Nigerian evangelical preacher Solomon Folorunsho is at the centre of allegations of abuse concerning his camp in Benin City, southern Nigeria.
Here is what a number of children and relatives, who had all left the camp at the time of their interview, told reporters about their experiences. Their names have been changed for their protection and the quotes edited for clarity.
Folorunsho, commonly known as Pastor Solomon, has denied any ill-treatment of violence.
Rahila, 16-year-old girl –
(Rahila is from northeastern Borno state, a hotbed of Nigeria’s jihadist insurrection. She took refuge in a state-run displaced people’s camp in the state capital Maiduguri before deciding to go to Pastor Solomon’s camp.)
I chose Benin (City) because I wanted to experience the good life everyone was talking about. I kept insisting until I was allowed to go.
What I saw at the camp was totally different.
For the two years I spent there, I never spoke to my parents. We had just one cellphone to call home and there was usually a long line. If the credit ran out, that was all for that day.
There was always someone there, so you could not say anything for fear it would get back to the pastor, who would give you the beating of your life.
I was one of the girls who carried his (the pastor’s) shoes. Some girls held his phones. Sometimes they undressed him too. A girl who refused to work for him was punished and starved. When he beat you, he wouldn’t stop until you bled seriously.
He had names that he called different girls… He would comment on the size of my butt, and he would say our chests looked like pineapples or stuff like that.
Waziri, 17-year-old boy –
Education was okay, but we went to school on an empty stomach and did not eat until after 2:00 pm.
My friends and I feared we would not survive, so we found a way to escape.
We had two cartons of soap that we had been given, which we sold to pay for our transport back home.
If you were caught escaping, you were flogged seriously. We were scared, but we managed.
Hauwa, 12-year-old girl –
I was always hungry, there was never enough food or water. When we complained we got beaten with anything he could lay his hands on.
They said they found demons behind our room, after which we were no longer allowed to go outside.
– Rakiya, 37-year-old mother –
(Five of her six children went to the camp, despite her husband’s reservations. When she travelled there, she found that the youngest apparently had scabies, with sores all over his body. He was out of danger by the time of Rakiya’s interview.)
The pastor’s people came (to Maiduguri) and convinced parents to send their children to Benin City where they would have a good education, with free food.
At the camp, parents would be given bags of rice, bus fare, jerrycans of palm oil and the like. So when they returned to Maiduguri they would tell other parents, “Benin (City) is good”.
Two of our boys escaped and returned home.
(Six months ago Rakiya went to the camp to find her other children.)
I said I was not leaving unless I saw them. I insisted, and they allowed me into the school the next day.
I thought he (the youngest child) was going to die. I saw three deaths during the three days I spent there.
One night the pastor saw me sleeping outdoors with the children and hit me with a wooden club.
A girl holds his handkerchief for blowing the nose, another one for wiping his face, another one for wiping his shoes.
She (her oldest daughter, aged 16) said she would stay because she is old enough to endure hardships for the sake of her schooling. She says if she returns she will not have access to education.