Police in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna have rescued more than 300 male students, most of them children and some of them in chains, from an Islamic school where many had been tortured and sexually abused, a police spokesman said Friday.
Officers raided a building in the Rigasa area of the city on Thursday where the victims including adults and minors were kept in “the most debasing and inhuman conditions in the name of teaching them the Koran and reforming them”, Kaduna state police spokesman Yakubu Sabo told AFP.
Among those rescued were “around 100 students including children as young as nine in chains stuffed in a small room all in the name of reforming them and making them responsible persons”, Sabo said.
All the children seen by a Reuters reporter at the scene were boys aged from around five to their late teens. Some had their ankles manacled together and others were chained by their legs to large metal hubcaps.
The school, which has been operating for a decade, enrolled students brought by their families to learn the Koran and be rehabilitated from drug abuse and other illnesses, police said.
The proprietor of the school and six staff were arrested during the raid.
Many of the rescued students bore scars on their backs and serious injuries, police said.
“The victims were abused. Some of them said they were sodomised by their teachers,” Sabo stated.
Police had been tipped off by complaints from local residents who became suspicious of what was happening inside the school.
During the raid on the school, police said they found a “torture chamber” where students were chained, hung and beaten.
One inmate quoted by Nigerian media described horrific conditions and treatment at the facility.
“I have spent three months here with chains on my legs,” Bello Hamza said, adding that he was meant to be in South Africa studying for his Masters degree.
“This is supposed to be an Islamic centre, but trying to run away from here attracts severe punishment; they tie people and hang them to the ceiling for that.”
Pictures published in several newspapers showed an alleged victim with scars on his back and another chained up by his foot to a metal railing.
Sabo said the victims were of different nationalities and that “two of them said during interrogation they were brought by their parents from Burkina Faso”.
The identities of the rescued victims were being documented to determine where they came from and to contact their families.
‘Shocked and horrified’
Parents of some of the victims from within the city, contacted by police were “shocked and horrified” when they saw the condition of their children, as they had no idea what was happening inside the school.
Parents were allowed to visit their children every three months, but only in select areas of the premises.
“They were not allowed into the house to see what was happening… the children are only brought to them outside to meet them,” Sabo said.
“All they thought was their children are being taught the Koran and good manners, as they looked subdued,” he added.
The children have been moved to a temporary camp at a stadium in Kaduna, and would later be moved to another camp in a suburb of the city while attempts are made to find their parents, police said.
Private Islamic schools are common in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria, where government services are often lacking.
Islamic schools in Nigeria have for years been dogged by allegations of abuse and accusations that some children have been forced to beg on the streets of northern Nigerian cities.
Earlier this year, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, himself a Muslim, said it planned to eventually ban the schools, but would not do so immediately.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)