We stopped restricting inmates with chains in 2008 —Alhaji Muhammad Olore, proprietor of Ibadan ‘rehab’ centre
Alhaji Muhammad Olore is heir to Ibadan-based cleric, the late Alhaji Abdur-Rasheed Akangbe Olore, founder of Olore Arabic and Islamic Reformation Centre, located in the Ojoo area of the city. The junior Olore and the centre have been the focus of negative public attention since November 4 when the police stormed the place based on reports of suspected illegalities going on there. Alhaji Olore, in this interview by SAHEED SALAWU, speaks – in Yoruba – on the allegations that set him on a collision course with the authorities in Oyo State. Excerpts:
What is the genesis of Olore Arabic and Islamic Reformation Centre and how does the facility operate?
Olore Arabic and Islamic Reformation Centre was established in 1955 and the centre operates under a couple of modes. Under the first mode, students are enrolled at the centre by their parents for the purpose of acquisition of the knowledge of the Qur’an. Some grown-up people approach us for learning out of their own volition but in such cases, we insist on getting the consent of the parents as part of our official procedure. The other mode is the enrolment of headstrong children and youths who have been become danger to themselves, their families and the larger society through their anti-social behaviours like theft, robbery and consumption of cannabis and other hard drugs like cocaine. We take care of people like these and God uses us to bring about turnaround in their lives and they go on to become responsible members of their families and the general society. Many people who have passed through this centre under the different modes are, today, accomplished individuals in their own rights in various spheres of life.
My father began operating the centre in the Idikan area of Ibadan before moving to Ojoo in 1986. I assumed the headship of the centre after my father died in the year 2000.
Tell us about the circumstances that surrounded the incident of 2008 when the centre was first invaded by the police?
That incident was an unfortunate one that had no precedent in the history of the centre. The police invaded the centre and arrested me and other administrators based on allegations from some quarters that we were keeping custody of people without the backing of the law. In the aftermath of the incident, we approached the Corporate Affairs Commission for registration. After we were issued with a certificate, we were sensitised that the idea of restraining human beings with shackles was inhuman and not in tandem with practices in the modern world. We were told that keeping people in shackles symbolised slavery. Since that time, never again did we put shackles on any of our inmates. We were even advised to keep the children in the open during daytime and provide a comfortable place for them to sleep at night.
This was the practice we upheld until the police came again this month. I put it to you that the pictures on social media showing people in chains were not taken at our centre. They were photographs taken elsewhere but mischievously presented as though they were taken at our centre during the police invasion. No single one of our inmates was met in chain by the police on that fateful day.
But what really informed the former practice of keeping the inmates in shackles?
Shackles were only used on stubborn and recalcitrant inmates who were not ready to succumb to treatment and reformation, who were ready to bolt at the slightest chance. This was always done with the consent of their parents. But after we were cautioned and enlightened that global best practices did not support this practice, we stopped it altogether.
People say when inmates died in your facility, you buried them secretly…
If this were true, then why didn’t the parents of such inmates cry out to the public? This is not true. Besides, there can be no covering up of an evil like that if such existed because the inmates are properly documented and parents have copies of these documents. These documents also bear the photographs of their children which they could take to the authorities in the event of any such foul play on our part but no such things have ever happened here.
What will you say about allegations that you killed and ate people at the centre, and that you had the habit of dragging people off the streets into the centre?
The police said this formed part of the reports that some people brought to them but nothing can be farther from the truth than all these conjectures. These are just figments of some people’s imaginations. Every single person that is admitted to our centre is properly documented. The document of each of the inmates has the signatures and numbers of the parents and the witnesses. Therefore, any parent whose child is missing must naturally raise the alarm but no such incidents have ever occurred at the centre and nobody has ever lodged any complaints against us about the disappearance or missing limbs of their relations kept in our care. After the latest incident, virtually everyone who had a child with us protested and gave testament to how they brought their badly behaved children to Olore and how we were helping these kids.
But how would you justify the condition of some of the freed inmates who looked extremely thin apparently as a result of starvation?
As regards some of the inmates who looked haggard, the fault mostly lied with the parents. We have an arrangement called visiting days whereby parents are required to come to see their children. We designed the programme such that if a parent is too busy, the worst case scenario is that they visit their child once a month. The idea that we are most comfortable with is for the parents to visit the inmates every week. But we have found over time is that some parents stop showing up altogether after the first few visits. And if any of the children is down with an illness and common medication fails to alleviate their condition, we release such a child to his parents for them to seek appropriate medical attention for him.
I want to add here that lack of feeding is not the only thing responsible for some of the haggard faces that people noticed among the inmates. As a matter of fact, in the process of weaning drug addicts – which some of the inmates truly are – off drugs, they tend to exhibit hunger on the face but this is only due to their inability to continue feeding their addiction. Some of them even suffer rashes as a form of rebellion against treatment.
But why haven’t you sought assistance from the government in order to adequately take care of the inmates, especially given your claim that some of the parents abdicate their duty of care towards them?
Not everyone who calls on the government gets a feedback from the government. We have been advised in this respect several times and we wrote countless letters to successive governments which were never replied. When the government instituted the school feeding programme under the State Universal Basic Education Board, they claimed that they had included our centre in the project since we were now registered with the government. They went as far as going on the radio to say that they were giving us food at Olore centre when, in fact, they were doing no such thing. We even nominated a cook and the person was invited for an interview but eventually, nothing came out of the whole process. We have documents to back up these claims. Some of them are even with the police as we speak which they are investigating.
Were there incidents like police invasion and arrests during the lifetime of your father?
Never. No such thing happened.
You were also alleged to be forcing people who have succeeded in learning the Qur’an at your centre to stick to teaching it to others and not do anything else…
That is not true. Some of those who passed through our centre, especially when my father was alive, are today in the armed forces and the police. Others are working with governments. We never insist on anyone to become an alfa. There are practising lawyers who had passed through our centre. If occasion demands it, these people can even identify themselves to the public and testify to our claim.
How did you feel about the latest police invasion of your centre?
What I will say is that whenever the government receives a report, they should try and initiate an investigation and determine the veracity of such a report before swinging into action. We could have been contacted first and whatever we now tell them, they could have verified with the parents and extracted further information from them. Everybody should know full well that some of these inmates will speak ill of the centre and their parents who brought them here because they fail to realise that we are trying to help them.
The incident was unfortunate. Even a wailatul-Qur’an for 58 graduands of our centre, which was scheduled for November 9, could not hold anymore. I say that an institution like ours whose activities are plain and open to the society deserves the assistance of the government. Where we are doing wonderfully, we should be commended and encouraged and where we seem to be going wrong, we should be enlightened and corrected so that the centre can continue to yield positive results for Ibadan and Nigeria as a whole.
Can you mention some of the people you claimed have passed through your centre and have become successful today?
There are so many of them. One of them is Alhaji Ishaq Ajetunmobi Alalukimba, who is a prominent Muslim leader in Ikenne and, indeed, the entire Remoland [in Ogun State]. Others are Alhaji Muritala Yusuf, popularly known as Baba Gbedemuke, who is the Chief Imam of Oremeji Central Mosque; Alhaji Abdul-Jeleel Haroon Owoola of Moniya, Akinyele; Alhaji Abdul-Lateef Owolabi, a former chairman of the Osun State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board; Alhaji Adam Alagunfon and Alhaji Ismail 30-30, who are now renowned scholars and preachers in Paris, France, as well as Alhaji Abdul-Kabir Arisekola who is a chief imam in Dublin, Republic of Ireland and Abdul Ganiyy Adebiyi (Apalara) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. There is also Abdul-Lateef Tijani who is a member of the Nigerian Army. The list goes on and on.
What is your vision for the future of this centre?
We are going to ensure that as we go forward, we combine western education with impartation of Arabic and Islamic knowledge to our students and inmates. The government has promised to include us in a new education project and give us necessary support for the smooth running of our facility.
Why do you engage in this ‘reformation’ business?
Whoever is engaged in the kind of work that we do here is helping the government and the society at large. Without people like us who reform people and rid them of their anti-social behaviours, the population of criminals that would constitute serious threat to the society would have swollen out of proportion. People who otherwise would have visited the full effect of their criminal tendencies on the society are the ones we are bravely holding in check here. We have had inmates who used to be chronic thieves and robbers but whom we reformed by the grace of God and became responsible individuals that people now trust with their money and other valuables. There have also been cases of young men who were brought here because of their penchant for committing incest. We once had a case of a particular young man who had already impregnated his sister and was also sleeping with his mother. But he was cured of this serious infirmity at this centre. We gave him a clean bill of health after having observed that he posed no threat to those around him, especially his female colleagues and even our own wives and daughters.
So, the least the government can do is to be compassionate towards us and regulate our activities as they deem necessary. At Olore Arabic and Islamic Reformation Centre, we don’t kidnap people on the streets. We don’t exert force on anyone. All the inmates were brought here by their parents, and we thank God for crowning our efforts with successes over the years. We have organised countless graduation ceremonies where families, friends and well-wishers would gather to make merry, make video recordings and take photographs. A centre where something like this happens cannot be regarded as a secret place. After the latest police invasion and our arrest, some of these parents even hired lawyers for the purpose of establishing our legitimacy and their freely given consent to take care of their children. Others went on the radio to protest on our behalf and set the record straight.
The government of Oyo State is a listening government. They heard what well-meaning people were saying and considered all the evidence they had with them and acted accordingly. They assured us of regular supervision and intervention in the challenges that we might be impeding the smooth running of our centre.
Given your latest ordeal, which has appeared to paint your job as a thankless one, will you accept another problem child at the centre?
By the grace of God, we will. A challenge like this is a trial and part of the calling. No success comes in life without some measure of tribulations. We will not be deterred from doing what is good and noble.