Nigeria: Torture, Sexual Abuse Prompt Calls for Reform of Nigeria's Islamic Schools

Nigeria Koranic school closes amid crackdown. The detainees spoke of being tortured, chained up and some said they were sexually abused.

Horror stories of torture, including sexual abuse, are emerging after Nigerian authorities freed hundreds of people from an Islamic rehabilitation center in the north of the country.

On Oct. 16, police freed about 500 victims from a facility in Katsina, where young men and boys were brought, often by their families, to be rehabilitated from behavioral problems, drug abuse or other afflictions. In reality, they were kept in inhumane conditions, chained to walls, beaten and denied food for extended periods of time. Many of the freed men reported sexual abuse at the hands of supposed religious leaders.

This was the third such operation by Nigerian authorities to close down a facility this month. Approximately 1,000 people have been rescued, Reuters reported.

"Any time we complain, they will punish us and curse our parents," one young man told VOA following a raid Oct. 13 to close a center in Dauraa, a town in Katsina state. "Your parents will bring food for you, they will not give you. They send you money, but they will not give it to you. When they come to visit you, they will not allow them [to] see you. They will tell your parents that they are praying for you, and none of that is actually true. That is what we go through daily here. We get caned and punished daily."

Katsina Police Spokesman Sanusi Buba said the facility in Dauraa, which was liberated Oct. 13, was overcrowded and inhabitants had begun to revolt.

Authorities discovered people in chains, who had been "subjected to all forms of dehumanization," he said.

"In the first place, this Muallim [teacher] I understand started well and then gradually the center degenerated to this unfortunate state," Buba told VOA. "Few shabby-looking accommodations. Six rooms to accommodate about 300 and something people. I think the situation became so bad that they could no longer bear it … they revolted and started rioting and escaping from this facility."

John Campbell, who is the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the rehabilitation facilities are just one part of a massive system of Islamic education in Nigeria, which is mostly unregulated. He said between 10 million and 12 million children in northern Nigeria attend such schools.

"The core of the Almajiris [Islamic schools] is the study of the Quran and, in many cases, the actual memorization of the Quran. By and large, schools do not include in the curriculum the kinds of things that we would see as necessary for participation in modern life. The focus is really on religion," Campbell told VOA.

A typical practice in these schools involves forcing children to beg on the street to collect money for their tuition.

"Very common is that students in Almajiris schools will beg in the morning and then study with a Muallim in the afternoon and turn over, of course to the Muallim, what they get from their begging," Campbell said.

Government reaction

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed to shut down schools where abuses occur. Some governors of northern Nigerian states have also proposed modernizing the curricula of the schools, Campbell said.

"One of the areas that is frequently talked about is the introduction of mathematics, particularly since mathematics is a traditional and historic subject of study by Muslims," he said. Although the abuses have prompted calls for reform, it is unlikely there will be massive changes in the schooling system or banning of such schools, he added.

"The schools will certainly continue. I mean they're very, very deeply ingrained in northern Nigeria culture," Campbell said.

Sani Shu'aibu Malumfashi contributed to this report.

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