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Nigeria’s uncovered torture “school” sparks concerns over state of Islamic schools5 minutes read

The shocking revelations made headlines but activists insisted they were symptomatic of abuses that have long-riddled the system

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Nigeria's uncovered torture "school" sparks concerns on state of Islamic schools
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. (Photo by STR / AFP)

Horrific revelations of torture and abuse at a compound billing itself as a Quranic reform school in northern Nigeria have shone a spotlight on Islamic institutes unregulated by the authorities. 

Last week police, in the city of Kaduna raided a building to find hundreds of men and boys — some reportedly aged as young as five — held in atrocious conditions at a facility proprietors described as a religious school and rehabilitation centre.

Inmates were discovered chained to metal railings and with their hands and feet shackled together. Some bore scars from alleged beatings, while others recounted being sexually abused.

“If they caught you if you want to run away from this place, they would hang you, they would chain you,” one of the victims Abdallah Hamza said. 

The shocking revelations made headlines but activists insisted they were symptomatic of abuses that have long-riddled a system beyond official control. 

Private Islamic schools — known locally as Almajiri schools — are widespread across mainly Muslim northern Nigeria, where poverty levels are high and government services often lacking.

The authorities have estimated that there are more than nine million students enrolled at the institutions.

“The latest example from Kaduna represented the worst of the system and very inhumane conditions,” Mohammed Sabo Keana, team lead at the Abuja-based Almajiri Child Rights Initiative NGO, told reporters.

“But they are a clear manifestation of what a lot of children go through — including being made to beg on the streets, subjected to violence, sleeping in the worst conditions imaginable and living with terrible sanitation levels.” 

‘Place of human slavery’ –

Activists have long pushed the government to reform or end the Almajiri system, arguing that it fails to provide children with the basics of an education.

In June, Nigeria’s presidency said that it wanted ultimately to ban the schools — but insisted it would not be doing so anytime soon for fear of creating “panic or a backlash”.

Nigeria's uncovered torture "school" sparks concerns on state of Islamic schools
Some of the 300 male students of “different nationalities” are pictured on September 26, 2019 in the Rigasa area of Kaduna in northern Nigeria after being rescued by police from an Islamic seminary where they were tortured and sodomised. (Photo by – / AFP)

Now calls for change look likely to grow in the wake of the latest scandal. 

In a statement on the case, the office of President Muhammadu Buhari — himself a Muslim from northern Nigeria — denounced the facility “as a house of torture and a place of human slavery”.

“We are glad that Muslim authorities have dismissed the notion of the embarrassing and horrifying spectacle as (an) Islamic School,” the statement said.

But it steered clear of mentioning any move to prohibit the schools and insisted that enforcing free compulsory education was a “panacea”.

“To stop unwanted cultural practices that amount to the abuse of children, our religious and traditional authorities must work with the federal, state and local governments to expose and stop all types of abuse that are widely known but ignored for many years by our communities,” it said. 

‘Stay in line’ –

Defenders of the Almajiri system argue that it can offer poor families services the Nigerian state woefully fails to provide.

Millions of children in the country go without any education despite primary school nominally being free.

Nigeria's uncovered torture "school" sparks concerns on state of Islamic schools
Some of the 300 male students of “different nationalities” are pictured on September 26, 2019 in the Rigasa area of Kaduna in northern Nigeria after being rescued by police from an Islamic seminary where they were tortured and sodomised. (Photo by – / AFP)

Retired civil servant Yusuf Hassan runs the Almajiri Foundation in the northern city of Kano that has looked to improve the system. 

He insisted that most schools are not like the one uncovered in Kaduna and instead blamed so-called “rehabilitation centres” where families send relatives considered delinquent or drug addicts. 

“Some parents who have children that are difficult to manage at home take them to such rehabilitation centres,” he said.

“Some of the centres end up chaining the kids because they know they will run away.”

Hassan blamed a lack of any government medical or psychiatric care to help tackle widespread drug addiction in northern Nigeria and said a first step should be to separate rehab centres from schools.

But even some of those who have lived through the brutal treatment meted out in such institutions have argued they can be a force for good.

Mohammed Usman was chained up in one when his family took him there to get over a drug addiction in his twenties. 

“Of course, students were flogged when they misbehave which made us to mind our manners and stay in line,” Usman, now 45 and a high school teacher, told reporters.

He said he was taught about religion, morality and “respect” and eventually managed to get clean.  

“I was there for nine months and when the teachers were satisfied with my rehabilitation I was released and returned home. Ever since, I have never used drugs.”

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Crackdown on rebels trigger outcry against Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed

Community leaders contend ordinary civilians are bearing the brunt of the operations, which include mass detentions, an internet blackout and restrictions on political activity.

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Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed to avoid questions at Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed./AFP photo

Desta Garuma, a 27-year-old rickshaw driver, never showed much interest in politics, so his family has no idea how soldiers concluded he was involved in a rebel movement active in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.

But one day in January, five truckloads of soldiers followed him home, shouting that they had identified a shifta, or bandit — a euphemism for rebel, an AFP report said.

As his mother and younger sister cowered inside, the soldiers fatally shot Desta three times in the back, according to witnesses.

“When I heard the shots I said, ‘Oh my God, they killed my son,'” Desta’s mother, Likitu Merdasa, told AFP.

“My son was not a troublemaker. We hoped he would be able to improve his life as well as mine. But now he has been taken from me before his time.”

The killing is one of an array of abuses that residents, opposition politicians and rights groups accuse soldiers of committing in and around Nekemte, a market town in Oromia, as part of a crackdown on rebels that has intensified this year.

Community leaders contend ordinary civilians are bearing the brunt of the operations, which include mass detentions, an internet blackout and restrictions on political activity.

The Ethiopian military rejects claims that its activities endanger civilians.

Yet Nekemte residents say the soldiers’ presence recalls life under past authoritarian regimes in Ethiopia, tarnishing the image of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Nobel Peace laureate trying to steer the country toward landmark elections in August.

This is especially disheartening for the Oromo ethnic group, who had hoped they would benefit from the appointment of Abiy, himself an Oromo, as prime minister in 2018.

“When the reform came, we all hoped this kind of thing would not happen to Oromo people,” Likitu said.

“But now they’re coming to the doors of our houses and killing our children in front of us.”

– Escalating operations-The military is ostensibly targeting the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), blamed for a spate of assassinations, bombings, bank robberies and kidnappings in Oromia.

The OLA, believed to number in the low thousands, broke off from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an opposition party that spent years in exile but was allowed to return to Ethiopia after Abiy took office.

The government has offered little specific information about military operations in Nekemte and the broader region that surrounds it, known as Wollega.

But there are signs that counterinsurgency efforts have escalated since January, said William Davison, Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG), a conflict-prevention organisation.

“It appears the government decided to make a renewed effort to entirely remove the threat of armed groups from the area,” Davison said.

Brigadier General Tilahun Ashenafi, foreign relations director of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, defended the military’s actions, saying he had “no idea” about civilian casualties.

Soldiers are acting in a “very good way in that region in order to clear anti-peace elements”, he told AFP.

– Beatings, detentions-But many residents of Nekemte see the military, not the rebels, as the main source of instability.

Asfaw Kebede, a 60-year-old community leader, told AFP he grew alarmed last year at the jailing without charge of young men in Kumsa Moroda Palace, a one-time tourist attraction that residents said had been turned into a makeshift detention facility.

When Asfaw started bringing the men food, soldiers locked him up too, holding him in a dark cell for six weeks with roughly 100 other detainees.

All the men were deprived of proper food and medical care, Asfaw said.

The palace teemed with snakes and mice, and when they entered the cells inmates who scrambled to get away were beaten with batons, he said.

Opposition political parties have also been affected by the military presence.

Representatives of both the OLF and the Oromo Federalist Congress said their offices had been closed multiple times and their members detained.

Such tactics are fuelling sympathy for the OLA, said Tamirat Biranu, head of an evangelical church in Nekemte.

“Young people are very sad about this and also they are angry at the government,” he said. “Because of this, some of the youth are joining the rebels.”

-‘A heavy toll’-As bad as things might be in Nekemte, they are likely worse in rural areas farther west, where phone service has been cut for months, said Asebe Regassa, a lecturer at Wollega University. 

“Killings are occurring on a daily basis in rural areas,” Asebe said, adding that farmers are afraid of harvesting their crops, fearing soldiers will accuse them of growing food for the OLA.

The military operations are “clearly taking a heavy toll,” said Laetitia Bader of Human Rights Watch (HRW). 

“Ahead of the 2020 national elections the government should be working to build trust with communities,” she said.

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Italian diagnosed with coronavirus in Nigeria, health condition ‘stable’

“The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos,” a Nigerian health official in Lagos said.

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Nigeria's Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, being addressed by the Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu (middle) and the laboratory team during his visit to the NCDC National Reference Laboratory in Gaduwa, Abuja on Jan. 12./The Guardian Nigeria

Nigerian health authorities have announced the country’s first case of the dreaded Corona virus or COVID-19 after a visiting Italian businessman got diagnosed and was isolated for treatment and currently “stable with no serious symptoms”.

The COVID-19 patient was detected in the commercial city of Lagos and is the first case recorded in sub-Saharan Africa so ce the disease broke out in China in January.
  
“The case is an Italian citizen who entered Nigeria on the 25th of Feburary from Milan, Italy for a brief business visit. He fell ill on the 26th February and was transfered to Lagos State Biosecurity Facilities for isolation and testing,” Akin Abayomi, Lagos health commissioner said in a statement early Friday.

Abayomi, a Professor of Medicine, said the COVID-19 infection was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

“The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos,” the Nigerian health official said.
 
Health authorities in the West African country have been strengthening measures to ensure that any outbreak in major cities like Lagos or elsewhere is controlled and contained quickly through the multi-sectoral Coronavirus Preparedness Group, led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

“We have immediately activated the State Emergency Operations Centre to respond to this case and implement firm control measures,” Lagos city authorities said.
  
Officials announced that they were “working to identify all the contacts of the patient, since he arrived in Nigeria” for diagnosis and isolation, if the need arises.

“Everywhere is vulnerable to Coronavirus. Nigeria is even more prepared than some countries. We are doing our best. There is no change in what we are doing to contain a possible outbreak of Coronavirus in the country,” Health minister, Dr. Emmanuel Ehanire had said in a previous media briefing.

“The Chinese have given us clinical criteria. We suspect and address anything that looks like Coronavirus because the cost of testing is very high.” The Nigerian health minister concluded.

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Guinea referendum, legislative polls must be ‘transparent’: UN rights chief

Months of protests against the referendum have resulted in “dozens of deaths,” Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.

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Guinean President Alpha Conde on a campaign. The referendum on constitutional changes is seen by critics as a ploy by President Conde, 81, to stay in power for a third term, after a decade in power./AFP

The United Nations on Thursday called on Guinean authorities to ensure that this weekend’s referendum and legislative votes are transparent and inclusive, warning that any escalation in the country’s crisis would be “profoundly harmful”.

Guinea, a country with a long tradition of political turmoil, is to vote on Sunday in a referendum and in a legislative election.

The referendum on constitutional changes is seen by critics as a ploy by President Alpha Conde, 81, to stay in power for a third term, after a decade in power, an AFP report said.

Months of protests against the referendum have resulted in “dozens of deaths,” Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.

“Reports also indicate that ethnic divisions are deepening, with increasing incitement to hatred and violence on social media and at political rallies,” she said.

“Any further escalation of this crisis could be profoundly harmful.”

Bachelet highlighted a warning about  “serious irregularities in the voters’ register” from the international association of French-speaking countries, OIF, earlier this week.

“I urge the authorities to avert greater turmoil and ensure that the electoral process is transparent and inclusive,” she said.

Guinea has suffered serious unrest over the plans for constitutional reform. At least 30 people and a gendarme, have lost their lives, according to an AFP tally.

Jailed under previous hardline regimes, Conde became Guinea’s first democratically elected president in 2010.

He was returned to office by voters in 2015 for his second and final five-year term under the current constitution, but critics say he has become authoritarian.

Earlier this month he left the door open to running for a third term, saying there was “nothing more democratic” than the referendum on constitutional change.

The National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC) has called for a boycott of the vote.

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