Kwara government, parents fluctuate over flogging of misunderstanding students

There is disquiet in Kwara State presently and the reason is not far-fetched.

On Monday, reports and viral videos about the flogging of five students of Misbaudeen Al-Islamiy Arabic School, Ganmo, dominated conversation within the state and outside the country.

It assumed an international dimension when the BBC ran the story which has since left Muslim scholars and stakeholders in the state divided.

Since then, some human rights groups like the Kwara Must Change, among others, have condemned the excessive flogging of the students and called for action.

The development is coming few months after an Ilorin cleric simply identified as Alfa Mashood beat a 14-year-old boy to a coma when he ordered him to be caned over sixty strokes for “stealing” local clay save (kolo).

When Daily Trust visited the victim while recuperating at the hospital, he said the cleric flogged him severely with ‘koboko’ before instructing about six people in his Qur’anic centre at Ogidi, Opposite Federal College, Ilorin, to flog him ten strokes each until he almost passed out.

This was done, he added, while he was held down on a table by some able-bodied men.

In the latest incident, the students were publicly flogged for “daring” to go to a club to celebrate the birthday anniversary of one of them in a hotel around Geri Alimi area of Ilorin on Saturday, 2nd October, 2021.

In the process, there was free mixing of both sexes, drinking and even bathing themselves with alcohol in the euphoria of their celebration. Both actions are strongly condemned in Islam.

Pictures of the celebration later surfaced online and got the attention of the school through the father of the sole female student in the video, Raheemat.

Jolted by the action of his daughter especially as a student of Arabic and Islamic learning, the father informed the school and sanctioned the corporal punishment that followed.

But the attempt to ‘discipline’ the students has sparked outrage in the state, prompting the debate of the correctness or otherwise of such punishment in Islam in relation to learning and acquisition of knowledge.

In its defence, the management of the school now in the eye of the storm said the action was with the full consent of the affected students and their parents.

Nigerians have been divided since the issue came to limelight. There are those who believe the action was not only uncalled for but one of the primary reasons Muslim children and even parents failed to acquire the necessary Islamic education.

Others are of the view that there was nothing outrageous and outlandish about the public flogging while the advocates believe there was the need to find a common ground between those supporting and those against the punishment.

When our reporter visited the school, classes were ongoing, contrary to the report in some quarters that they have since been closed following the incident.

For the principal of the school, Mallam Muheebudeen Asayoutti, the punishment was in accordance with the provision of the Holy Qur’an for someone who drinks or come close to alcohol. He said it was also with the consent of the parents who actually called the attention of the school to the offence committed by the students in the extant case.

According to him, “We were not aware of the incident but one of the parents drew our attention to a video and pictures posted on social media showing our students in a hotel with bottles of beer on their table.

“The parents insisted they must be punished in their presence to justify their offence which we did according to the laws guiding such offences,” he said.

Asayoutti has since been suspended or, in the language of the government, told to “step aside”.

Three of the affected students, Raheemat, Nasirudeen and Abdulmalik, in their separate responses echoed the position of the school. They said they were happy about the punishment.

Raheemat who is the only female among the group said, “What we did was against the principle of Islam and our school. A Muslim student should not be found in such environment. We drank alcohol and my parents and I were happy and satisfied over the punishment because it will not allow us to engage in such again. We know what I did was bad.”

For his part, Abdulmalik said the flogging will correct them going forward to inculcate high moral standards required of them as Muslim students.

Yunus Olarenwaju, the father of Raheemat, told our reporter in Yoruba that he has known the school for more than 20 years and eight of his children had already graduated from the school.

He confirmed he was the one that instructed the school to carry out the appropriate punishment for the girl after seeing the video.

He said, “It was my son in Lagos that sent me the video where my daughter was drinking alcohol in a hotel among other boys, and I was saddened.

“I informed the school about the incident and I personally requested them to give her the appropriate punishment. I insisted on being present when the punishment was being carried out.”

Similarly, Raheemat’s mother, Basheerat, said there was nothing wrong with the punishment, adding that, “I am very much in support of the flogging. My husband and I with her siblings have gone through such before in the Madrasah. It is all geared towards making her morally upright.”

Despite the conformity of the “culprits”, the school and their parents, the government first told the principal to “step aside” pending the conclusion of the investigation. It later set up a 10-man committee over the issue.

The Commissioner for Education and Human Capital Development, Sa’adatu Modibbo Kawu, who led a delegation to visit the school, said, “Regardless of the explanations of the authorities on the development, the self-confessed consent of the parents and regret of the affected students, the government seriously frowned at the harsh beating seen in the footage.

“Consequently, the government has directed the setting up of an investigative committee, comprising Muslim scholars, leaders and government officials, to look into the issue.

“We have also taken the affected students to a public hospital for proper medical examination and treatment to ensure none of them suffers any physical or psychological damage.

“The government appeals for calm while the committee does its work and submits a report for further action.”

But announcing the members of the committee on Tuesday, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Governor, Rafiu Ajakaye, said, “Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq has nominated 10 prominent Muslim scholars, community leaders and government officials to investigate the circumstances around the recent excessive flogging of some students.

“Its terms of reference include meeting with the affected students, their parents, and the school authorities on the circumstances around the corporal punishments meted to the students. They also include reviewing the reward and disciplinary methods in such a school and making recommendations to the government on how to prevent a recurrence of such in the state.”

The committee is chaired by retired Justice Idris Haroon while Dr AbdulHameed Sanni will serve as Secretary. It has one week to submit its report, beginning from their first sitting which a source told our correspondent started Tuesday.

Members of the committee include Hon. Commissioner for Education and Human Capital Development, Hajia Sa’adatu Modibbo Kawu; Special Assistant to the Governor on Religion (Islam) Alhaji Ibrahim Dan Maigoro; Prof. Hamzat Abdulraheem; Prof Lanre Badmus Yusuf and Prof. Abubakar Imam-Aliagan

Others are: Dr Mohammed Ghali Alaya; Dr Saudat AbdulBaqi; Hajia Balikis Oladimeji of the Federation of Muslim Women Associations of Nigeria (FOMWAN) and Mallam Lawal Olohungbebe.

The Vice Principal of the school, Alfa Abdulrazaq AbdulKareem, told our correspondent that they have offered their own side of the story to the government’s delegation and will be willing to appear before it anytime they are called upon.

However, the committee has come under the spotlight following the government decision. While some of the members prior to their appointment have expressed support for the school over the matter but frowned against the excessive punishment, others believed there is no place for such in Islam. It remains to be seen how both groups will harmonise their positions.

The Chairman, Muslim Stakeholders, Kwara State, Alhaji Ishaq AbdulKareem, said the outcome of the government investigation is crucial to how the state comes out of the issue.

“Yes the government stood up to the occasion, but we expect them to go beyond that. If the government had lived up to the expectation in the first place, maybe the children would not have degenerated to this immoral level.

“The government has its own side of the fault at the level of moral decadence in the society for not paying the desired attention to education and its social responsibilities towards the parents.

“And to the human right activists that are taking advantage of the situation to create unnecessary tension, we want to remind them that during the hijab crisis when Muslim young ladies were disallowed from using hijab that is permitted by the constitution, they were nowhere to be found. And so we want to understand and believe that human right groups should not have hidden agenda but stand for all in the cause of fighting for people’s right”, Ishaq noted.

On the issue of suspension of the principal, he said government has the right to tell the principal to step outside for investigation as a matter of responsibility.

“It is the outcome of the government investigation that will show whether government has properly played its role or not and whether it’s sincere or vindictive about the issue, ‘’ he added.

As the committee set out to work, many residents and Muslim parents will be looking forward to its final submission on the issue with regards to proper definition of the place of corporal punishment in Islamic education and learning in a rapidly changing environment.

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