President Muhammadu Buhari announced a major crackdown against so-called “Islamic reform schools” in Nigeria on Monday after authorities rescued hundreds of boys from facilities akin to “torture chambers.”
Three weeks ago, authorities began conducting raids on various facilities in northern Nigeria known as “Almajiris,” where children supposedly receive a strict form of Islamic education.
Local police chief Ali Janga, who is helping oversee the operations, described one of the facilities as “a place of horror and modern slavery.”
“The detainees, including children as young as five found in chains, were alleged to have been tortured and sexually abused,” he said.
One of the victims told the Nigerian Tribune that he had been abducted and chained up for three months so that he would “learn about the Koran and Islam.”
Some human rights organizations estimate that around 10 million children could be in the hands of these “boarding schools,” with some of them taken there by their parents in a bid to enforce discipline and promote religious values.
“The reaction of Nigerians has been one of revulsion, but some of us from the predominantly Muslim north, we have always suspected that something like has been happening. But not as bad as it has turned out to be,” Abubakar Kari, a professor of political sociology at Abuja University, told Radio France Internationale.
“It’s part of the age-old culture of the Hausa and Fulani that has not faded away, to send delinquent children to such homes where corporal punishment is used, presumably to cure them of delinquent behavior,” he explained.
Kari noted that one of the main issues with the facilities is that they remain largely unregulated and that teachers require no formal training or approval to work with children.
“Just about anybody can become a Malam (cleric) to whom parents just give their children,” he said, adding that “schools don’t issue any certificates at the end of the children’s stay, meaning there is no formal curricula.”
One of the victims, Isa Ibrahim, told the BBC in an interview how he had been tortured by those in charge. “Every day they would give me 30 lashes, ten in the morning, ten in the afternoon, and ten in the night,” he said. “I was tortured, I was deprived, I was beaten, I was treated like an animal.”
[It was] 40 people to a room. How can you imagine we sleep here? There is no blanket, no bed sheet, and that food they would give us would not even satisfy a dog. If you want to take a bath they will give you one bucket and assign 10 or 20 people … you will be naked taking bath with about 20 people using one soap. Most of the people from [this facility] have rashes on them, or psychological disorders.
My parents brought me here because I did not go back to school on time. Each month they pay 30,000 naira ($83). We are not even praying. The owner of the house used to pick two or three people that he needs to rape, that’s what he wanted… If you didn’t comply with what he wishes, he will the guards that are living in the house to torture you.
Hafsat Baba, Kaduna State Commissioner of Human Services and Social Development said that the region would comply with President Buhari’s orders.
“This is an eye-opener for us. We have to map all the schools. And we have to make sure that if they violate the government orders then they have to be closed down completely,” he said this month. “If we find any facility that is torturing children or is harboring these kinds of horrific situations that we have just seen, they are going to be prosecuted.”