Some Nigerians Blame Government, Not Religious Leaders, for School Abuses

10 November, 2019

Nigerian police said last week they freed 259 people from an Islamic rehabilitation center in the city of Ibadan. Police said on November 5 that nearly 1,500 people had been rescued from abusive institutions since September.

Nigeria launched a campaign on Islamic schools and rehabilitation institutions in late September after a man was refused permission to see family members at one center. The man then went to police.

People sit on the ground after being freed by police from an Islamic rehabilitation centre in Ibadan, Nigeria in this picture released by Nigeria Police November 5, 2019. (Nigeria Police/Handout via REUTERS)
People sit on the ground after being freed by police from an Islamic rehabilitation centre in Ibadan, Nigeria in this picture released by Nigeria Police November 5, 2019. (Nigeria Police/Handout via REUTERS)

Many captives have said they were physically and sexually abused, and tied down to prevent them from escaping.

In northern Nigeria, many young people get their education from Islamic reformatory schools, known locally as almajiri.

Recently, the Reuters news agency spoke with two young men after their release from an Islamic school in the town of Daura.

Fifteen-year-old Burhani said the first thing he saw when he arrived at the school last month was a group of boys and young men sitting on the ground. None of them had any clothing, he remembered. They were sitting in more or less straight lines, were bleeding and had chains tied around them.

Twenty-five-year-old Suleiman Surajo said he attended an almajiri for more than a year. He told Reuters that up to 50 boys and young men often filled a classroom meant for eight people.

He said teachers would call students to the school's central courtyard at sunrise, where they would be beaten, wearing no clothing as they washed.

Burhani said the beatings continued as the students moved across the courtyard, with chains around their ankles. They went to get wooden boards inscribed with Koranic verses that they were required to read.

Both Burhani and Surajo have marks on their backs and ankles from their time in Daura's Islamic school.

Yet, some northerners have not turned against the religious leaders who run the schools. Many continue to support the centuries-old Islamic education system from which the schools are based.

Reuters says its reporters spoke with 17 current and former students, parents and community leaders before publishing its story.

Many of those questioned blame the central government for failing to provide the formal education and services young people need in the north.

The area's Muslim population is growing and state agencies are unable to meet its educational or social welfare needs, observers and activists say. The main reason for this, they say, is limited and poorly distributed resources.

Almajiri schools serve an estimated 10 million students in northern Nigeria. Fewer than half the children attend government primary schools. That information comes from the latest official information from 2015.

"If today we decide to close all of the almajiri schools...there would be an educational crisis, said Mohammed Sabo Keana.

He works with the Almajiri Child Rights Initiative, a non-profit group based in the city of Abuja. The group fights for better conditions in the schools.

Almajiri schools often present themselves as centers of Islamic learning. Many also offer to treat behavioral problems, including drug dependency and lawlessness.

In October, Burhani's father sent him to an almajiri school because he had been getting into fights and stealing, the 15-year-old said.

Police invaded the school thirteen days later. It was one of at least eight raids on almajiri over the past six weeks.

On October 19, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said that the government would not tolerate "torture chambers" that mistreat young people.

Burhani does not want to go back to the school and his father won't send him back there, both told Reuters. However, they still have deep respect for the Islamic scholar who heads the almajiri in Daura. They instead linked the troubles at the raided schools to lower-level teachers.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

The Reuters news agency reported this story. Ibrahim Onfeko adapted the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

rehabilitation n. the act of helping someone to return to a normal life or health through treatment and training

institution – n. a group or organization set up for a religious or educational purpose

courtyard n. an uncovered area that is mostly surrounded by the walls of a large building

inscribe – n. to write on something

verse n. writing or poetry; a few lines from the Bible or other religious work

distribute – v. to give out or give away

resource – n. a supply of money or materials

tolerate – v. to permit something; to accept

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