Skinny, bony, unkempt or malnourished; any adjective depicting torture or inhuman treatment will suit the 300 people rescued from an illegal detention centre discovered by men of the Oyo State Police Command in Ibadan, the Oyo state capital, penultimate Monday.
What got everyone talking about the discovery was not just the large number of the rescued inmates but the location of the purported ‘correctional facility’ and its antecedents. Christened Olore Facility, the huge Central Mosque in the middle of the sprawling buildings in the popular Ojoo axis of the state could not have been imagined to harbour such a human cage in this age and time.
Although, there are many residential houses surrounding the central mosque, no single individual interviewed could imagine that such a horrific temple existed right in their neighbourhood. The greatest shocker of the discovery was that such inhuman and uncivilised treatment could be unleashed on youths in their prime at such an open environment within the capital city.
Tip to discovery
A 17-year-old who had escaped from a similar torture centre located at Apata-Owode area of the state was said to have tipped the police off on the harrowing experience in the hands of the ‘caregivers’. But before the police could verify the statement and mobilise to the location, the supposed victims had been evacuated.
But the police confirmed that evidence at the crime scene corroborated the information from the teenage informant who claimed to have escaped when a part of the Apata-Owode used for the ignoble act collapsed after a downpour.
All seemed not to be lost, however, as the informant told the police of the existence of the Ojoo centre which eventually led to the release of 259 inmates after an operation that saw the police breaking more than seven strong iron bars used to secure the inmates.
The police team led by the Commissioner, Shina Olukolu, released 34 females, 191 males, 11 children and 23 sick inmates who had been detained for periods ranging from 2 to 10 years. Some of the detainees confirmed that they had not seen sunlight for years before they were released.
Tales of woe
In their separate narrations of their ordeal, commonplace was torture, hunger and pain.
One of the inmates, Bashir Olanrewaju, said he was brought to the centre by his parents since July 14, 2015 because he smoked Indian hemp. He said the inmates were subjected to various kinds of inhuman treatment.
He added that some inmates died while they were being tortured and their bodies were taken to an unknown location to be buried without informing their parents. He said there were occasions when dead inmates were not evacuated for days while foods were served then on the bodies of deceased inmates.
Another victim, Mutiu Amuda, said the owner of the centre had sexual intercourse with some of the ladies held there, adding that some of the ladies who got pregnant in the process aborted the pregnancies to prevent their parents from knowing.
Another inmate, Tiwalade Rofiat, said she was brought to the centre by her parents because she was troublesome.
The lists also includes one Oyeyemi Ridwan who claimed not to know how he found himself at the centre since two years ago, lamenting that there was indeed no kind of good treatment for anyone but torture. He accused the owners of the centre of using the facility to fraudulently collect money from the parents of the children at the centre. He noted that they were only fed once a day with different kinds of diseases rampant among them.
For Bashiru Adekunle, his parents took him there in 2015 because he smoked Indian hemp. His story has been that of hardship, pain and torture. He added that more than 37 other inmates were locked up with him in a small room without care, stressing that there were many of such rooms in the massive building.
Hammed Kasali on his part said there were about 80 people in his small room, having been at the centre since 2016. He also said he was taken to the centre by his mother because he smoked Indian hemp.
A resident of Oshodi, Lagos, Kamuro Salami, who had spent the last eight years of at the centre, described the place as “a dangerous place for anyone to bring his children.” He disclosed that about 40 people were kept in his small room and were only fed eba once a day but got more torture and beatings from their supposed ‘caregivers’.
He also said that inmates died on a regular basis and that the corpses were usually taken to an unknown location in Sasa area of Ibadan. He added that the operators only hid under the guise of Islam and godliness to defraud people of their cash and property.
He expressed worries that the operators of the centre had a way of going after those who were forcibly taken away from their ‘camp’ through metaphysical means.
In his reaction, Lawal Moshood lamented that his parents paid up to N120,000 for his feeding and treatment on a monthly basis to the operators of the centre, but that he only ate food worth of N30 every morning and N20 every evening.
He recalled that each time he told his parents about his ordeal, they never believed him, because the operators had a way of making the parents believe otherwise. He said he knew he was in for a terrible time from the first day he got to the centre, because right in his presence, two people died and their death was later discovered not to be reported to the parents.
Atilola Sadi, who spoke fluent English, said his mother took him to the centre claiming that he was keeping company with friends she was not comfortable with and that she wanted him to have better knowledge of the Quran.
Having spent about two years at the centre, Sadiq said he got as much as 200 to 500 lashes of specially made whip any time he attempted to tell his parents the true situation of things at the centre. He added that the operators used Islam and the name of God to extort people of their monies and property and even have carnal knowledge of some parents who brought their children to the centre.
Virtually all the inmates interviewed said they were being maltreated, not well-fed, treated like slaves and engaged in forced labour.
A parent who claimed to have taken a cousin there for treatment but had to go and withdraw him upon suspicions that something was fishy, said, his ward, on getting home, recounted scary tales of how bodies of dead inmates were left unattended to for days before they were taken away.
The practice, it was gathered was meant to instill fear of in the minds of the inmates. The parent also explained that they were only allowed to visit once in a while and only when they had been brought out from the rooms where the wards were usually kept.
He said: “Parents were not allowed to follow their children into the rooms but only interacted with them either outside or under the trees in company of one of the ‘caregivers’ who often intimidated the wards against telling the truth during such visits. It was later that I learnt that children who dare speak the truth to their parents, especially in terms of the torture and inhuman treatment meted out to them would attract at least 200 lashes of specially made whip which leaves no traces or mark on the body.”
After being tipped off on the torture centre, Governor Seyi Makinde led a delegation of top government functionaries to the Olore Central Mosque where he disclosed government plans to demolish the buildings. The location site includes a stretched two-storey buildings with numerous rooms, a mosque and other adjoining buildings.
Makinde expressed shock that such a practice could be found in such an urban and open environment, charging the people to always support the government by making information about strange occurrences in their environments available to security operatives, noting that such practices could have nipped in the bud the inhuman treatment unleashed on the innocent people.
He thereafter directed that the rescued victims be moved to a temporary site where profiling and documentation could be done on them as well as providing them with adequate medical attention.
The governor said that government never endorsed or approved the centre for such purpose, saying the name Olore Central Mosque was not known to government only as a rehabilitation or correctional centre.
He confirmed that five suspects had been arrested in relation to the development, and assured that those found guilty would be punished to the full extent of the law, adding that such practices will never be tolerated in the state.
At the time our correspondent visited the scene, the property had been marked for demolition in various places with ‘sealed’ stickers pasted on different parts of the wall.
Fears of stakeholders
Meanwhile, an issue that has continued to rage among stakeholders on the government’s decision to pull down the structure being used as torture centre is the sincerity of the intention to destroy the house.
Some stakeholders have reasoned that instead of pulling it down, it could be renovated and deployed for more positive use. Some others said the threat of the demolition would never see the light of day owing to the religious coloration and interest in the entire matter.
Also of concern to the stakeholders is the ability of state-owned correctional centres to provide the needed help to parents who are in need of such services, noting that many religious organisations are currently engaged in such illegal practices in different parts of the state.
The interest of government at ensuring that all such practices, especially at different centres owned and managed by the Olore’s are located and pulled down is also of concern for some Non-Governmental Organisations who claimed to be showing interest in taking over the care of the released victims.
Many recalled that similar centres managed under the same name and location had been busted by the police in 2008 but the matter was later swept under the carpet with all the suspects released after some religious interests intervened in the matter.
Stakeholders are on the lookout if the words of the present political administration will make any difference and finally lay the inhuman practice to rest.
State of correctional facilities in the state
Following the criticism trailing the decision to move the 259 rescued victims of Oloore Central Mosque, Ojoo to a temporary site at Sanyo, the Oyo state government said it took the decision as a result of lack of state owned correctional facilities with the capacity to accommodate the large number of people rescued.
The government also said the choice of the temporary site became imperative because of the need to profile the rescued victims, get their details and ascertain their health conditions before allowing them to mingle with other people.
The state’s Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Inclusion, Mrs Faosat Sanni, made the clarification while fielding questions from journalists.
She stressed that the state has continued to ensure that adequate food, water and conveniences were provided for rescued inmates, adding that with the new development, the state might have to consider the option of opening up more correctional centres in the state while also improving the state of the existing ones for improved services.
The owner of the mosque and rehabilitation centre, Alfa Ismail Olore, insisted that the parents of those found at the centre brought them to him to heal them of their “illnesses”.
He added that some of the parents even instructed him to chain the wards they brought to the centre, but he only used Quran recitations to cure their illnesses.