The Kano chains
THERE is a sordid practice of individuals operating private prisons or correctional centres outside the precincts of the law in Kano State. Indeed, the distasteful tradition is not limited to Kano but is somewhat prevalent in the core North and it would appear to have tacit support in religious and customary practices. There are so many cases of citizens being chained down and subjected to dehumanizing conditions in clear violation of their rights, and lawless circumscription of their freedom. The reasons often adduced by perpetrators include victims’ stubbornness, disobedience, drug addiction, suspicion of conversion from the religion being practised by their families to another, and allegation of insanity. For instance, Murtala Muhammad, 55, a resident of Kofar Fada in Rogo Local Government Area of the state, was rescued few days ago by the police and a group, Human Rights Network, after 30 years of being fettered in a room by his own father, allegedly due to his mental illness.
Recently, also in Kano, the police, on being alerted by her neighbours, reportedly uncovered the decomposing body of a woman allegedly locked up in a room by her husband for three days. These are tragic acts in which family members are often involved. Even in cases where the victims are locked up or manacled by third parties, it is usually with the active connivance and/or consent of members of their family. Why would a father chain down his son for 30 years even if the son actually had mental issues? Is the father a certified psychiatrist or is his house an approved psychiatric hospital? And were there no neighbours all these years to alert the police of the deplorable act? Also, how could a man chain down his wife till she died in distress? And then, her neighbours did not inform the police, apparently until the stench from the corpse became unbearable.
In all of this, many in the state could hardly be described as perturbed or disturbed by the patently tragic and unlawful acts. This is evident in their lackadaisical disposition to reporting the culprits to security agents. Maybe because members of the victims’ families are usually involved, many ignorantly hold the impression that they could do whatever they please with their own. And perhaps many see the awful acts as just a way of life, especially since the loathsome and criminal practice had survived for decades with little or no meaningful official interference. Regardless of whatever may have accounted for the free reign of the pernicious practice for such a long time in Kano State, it is a fact that the distasteful culture is not just illegal but also embarrassing at this level of civilisation.
The unkempt and pitiable physical appearance of the victims of illicit confinement exemplifies the typical case of man’s inhumanity to man. Usually, the victims look like skeletons, thoroughly emaciated; an eloquent testimony to the grave dehumanizing conditions that were their lot in the family-orchestrated gulag. Some of the victims had even reportedly fed on their own waste. The fact that the victims could be exposed to patently degrading conditions in a jail where family members had access to them seems awkward and casts aspersions on the real motives of the jailors in the first place. Not even the State should wield such power of dehumanization over citizens. This challenge clearly calls to question the value some individuals place on the dignity of the human person, and even the sanctity of human life.
To be sure, the government can hardly be absolved of complicity in the perpetration of the unwholesome practice. It seems to look the other way while the perpetrators have a field day, only to feign ignorance whenever the appalling incident of incarceration of citizens under its watch by non-state actors is placed in the front burner of public discourse. And even in the unlikely event of official ignorance of such immense and pervasive crime, it is an inexcusable ignorance that must have been borne out of culpable negligence. It is therefore imperative that the government stands up to be counted by shedding the toga of ambivalence justly ascribed to it in some quarters. It must take pragmatic steps to rein in the dangerous but deeply entrenched practice.
We recommend that the seriousness and enthusiasm deployed in reporting, apprehending, prosecuting and convicting religious ‘blasphemers’ by agents of the Kano State government should be replicated in fishing out and sanctioning the perpetrators of unlawful imprisonment of citizens. Clearly, the rampant cases of illegal detention of innocent citizens in the state under whatever guise in 21st century Nigeria is, to say the least, barbaric, objectionable, morally reprehensible and criminal. It is also important to stress that the disturbing incidents that came to light recently are only a snippet of the monumental rot yet to be uncovered in the system. And the disgusting state of affairs may remain unaltered except the government heeds the repeated admonitions to it to take genuine steps to dismantle ungoverned spaces in the country.
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