Nothing prepared the audience, in the studio and at home, for the bombshell on the February 4 edition of Brekete Family Talk Show on Human Rights Radio/Television. Many could not hold back their tears after hearing the heart-rending story of Imran, a six-year-old deaf boy. His mother, Dr Hannatu Ayuba Usman, an oncologist with the National Hospital, Abuja, and his grandmother, Hajia Salamatu Abubakar Maina, narrated the boy’s ordeal at the School for the Deaf, Kuje, Abuja, where he spent one term after he transferred from another school in Kaduna.
The story came to light four days after Imran returned home from school for holiday and reportedly informed his grandmother he would not want to return to the school. In sign language, he narrated a shocking story: how he and other children in the hostel were sodomised; how he was forced to watch other children slaughtered and how the corpses were roasted and the flesh forcefully shoved down the victims’ throats. The traumatized youngster is presently in a bad shape, in need of surgery in his anus (as he could no longer control faeces) and an MRI scan because of the beating to his head.
A lengthy text from his mother to Saturday Sun on February 12 reads: “This evening the FCT Police command CID confirmed that my son was sexually assaulted, after all the propaganda that it’s a false allegation against the Abuja School for the Deaf, Kuje. It has been a rough path for the family. We appreciate all your concerns, prayers and support. It’s our prayer that people living with disabilities will live and achieve their best in all facets of the Nigerian society without any form of abuse or discrimination.”
The whole story
The victim’s grandmother, Hajia Salamatu Abubakar Maina, gave a comprehensive account. “Imran was born deaf with heart defects. He was operated upon when he was two years old, and thankfully, he started growing. While in Kaduna, before he was moved to Abuja, he attended Demonstration School for the Deaf and Islamiyya for the Deaf, Angwa Sariki. He was doing very well and was passionate about his education. He was even leading prayer at the assembly. I employed one of the teachers to teach him extra lessons, so he could pray all the Muslim prayers and when the school saw that, he was the one saying prayers at the assembly hall. He spent just one term at the school before leaving for Kuje.
“On the day the school closed, the mother went to pick him. Normally nobody is allowed into the premises until after the PTA meeting. She went there at 8am and the meeting ended around 1pm. As soon as they got home, other family members were arriving for the holiday, so the house was busy. He tried to demonstrate something to me, but I didn’t give him enough attention. In Kaduna, his mother and I attended the lessons so we could communicate with him in sign language. Two days later, I washed his clothes and arranged them neatly in his school box. He likes wearing socks around the house. He went to take the school socks and I said, ‘no, everything here should be kept in the school box because we might travel and when we come back late, you will be returning to school and we don’t have to go about looking for your things for school.’ He said, ‘No, I will not be going back to that school.’ I asked why; he said he would die if he should return. He started demonstrating how when they slept at night, they were woken up, tied and sodomised. He said they did it many times to him, that it was painful, blood came out of his anus and his back was paining him and his head too.
He also said they took them out at night to somewhere. Only boys and men were there, no woman. He said their leader is tall and also climbs on top of something to address them. He said they kill people in his presence. He demonstrated three ways they kill people––they turn the head, they cut the throat or they put the head on the table and severe the head. Then those killed were roasted. He demonstrated how the leader wore gloves and used a knife and a big fork to cut the roasted human flesh and the boys with their hands tied to the back forcefully fed with human flesh. He said anytime they brought it near him, he would start vomiting and they would hit him. He counted six times. They tried to feed him and he kept vomiting and they kept hitting his head. Back in the school, he tried to tell the class teacher but he was threatened, they said they would kill him if he mentioned it to anyone, having witnessed how they had killed some people, he was afraid to tell anyone.
“I was personally visiting him every two weeks since we took him to that school because I was worried about his health. Imran doesn’t eat much. He doesn’t like pepper. The school didn’t feed them early. They serve them breakfast long after 10 am, so we provided Golden Morn cereal and milk for him. He also showed us a part of his arm that is now black. He went to the cupboard and brought out a syringe but he said the one used on them was bigger, that they used that to draw blood from his hand into a cup and handed it over to the leader who drank it.”
Dr Hannatu Ayuba Usman, Imran’s mother, continued the story.
“Using sign language, he told us that the leader ordered that he should be taken away because he kept vomiting each time they tried to give him roasted human flesh. He was subsequently hit with a plank with a nail that missed his right eye narrowly. The leader took him and swirled him around severally and flung him away. He hit his head against the wall and started crying. He said it was then his ‘school father’ who witnessed the ordeal took him back to the hostel and laid him on the bed. According to him, whenever they were in pains and crying, a certain solution is poured into a handkerchief that was pressed to their noses and they would sleep off. In the morning, the school father took him to the sick bay to see the nurse and told the teacher a lie about a fight, claiming that a retarded boy who was not happy that Imran touched his socks with his dirty hands hit him on the forehead with a belt knuckle.
“The teacher, worried, had called to tell me about the incident, assuring me not to worry that Imran has been taken to the sickbay and was being treated. But when my son came back he debunked the lie. He said he was injured at that place because he refused to eat human flesh. He said his seniors dipped their penises into his mouth up to his throat, and if he vomited semen, they would hit his head with a wooden plank to force him to swallow it. I asked if he was the only one that was so tortured, he said all the boys were being molested and they would be crying and that blood would be pouring out from their anus. We took him to the hospital and the doctor that examined him at the family medicine department confirmed that he has healed fissures in his anus.
“Now, when he sleeps, he has faeces in his pants. He shows it to me every morning and I tell him to go wash it. He can no longer chew with his teeth because his jaw aches. Even bread he cannot chew. Just one term that this boy spent in this school, now the doctors say he must undergo surgery in his anus. We have been told to do an MRI scan on his head, which we cannot afford. One can imagine what he is going through now. Parents of the children in that school are very poor and cannot communicate in sign language with their children as we can.”
According to Hajia Maina: “He told me that a day before we visited, the school father had cut his own finger and was bleeding, and had given him the flesh to eat but he refused. In one of the pictures I took during my visit (because I try to build a memory album for him), we noticed the school father was trying to shield his hands from us. Whenever we went to check on Imran, they would drug him. Parents complained that each time they visited, they were made to wait for an hour and a half before their children are brought to them. With Imran, we noticed when he appeared that he was always looking dreamy. We thought he was improving because Imran is very hyperactive. We thought he had been tamed. We didn’t know he was drugged. These people fooled us.”
Taking a bold step
The family had confronted the head teacher with the horror story.
Grandma Maina continued: “The day Imran demonstrated all these we couldn’t sleep, we went to report to the head teacher. First, we went to his class teacher because she is his guardian and we know where she lives. She was not at home so we called her on phone. She gave us the phone number of another teacher who gave us the head teacher’s phone number. We eventually narrated the whole thing to the deputy head teacher since the head teacher was not in. She appeared shocked and said she has never entered the male hostels, but at the female hostels, when she realized certain things were going on behind the curtains, she had to prohibit the girls from covering their beds. That confirms that unwholesome acts happen in the girls’ hostel.
“When the head teacher arrived, we moved to his office. At the school that day, we met a young man named Mr Yahaya who greeted us warmly. He was with us when we narrated the incident to the deputy head teacher. She asked him how come he never reported such incident since he sleeps in the same hostel as the boys. The man suddenly became mute. He did not utter a word throughout our time in the school. The head teacher urged us not to report to the police so as not to sabotage the case. He assured us he would get to the root of the matter as soon as the school resumes.
“When we got home, the men in the family said we should return to the school and insist that the headmaster begins his investigation at once. We went back. He begged and begged that such things are not to be rushed, saying that whatever is to be done should be in cooperation with the PTA. He gave us the phone number of the PTA chairman and we contacted him. When we got together, they advised we talk to the Ministry of Education because it is their system that has led to the problem.
“We also took the case to the United Nations organization in charge of disability. Their officials interviewed Imran. We went to the Federal Ministry of Education, met the Minister and the Permanent Secretary and Imran demonstrated everything to them. We were assured that the investigation would commence immediately. We did not leave it there; we also went to NAPTIP, their deaf investigator interviewed him. She said she has heard that such things are happening in that school and had been trying on her own to investigate it. She checked her phone and showed Imran some pictures, asking if he recognized any of them but he didn’t.
“The head teacher told us some disturbing stories, one, of how the former head teacher was attacked by the children and he became comatose and later died, and two, of the last time a child was handed over the school father and after one term, the parents called to say they couldn’t afford the school. It means that the child may have been molested and the parents quietly withdrew him from the school.”
Going public on Human Rights radio
Grandma Maina narrated the sequence of events that led the family to come out in the open with the story. “While Imran’s mother was in Lagos for a course, she received a call from Mr Stephen Yusuf from the Federal Ministry of Education on January 17. She didn’t see the call until her break at 2 pm. A text message instructed that she should come immediately to the Kuje School for the Deaf, that they were carrying out an investigation on the case involving her son.
She replied and said it’s not possible because she was in Lagos. She observed that she should have in any case be given time and place for us to come. The next day, the same Mr Stephen Yusuf called me. ‘Are you not the grandmother of Imran that you said had been molested? Come here now, we have been waiting for you.’ I said but nobody has contacted me before that we are supposed to come around. ‘You are not serious then. You are supposed to come here’, he said. I had responded, ‘Sir, you don’t do things like that. We have been expecting your call. His mother gave you her email address, phone number and home address in the petition she wrote to the ministry. So we expected you would call or email to notify us about the date and time we are expected at so so place. Right, now I cannot come to Kuje and it was on a Friday.’
“When his mother returned on Tuesday, she called the man and he asked us to come around on Thursday. On getting to the ninth floor as he directed, he took us to an office. It was just the three of us. Then he called in one Mrs Ogar, and said, ‘Madam, I’m sorry, your son has lost the window for any hearing.’ I was surprised. Mr Stephen Yusuf said the PTA chairman was told to inform us––we were never informed. The PTA chairman told us that the school board had wanted to meet with the parents of the child, he never mentioned the Ministry of Education. So I asked: ‘Despite all the evidence on the boy’s body and all the documents we have, you still want to sweep away this complaint?’
Grounds for government action
Hajia Maina asserted: “The head teacher told us that throughout the term Imran was there, they had to feed the children on credit, that explains why the children were not fed on time. They had to make an arrangement for somebody to come around in the morning to sell rice and stew to them at N100 per plate.”
Dr Usman said: “NAPTIP told us that they have investigated the matter and they found that there is an opening behind the school, where these bad people gain entrance into the school. The boy is traumatised. The Executive Director of National Primary Healthcare Development Agency had assured that the agency would procure screening kits and the children will be screened for Hepatitis, HIV, Syphilis and other infections as well as pregnancy. My concern is that my child’s tormentor is sitting in class comfortably and probably tormenting other children.”
The host of Brekete Family Talk show, Dr Ahmad Isah, a.k.a. Ordinary President, affirmed strongly: “The school should be shut down temporarily until we get to the bottom of this and the children get justice. This is something that requires government’s immediate attention and action.”
Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu gave his ministry’s side of the story.
“I was chairing a meeting when somebody very close to me brought the women and the child in question to me because he thought the matter was so important to interrupt the meeting. My reaction was so intense I had to take off my Babariga when they narrated the story to me in the anteroom I took them into. I shed tears because of the way the boy was demonstrating how he was sodomised and how some people were slaughtering children, roasting and forcing them to eat. It was the most harrowing tale I have ever listened to in my life. When we got to that point, I sent for the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Mr Sonny Echono. I told him to take it as a priority and get in touch with DG of Department of State Security (DSS) and the Inspector General of Police to get a team to go undercover because this issue should be handled with discretion. I felt if cultists could operate in the Federal Capital Territory in that manner, it should be handled with discretion. That was what was happening until the moment when it broke on the radio. I really don’t know why she decided to go there. If she encountered difficulty, she should have reported back to the Permanent Secretary or me. If the ministry is allowed some time you will be shocked at the outcome of the investigation.
“The investigation in on and I will like to invite three members of Brekete family to be part of the team so that you will see our level of transparency in handling the situation. I am the father of all children as Minister of Education. I don’t have a child with a disability anywhere or have any of my children studying abroad but I will see to the root of this matter”, he vowed.
The challenge of special children
Rafsat Salami told Saturday Sun her experience as a parent of a child with special needs. According to her, what is most needed is institutional support.
“There will be renegade officers and bad teachers, but we need regulation,” she said.
Drawing from her own experience, she said: “My son is about 14 years old now. He was born normal, but four days after delivery he went into a coma because the system didn’t intervene on time even when we were in the hospital, he suffered brain damage. The consequence of that brain damage is what we are now coping with, as his special needs. I have gone around looking for a school for him. There is a school for the handicapped in Abuja but there is no supervision. I withdrew my son from the school because he was assaulted. I saw the injuries a month after the assault took place. The schools are not many; centres are not enough, personnel are not enough. One of the greatest challenges, as far as I am concerned, is that people who studied special education are not with children with special needs. They are working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
“We have battled with autism and cerebral palsy and a combination of so many things. Because I am educated and I have read widely and people have seen the good job I have done with my son and they invite me to give talks in hospitals to medical personnel and they put my son on the medical table during the talks in exchange for medical examination. So that means that if I dedicate myself to my child, he can blossom. Except for some slight behavioral issues which we are still trying to resolve, you wouldn’t know he has special needs if he was here.