Buhari’s pronouncement on abusive Islamic schools

LAST week, President Muhammadu Buhari vowed a crackdown on abusive Islamic schools. According to a statement issued by the Presidency, the president directed the police to disband all such centres and hand over the inmates to their parents. According to the statement, “The government cannot allow centres where people, male and female, are maltreated in the name of religion.” The pronouncement came on the heels of the police raid, for the second time in a month, of a building where hundreds of boys and men were held in dehumanizing conditions. Hundreds of boys and men had been subjected to beatings, abuse and enslavement  at a school in the president’s home town,  Daura, Katsina State, where men of the Nigeria Police discovered “inhuman and degrading treatment” following a raid last Monday.

While speaking in Abuja following the rescue by the police of men and boys chained up at a Kaduna, Kaduna State-based Islamic school, Buhari had condemned the detention, abuse and torture of people under the guise of running an Islamic school. The president, who was participating in the 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, United States, returned to the country to lend his voice to widespread condemnations of the illegal detention and inhuman treatment. In a statement by his spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, Buhari said the abuse of the fundamental rights of citizens, whether children or adults, would not be condoned by his administration. He expressed delight that Muslim leaders had condemned the existence of the school, recalling his earlier remarks that children needed to be protected from evil influences and street roaming by sending them to school.

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He had stated in June while inaugurating the National Economic Council (NEC) for the period 2019-2023 that it was criminal for parents to keep their children out of school and called for the cooperation of states and local governments to tackle the high incidence of out-of-school children in the country. He also stressed the need to take seriously and enforce the statutory provisions on free and compulsory basic education, citing Section 18(3) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which he said placed on all public leaders and political office-holders an obligation to eradicate illiteracy and provide free and compulsory education. He said: “While the government at the centre has introduced a number of programmes, including the school feeding programme, state and local governments are obliged under the law to ensure that every child of school age goes to school throughout the crucial nine years of basic education. To stop unwanted cultural practices that amount to the abuse of children, our religious and traditional authorities must work with the federal, state and local governments to expose and stop all types of abuse that are widely known but ignored for many years by our communities.”

To say the least, President Buhari’s pronouncement on the so-called ‘Islamic’ schools of horror represents a much needed elixir for efforts geared at their eradication. The fact that the president wants these schools to cease shows that he does not in any way support their philosophy and modus operandi. Indeed, his pronouncements cover the religious, cultural and legal issues implicated in the operations of the torture centres. The president’s averments are particularly significant because in the past, such schools were considered no-go areas by the political and cultural elite in the North, apparently for reasons that border on power and hegemony. But then, it is necessary to ask what the country is doing to address the roots of the existence of these schools. Truth be told, such schools are not the exclusive preserve of the North; they exist in various forms and shapes everywhere in the country. In the Kaduna and Katsina cases, it is instructive that parents willingly took their disobedient children to the schools in question. The point has been clearly made that such schools thrived because there were no state institutions on hand to address the problems posed to parents.

It would be quite an understatement to say that the abuses in these so-called schools were horrific. Many of the victims claimed to have been sexually abused by their captors, the supposed religious and moral guides that they had been taken to for reform. For days and possibly months, they were treated like thrash, beaten, mutilated and wounded. Not even animals should be treated in such fashion in a state that makes claim to sanity and modernity. Under what conditions would animals, for instance, be shackled for days on end, deprived of food and water, and constantly beaten? What form of religious/moral instruction thrives in such horrific violence? Truth be told, there are too many ungoverned territories and spaces in the country where people take the law into their own hands and the earlier the state identifies and brings these spaces under control, the better for all Nigerians. Government agencies need to buckle up and do more monitoring than they are currently accustomed to. Needless to say, the felons arrested in the Kaduna and Katsina houses of horror should be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent allowed by law.

We commend the Nigeria Police for the crackdown on the abusive schools and urge it to extend its investigative dragnet. We are impressed by President Buhari’s response to the case and urge him to be just as firm in addressing issues henceforth. In the same vein, we urge the federal, state and local governments across the country to beam their torches on similar ungoverned spaces and bring them under control. The discoveries in Kaduna and Katsina enable the conclusion that there are still many more stories of horror to tell in many other places. The Nigerians trapped in such horrendous spaces must be rescued, rehabilitated and given all the support they need to overcome the trauma that they have been through.

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