Oyo State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Inclusion, Alhaja Fausat Joke Sanni, in this interview with STEPHEN GBADAMOSI speaks on the controversy surrounding the recently busted Olore ‘Rehabilitation’ and Islamic Centre, where over 200 inmates were found in deplorable conditions and the plans by the government on the centre.
A Muslim leader in the state has spoken against the planned demolition of the Olore Islamic Centre, which the Oyo State Police Command and the state government recently busted and liberated its inmates. You were at the place even before the media arrived, what really happened?
The fact is that I was there [at the place]. Nobody can tell me the story. I was there live, as soon as we got the distress call. I heard a number of inmates shouting ‘Alhaja, come and liberate us.’ I was there. I took pictures. It’s not a political thing. It is also not a religious matter. I was there for more than two hours. Security people had to break the iron door. I saw it live. I was there when the door was broken and these children, the inmates, were let out.
The only other thing I saw was that some were outside sitting under the tree. They had already been liberated. And then, the others that were caged inside, so to say, were shouting. And I started to calm them down that something would be done soon. Luckily, the Commissioner of Police, Mr Shina Olukolu, was on ground. They had to take action by breaking the iron door that was used to barricade the inmates and then, they were let out. It took some time. We were there at 4.00 p.m. and left past 7.00 p.m., because they had to break that door.
So, there was no religious activity going on there?
Well, I didn’t see any. I didn’t see any religious activity going on there. If there was any at all, it wasn’t what I saw. Then, we had to interview them, the inmates. Our social workers had to interview them. The emphasis was on the treatment being meted out to them. Nobody talked about whatever it is they were being taught, at least, the majority of them. But it was just the inhuman treatment which evidence we saw. We saw the way their skins looked and how they were looking malnourished.
That same night, 32 of them were taken to Adeoyo State Hospital. Some of them are still there.
A Muslim leader, Alhaji Kunle Sanni, said some of the parents took their children to the place on their own volition. He also claimed that some of them would have turned to hardened criminals, if they hadn’t been taken there for rehabilitation and he used this position to canvass that the place should not be demolished. How do you see that?
On Wednesday, after the Monday incident, I was at the centre where we put them, Oyo State Road Transport Management Agency (OYRTMA) facility at Sanyo, where they were being fed. And with the assistance of the Commissioner of Police and the Special Assistant (SA) Security, Fatai Owoseni (retd), we were working on what was to be done immediately. We had to profile them, take their data, names, contacts, phone numbers and relevant information. From our records and those of the police, most of them were taken there by their parents, yes. Why were they taken there? From my interaction with some of the parents, they were agitated. They came to Sanyo. I had to go out to interact with them. I have the video recordings. Some of them told us that the children were delinquent. Some of them were on drugs. Some were stealing big time from their parents. Some didn’t stay in their homes any longer. So, the parents’ quest to look for solution and cure, I think, pushed the parents to take them to that place.
But many of them said that whenever they visited, they were never permitted to go into the rooms where they stayed. I can show you the video. Instead, they turbaned them, wore like three or four clothing for them and brought them under the tree outside to be received, anytime the parents visited. So, the parents had never seen their children’s bodies for them to assess the kind of punishment, so to speak, they were going through. And to me, I don’t know what to call the centre. I call it a centre, it is not a correctional centre. They said it’s an Arabic centre. Some people have been saying they went there; they graduated from there; something that was established in the 50s or 60s. Have those people gone back there to see what obtains in the facility now? Have they assessed the kind of method that is being employed to train or heal, or correct (so to say) if they claim they teach and heal? What they (the acclaimed alumni) experienced at that time, is it the same now?
But the impression created by Alhaji Sanni was that the Muslim community was opposed to the planned demolition. Have they made any presentation to your ministry?
Our take is that everything that this government would do concerning this centre and any other matter will follow due process. We are aware that certain persons are out to cause religious disharmony in the state, but it will not work. We are far more united than they can imagine.
I will still address that issue. A group of Muslims came to me last week (penultimate) Wednesday. They said they were from Bodija and I entertained them. They said they came to express their feelings on the matter and one of them said an influential royal father in one of the neighbouring states also went to that place and some other prominent people attended the place. He said his own child was there. He said he wondered what those inmates would do if they were released. About four of them spoke. They were up to 10 or 15 people.
But I asked them ‘were you there when we saw them? If you were there and you saw your child in that situation, I wonder what would prompt any parent to continue keeping his/her children in such place.’
See, this is not about religion; this thing is not about religion. People should not whip up religious sentiments. I want to appeal to the people of Oyo State not to make this matter look as if someone is being humiliated because of a particular religion. That is not it.
In a section of that interview, it was said that the Muslim community in the state would not be happy if that centre is demolished. You are a Muslim, is there a consensus among Muslims in the state on this matter?
I just said that last week Wednesday a group came. They said they were representatives of Oyo State Muslims and that they were not going to accept it (the alleged planned demolition). They said the people that were there were learning Quran, that the place had been there for a number of years and that the products of the place were good people in the society and all I had said. The permanent secretary was there. I told them ‘you are representing Muslims in Oyo State?’ The first thing I said was ‘who is from Saki here?’ No one raised a hand. Before I could say who came from Ogbomoso, one person said he came from Iseyin. I am from Iseyin, and I am sure that person’s intonation does not sound like someone from Iseyin. I contained all the issues that they raised. But I said they should not go with the idea that a group was being victimised. That was what I told them in principle. I suspected foul play. No other person, I thought, was from any other place other than the immediate vicinity of the incident.
I told them that if they claimed that the place had been in existence for years, is what exists there today, the same as what existed at their time? Later, the person that appeared as their leader said they raised an emergency team, they didn’t have time to go round. And I said they should have explained that ab initio, instead of saying they represented the Oyo State Muslims.
Apart from the issue of the planned demolition of the centre, what is the plan of the government for people who need correctional homes, for the sake of the future?
For this particular occurrence, Governor Seyi Makinde has explicitly said we are going to investigate and follow due process and we are still investigating. The government is not going to do things arbitrarily.
I am not sure the governor actually used the word demolition. People should be careful about their choice of words. We will investigate and take appropriate actions. The media should also be careful of interpretation so as not to make the public overreact.
The extant case appears to be a product of the lacuna created by the failure of government over the years, leading to the existence of the acclaimed correctional facilities. What is the government doing to bridge this lacuna?
The government is already considering doing something about it. Very soon, we will look at it holistically to ensure that correctional and rehabilitation centres are established across the senatorial zones. I can’t promise all local governments now. I can say that this is an eye-opener.
I want to say that some people have said that we have non-Muslim organisations like that where inhuman treatments are being meted out to people, where people are being chained and all that, if we hadn’t been alerted, we might not have known. That is why I want to appeal to the public that if they see anything, they should tell the government, so that government can go in and right the wrongs.
As a Muslim, one should not sit here and see bad things happening to brothers and sisters of our faith without lifting a finger. And that is what I am not happy about. Governor Seyi Makinde is not a person like that. People should not make things look like he hates a particular set of people because of their religion. This government is about the basic respect for human lives and the issue of humanity entirely, no matter the religion or wherever part of the state anybody comes from. The governor has said that anybody that is planning to divide the state along religious line should look for another job to do. And I want to reiterate that.
If you are truly a parent, you would look at those children and think again if that place is the right place for your child to be, if you see the video or pictures of them.
What is the plan of government for those that were rescued from the place?
None of those in our custody is well. All those who are well and have been certified alright, mentally and physically, have been reunited with their family members. They have our numbers. They can reach out to us. If there is any help we can render, we will be there.
Again, we have a monitoring process in place. Our workers visit homes, apart from this. There is one foreigner among those rescued, a Togolese. He has been handed over to the immigration by this state government, because it is beyond us, and we are aware the man has been reunited with his family in his country. So, we are about humanity and good living of the people on our own shores.