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18 killed in village raids in Nigeria’s Katsina state

The victims were buried the same day after funeral prayers attended by the emir, his entourage said.

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A detachment of anti-riots policemen keeps watch sitting on an armoured tank at the main gate to Katsina State secretariat

Armed bandits killed at least 18 people in raids in northern Nigeria, where attacks by kidnappers and cattle rustlers have been on the rise, residents said Friday.

Gunmen on motorbikes stormed into four villages in Kankara and Danmusa districts in Katsina state on Wednesday, shooting residents as they fled.

“We collected 18 dead bodies from the four villages after the attacks,” said Sada Iliya, a community leader from Unguwar Rabo village where nine people were killed.

“The bandits rode through the villages, opening fire on people,” he said.

Residents on Thursday transported the bodies to the state capital 130 kilometres (80 miles) away and presented them to the traditional emir in protest at the attacks.

“We took the 18 corpses to Katsina for the emir (so that he could) see what we are going through at the hands of bandits,” said Isyaku Jari from Maidabino village.

The victims were buried the same day after funeral prayers attended by the emir, his entourage said.

Katsina state has suffered months of attacks by cattle thieves and kidnappers, prompting villagers to form vigilante groups to protect themselves.

The gangs hole up in forests, using them as bases from which to launch assaults.

In May, 34 people were killed when bandits attacked three villages in Batsari and Danmusa districts, according to police and residents.

The latest violence comes amid efforts to halt the attacks in neighbouring Zamfara state, which has seen the worst of the bloodshed. 

Bandits, herders and local vigilantes attended a peace meeting on Tuesday brokered by the regional government and police.

Farmers and herding communities in the area have long been terrorised by the gangs but the vigilante groups they have formed have been accused of extra-judicial killings. 

The gangs have demanded that their suspected members stop being targeted for reprisal attacks, while mediators are pushing for both sides to disarm. 

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Nigerian police rescue over 300 students from abusive ‘school’ in Kaduna

We found around 100 students including children as young as nine, in chains stuffed in a small room, all in the name of reforming them.

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Nigerian police rescue over 300 students from abusive 'school' in Kaduna
Picture taken on September 27, 2019 shows the facade of the Islamic boarding school where over 300 students of "different nationalities" were rescued on the eve in Rigasa area of Kaduna, in northern Nigeria. - Police in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna have rescued more than 300 male students being held at an Islamic school where many had been tortured and sexually abused, a police spokesman said on September 27. A large police team stormed into a building in Rigasa area of the city late on September 26 where the victims including adults and minor were kept in "most debasing and inhuman conditions in the name of teaching them the Koran and reforming them", Kaduna state police spokesman Yakubu Sabo said. (Photo by STR / AFP)

Police in Kaduna, Nigeria, have rescued more than 300 male students being held at 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 inhumane conditions in the name of teaching them the Koran and reforming them”, Kaduna state police spokesman Yakubu Sabo told AFP.

“We found 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.

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.

Victims at the facility were found padlocked to car hubcaps and had their hands and feet chained. Others bore scars down their backs. 

“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.

Local police chief Ali Janga said that despite its claims to be an educational institution, the conditions proved that the facility was “neither a rehab (centre) or an Islamic school”.

Those held there “were used, dehumanised, you can see it yourself”, Janga said. 

Private Islamic schools are common in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria, where government services are often lacking.

‘Severe punishment’

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,” 42-year-old 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.”

Another victim Hassan Yusuf told AFP that he had been sent to the centre two years ago because he had converted to Christianity.

“They keep you incommunicado, you can’t talk to anybody,” the married father said.   

Television footage showed emaciated children being loaded into minivans and driven away for processing. 

Police said the victims were of varying nationalities and that some had been brought from countries in the region including Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana.

The victims were taken to a camp on the outskirts of Kaduna where their identities were being documented to determine where they came from and to contact their families.

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.

One of the men allegedly running the facility insisted to local television channels that the centre was simply teaching Islamic studies and that those chained up were “the stubborn ones who attempt to run away”.

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Huge crowd for inauguration of West Africa’s largest mosque in Dakar

Muslim faithful arrived the new Massalikul Jinaan mosque in Dakar, capable of hosting 30,000 worshippers.

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Worshippers are seen waiting in front of the Great Mosque of the Mourides on September 27, 2019 in Dakar, ahead of its inauguration. - Senegal's influential Mouride Brotherhood will inaugurate a 30,000-capacity mosque in the capital Dakar, said to be the largest in West Africa. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)

Hundreds of thousands of people from across Senegal converged on the capital Dakar on Friday for the inauguration of a huge mosque, claimed to be the largest in West Africa.

Muslim faithful arrived by bus, car or on foot in the district of Bopp, home to the new Massalikul Jinaan mosque, capable of hosting 30,000 worshippers.

The mosque has been built by the Mouride Brotherhood – part of the Sufi strand of Islam that predominates in Senegal, a country with a long tradition of religious tolerance.

Huge traffic jams several kilometres (miles) long built up on highways leading to the site, where some people had starting camping out two days before the long-awaited ceremonies.

Thousands of women in colourful robes, men dressed in festive white along with children packed the streets.

“I’m here to celebrate God, the Prophet and Serigne Touba, (one of the holy names used for the brotherhood’s founder) whose work is being rewarded here,” said Malick Mar, a mechanic who was among the worshippers. 

“It is a triumph for all Muslims.”

When the mosque guards opened the mosque’s doors, there was a frenzied rush and worried police used electric batons to try to restore order. Unable to get inside, thousands of faithful unrolled their prayer mats on the mosque’s outside esplanade.

Massive structure

Work on the mosque began a decade ago on a swampy six-hectare (14-acre) area of land donated by the government of the 90-percent Muslim nation, and the inauguration has been preceded by an outpouring of national and religious fervour.

The mosque’s name of Massalikul Jinaan (“The Paths to Paradise”) comes from the title of a poem by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacke, the 19th-century founder of the Brotherhood, who is revered by followers as a saint.

With a Carrara marble exterior and boasting five minarets — the tallest 78 metres (255 feet) high — the mosque has a capacity of 15,000 worshippers inside, and another 15,000 on the esplanade.

The lavish interiors include a gold-leaf dome, giant chandeliers and decorations hand-drawn by Moroccan workmen. An Islamic institute, residence and museum are scheduled to be added in the future.

The builders say the mosque is the biggest in West Africa. It is still behind Morocco’s Hassan II mosque in Casablanca which can accommodate 105,000 worshippers and has a minaret spiralling 210 metres.

The cost of more than 30 million euros ($33 million) came from private donations, while the government contributed lighting, sanitation and roadworks worth 10.5 million euros as well as the land – a sign of the Brotherhood’s clout.

The group’s leader, Mountakha Mbacke, received a stream of religious, traditional and political leaders in the run-up to the inauguration. 

The ceremonies were also attended by President Macky Sall and former leader Abdoulaye Wade, who shook hands after a long period of frosty relations. 

The Mourides are one of four important Sufi brotherhoods followed by Senegal’s Muslims, who overwhelmingly practise a moderate version of Islam while following the teachings of local spiritual guides.

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Health

Fight against HIV/AIDS makes headway in Morocco

Thanks to improved screening, access to treatment and monitoring, new HIV infections in Morocco declined by 42%

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Moroccan medical staff talk at the infectious diseases department at the Ibn Rochd Hospital in Casablanca on September 12, 2019
In Morocco, the struggle against HIV has been so successful in recent years that campaigners worry about losing funding for combatting the virus. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

In Morocco, the struggle against HIV has been so successful in recent years that campaigners worry about losing funding for combating the virus, but for people living with the disease it remains a heavy stigma.

In Casablanca, a group therapy workshop offers HIV patients an opportunity to speak openly about their disease. “Here I feel normal, I’m treated like a human being,” said Zineb, a 29-year-old mother.

Organised by the Association for the Fight Against AIDS (ALCS), on a recent Thursday the workshop brought 12 HIV patients together with a psychologist and a therapist. The ALCS also organises follow-up therapeutic care in hospital, and prevention and screening campaigns, with funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

These programmes were developed shortly after the first HIV case was detected in Morocco in 1986. This early start is partly why UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, calls Morocco a “model country” for its HIV response.

A Moroccan AIDS patient talks with a member (unseen) of the Association for the Fight Against AIDs
A Moroccan AIDS patient talks with a member (unseen) of the Association for the Fight Against AIDs (known by its French acronym ALCS) in the infectious diseases department at the Ibn Rochd Hospital in Casablanca on September 12, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

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Thanks to improved screening, access to treatment and monitoring, new HIV infections in Morocco declined by 42 percent between 2010 and 2016, compared to an average reduction of four percent across the rest of the Middle East and North Africa.

Morocco had 350 deaths from AIDS in 2018, from a population of about 35 million. But some groups remain vulnerable, with intravenous drug users, men who have sex with other men, and sex workers accounting for two thirds of Morocco’s 21,000 identified cases.

And the stigma attached to those infected remains high, even within the family. “My mother treated me like a murderer. For a long time I felt alone in the world,” said Youssef, a 28-year-old who has twice attempted suicide.

Like other HIV patients interviewed, he asked to be identified by a pseudonym. And all of them – save for a 40-year-old considered very lucky by the group – have either hidden their illness or been rejected by loved ones.

A relative of a Moroccan AIDS patient looks out the window in the infectious diseases department at the Ibn Rochd Hospital in Casablanca
A relative of a Moroccan AIDS patient looks out the window in the infectious diseases department at the Ibn Rochd Hospital in Casablanca on September 12, 2019. – In Morocco, the struggle against HIV has been so successful in recent years that campaigners worry about losing funding for combatting the virus, but for people living with the disease it remains a heavy stigma. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Don’t tell them anything

In this conservative Muslim society, where sex outside marriage and homosexuality are illegal, HIV patients seldom talk publicly about the virus. “The subject is taboo, because the infection is linked to sex, itself a taboo subject in Morocco,” said Yakoub, a 25-year-old ALCS worker.

“The social rejection is such that some (HIV patients) lose everything: family, friends, work, home,” he said.

Zineb, like many HIV patients, hides her medication to conceal her illness. For 10 years, the former teen mother has told her family that she is being treated for diabetes. “My 17-year-old son knows nothing, I can’t bring myself to tell him, I’m too afraid,” she said with a sad smile.

“Once you’re sick, you’re no longer a person,” said Sakina, a mother who says she never speaks of her illness except with doctors, the ALCS staff and other HIV patients. Like 70 percent of HIV positive women in Morocco, Sakina was infected by her husband. She cannot bring herself to tell her 15-year-old son that he is also infected. 

Two members of Morocco's Association for the Fight Against AIDs (known by its French acronym ALCS) talk with patients in the infectious diseases department
Two members of Morocco’s Association for the Fight Against AIDs (known by its French acronym ALCS) talk with patients in the infectious diseases department at the Ibn Rochd Hospital in Casablanca on September 12, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

She has always lied to him but she can no longer sleep at night, she told the group through tears.  “My advice: above all, don’t tell him anything,” said a young man. “For your sake, let him find out from someone else,” another group participant suggested.

Then the psychologist interjected to say that private sessions are available to “reflect on these difficult questions”. The shame of HIV is so entrenched, it even permeates the medical establishment.

“For 30 years we’ve been talking about it, the virus is well known but the discrimination is still there,” said Dr Kamal Marhoum El Filali, head of the infectious diseases department at Ibn Rochd Hospital in Casablanca, which hosts an ALCS branch. 

“The stigmatisation isn’t just from society but also from medical staff within the hospital environment.” Amina, another group therapy participant, experienced this first hand.

“When I went to the hospital to give birth, no one wanted to take care of me, no one wanted to touch me, I ended up in intensive care,” she recalled indignantly. Others in the session though were grateful for the care they had received. 

“We are lucky to be under the care of the infectious diseases department: we are well cared for compared to others, considering the lack of funding and disrepair in Moroccan hospitals,” said another participant.

A member (L) of Morocco's Association for the Fight Against AIDs (known by its French acronym ALCS) talks with patients suffering from AIDS
A member (L) of Morocco’s Association for the Fight Against AIDS (known by its French acronym ALCS) talks with patients suffering from AIDS in the infectious diseases department at the Ibn Rochd Hospital in Casablanca on September 12, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

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‘Victim of own success’

The emergency room at Ibn Rochd is sometimes overwhelmed with doctors each seeing up to 40 patients a day. But the infectious diseases department is always spotlessly clean, providing personalised support as ALCS staff liaise with the medical teams.

But how much money Morocco will receive to continue its fight against HIV will be determined at a three-yearly conference for the Global Fund in October. With funding declining globally and controversy surrounding the management of UNAIDS, ALCS president Mehdi Karkouri fears financial cuts.

“We are a victim of our own success: because our results are good, we risk losing funding,” he said.

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