At least 300 captives, most of them children and many in chains, have been rescued from a building in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, a spokesman for the police said.
Yakubu Sano told reporters on Friday that police raided the building, which housed an Islamic school in the Rigasa area, and found adults and minors in “the most debasing and inhumane conditions”.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“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,” he said.
It was not clear how long the children had been held at the building.
Two of them were from Burkina Faso while most of the rest were from northern Nigerian states, according to the police.
During Thursday’s raid on the school, police said they found a “torture chamber” where students were chained, hung and beaten. Many of the rescued students bore scars on their backs and serious injuries.
“The victims were abused. Some of them said they were sodomised by their teachers,” Sano said, adding that seven teachers at the school have been arrested.
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,” Bello Hamza said, adding that he was meant to be in South Africa studying for his master’s 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.”
Police had been tipped off by local residents who became suspicious of what was happening inside the school.
Islamic schools, known as Almajiris, are common across the mostly Muslim north of Nigeria – a country that is roughly evenly split between followers of Christianity and Islam.
Parents in northern Nigeria, the poorest part of a country in which most people live on less than $2 a day, often opt to leave their children to board at the schools.
The children have been moved to a temporary camp at a stadium in Kaduna, and would later be moved to another camp in a suburb of the city while attempts are made to find their parents, police said.
Some parents who had already been contacted went to the school to retrieve their children.
“We do not know that they will be put to this kind of harsh condition,” one parent told Reuters news agency.
Islamic schools in Nigeria have for years been dogged by allegations of abuse and accusations that some children have been forced to beg on the streets of northern Nigerian cities.
Earlier this year, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, himself a Muslim, said it planned to eventually ban the schools, but would not do so immediately. It followed some reports in the Nigerian media that the government planned to outlaw such schools.