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.
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”.