even did follow-ups, but up till now, there was no response from the governor.
“Since the Mallam Niga Rehabilitation Centre is popularly known across the state and the country, there is need for Governor El-Rufai to at least listen to our yearnings and at least know what we want and can do to improve our centre. Had the governor obliged to meet us, we would have told him our challenges and the possible ways they could help.
“We all know that drug abuse is prevalent in Northern Nigeria, and you know of recent, there was even a documentary on ‘Sweet Sweet Codeine’. In Kano and Jigawa states alone, people consume up to three million bottles of codeine daily. I even granted an interview saying codeine is not the only drug that is being abused; there are up to 20 other substances that the youths abuse on a daily basis.
“What I also observed is that in all the 19 northern states in the country, none of the governors took the issue of drug abuse seriously. There have not been any of them who sat and pondered on the future of the youths who consume the hard substances and drugs on a daily basis.
“The future of the youth is less of their concern, and that has been the reason we have so many restive youths and crises in the north.”
Reacting to the sexual abuse allegations, Maduru said: “The reports that they practise lesbianism and females were sexually harassed and raped, nothing of such was happening here, because I am always on ground. I have my family living here in the rehabilitation centre.
“I reside in the centre as well, and even if an inmate lies on his bed and shift or we notice any movement attempt, we will beam the flash light to know what is happening.
“Even if you are to urinate, you must be granted permission to do so. I actually don’t know where the fabricated reports that females in my rehabilitation centre were sexually molested is coming from. Like I said earlier, they are supposed to question the insane people that the commissioner for women affairs brought to my rehabilitation centre for treatment to know if something of such was happening.
“You can imagine, we have successfully rehabilitated more than 2,000 persons in this centre, so what will stop them from going to find out from one or two persons among them whether they have been sexually molested or maltreated during their stay here?
“You know, already you should expect some among those under rehabilitation to say negative things, because they probably want to go back home and resume their old ways. So definitely, if they are asked whether we maltreated them or not, they will say yes, we did. If they say they were not molested, there are chances that government will return them to us, so they rather say no so that they could be released.
“But government should know that as we have about 147 of them here, they should know that some relatives are still eager to bring their wards that are causing unrest in the public to us. But now that they closed down our centre, those stubborn children that are supposed to be referred to us are still on the streets causing unrest.
“I foresee that crises might erupt in the north, as a result of drug addicts and restive youths who haven’t gained attention. This is because all the places where people could refer their children to have been closed down. I am advising government that in the next five months, it should build rehabilitation centres across the state as they have begun to close down the private ones, because sooner or later, those released to the street may begin to unleash mayhem.
“So, since they have closed down our own centres, they should build correctional centres everywhere, where stubborn children will be referred to.
“For instance, I heard that the other Rehabilitation centre, that of Shiekh Hambal where 300 children were evacuated, one of the youths reunited with his relatives stabbed someone to death. According to what I heard, he only spent two weeks in the centre before the incident and was returned home.
“There was a plan to arrest the father of the boy, but the father faulted government for returning his son back home. He said he took him somewhere for rehabilitation and they brought him back home. So he said it was none of his business.”
On the allegation that he made inmates to inhale smoke just to punish them, Malam Niga said: “How can smoke be inhaled just to punish someone. The reason for inhaling the smoke should be to cure someone. If a herbalist or traditional medical practitioner gives you smoke to inhale, it is meant to cure you.
“Our rehabilitation centre is not a torture centre. If you look at the scars on their backs or their body, you will notice that the scars are not fresh. They had been beaten and disfigured before they were brought to us.
“There is a particular one among them, he has been wearing a rosary on his neck for almost 20 years. I used to say times without number that torture or corporal punishment cannot solve the problem of a defiant child. Some would not have been here if serious beating can actually solve their case.
“They eat three meals a day and we charge them N25,000 per term. Although the payment varies, some pay beyond that. Some pay up to N75,000, because we feed them on a daily basis. If you go to a hotel, you will definitely be charged for feeding and accommodation. We have more than 100 persons in our custody, and we even charge them less.
“I enrolled so many of them in different kinds of crafts. Some are technicians. They are learning mobile phone repairs. Some repair refrigerator, radio, blender or television, while some are into carpentry work. They can make executive chairs. We have professional welders and fabricators among them. Some are into shoe making, computer business and lots more. For the women, they go into tailoring and hair dressing.
“We even opened an adult literacy school. Some do not know how to read and write, and we have been teaching them. We also teach them Arabic. We graduated so many of the inmates, and as they became independent, they survive on what they learnt.
“I was also able to provide job for some of the inmates as security men. They go to work on a daily basis with a food flask. Every month, I ensured they are paid their stipends. They are the ones securing the Panteka Market.
“My call to the government is that they should follow the advice given by the chairman of presidential committee on drug abuse, Gen. Buba Marwa (rtd). He once came to our centre during a tour and lauded our achievements. Gen. Marwa even said he has never seen the type of initiative we put in place here in any other place.
“Everything in this rehabilitation centre is on autopilot. In most cases, the experienced ones among the inmates teach the remaining ones. They teach themselves trades.
“I have shown all my documents to the government. You can even see them for yourself. I registered with the Cooperate Affairs Commission (CAC) and I have my alternative medicine certificate intact. My security company was also registered. I have a certificate from the Bureau of Religious Affairs (Islamic Matters) as well. You can see all the awards I have won on the wall.
“All that I am doing is for the sake of God and service to humanity. They are not supposed to come after me this way. In fact, out of the 147 inmates, only 13 are not owing school fees. The remaining ones are owing me. This service I am rendering is even at my own risk.
Some of the parents gave different interpretations to the raid, evacuation and reuniting with their children. A parent, Balaraba Tukur, said she had no complaint about Malam Niga Centre because she benefitted from it.
She said: “Malam Niga foundation has helped reform my daughter who was into drugs before I took her to him. She was taking more than 100 PCs of drugs at once, but now, thanks to God and Malam Niga who helped in reforming her into a good human now.”
Tukur further said there was no extortion of any fee by Malam Niga as against the allegation against him that he extorts extra fee from the parents of the victims.
She said: “I brought my daughter to this foundation myself and he admitted my daughter without me paying a dime. I only bought a form to ascertain that I agreed with his terms and conditions.”
Another parent, Hajiya Halima, also lamented over the closure of the Malam Niga foundation, saying she brought her child by herself because he was taking drugs like pure water.
“I brought my own son myself and I am very happy with the way he has changed. Moreover, he has learnt the computer very well and now operates it as he learned it from the Niga foundation.”
For Umar Ibrahim who is among the committee of parents in the foundation, he expressed his worry over the closure of the foundation.
“I have brought three of my children to this place and I have benefitted from it. Closing it down is never the solution because government cannot do what Malam Niga has done for our children.
“These children have to be chained because some of them have mental challenges due to the drugs they have been taking. I see it as a normal process of keeping those with such challenges under control.”
Meanwhile, Kaduna State Government seems to be ready to wage war against such centres posing as rehabilitation centres to torture human beings. The Deputy Governor, Dr. Hadiza Balarabe, condemned the inhuman treatment against fellow human being.
She assured that the government would take necessary actions against the operators while warning against taking their wards to such centres or they would also be made to face the full wrath