Gunmen kidnap more than 300 schoolgirls in increasingly lawless northwest Nigeria

By Hamza Ibrahim

KANO, Nigeria (Reuters) – Gunmen seized more than 300 girls in a nighttime raid on a school in northwest Nigeria on Friday and are believed to be holding some of them in a forest, police said.

It was the second such kidnapping in little over a week in a region increasingly targeted by militants and criminal gangs. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Police in Zamfara state said they had begun search-and-rescue operations with the army to find the “armed bandits” who took the 317 girls from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in the town of Jangebe.

“There’s information that they were moved to a neighboring forest, and we are tracing and exercising caution and care,” Zamfara police commissioner Abutu Yaro told a news conference.

He did not say whether those possibly moved to the forest included all of them.

Zamfara’s information commissioner, Sulaiman Tanau Anka, told Reuters the assailants stormed in firing sporadically during the 1 a.m. raid.

“Information available to me said they came with vehicles and moved the students, they also moved some on foot,” he said.

School kidnappings were first carried out by jihadist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province but the tactic has now been adopted by other militants in the northwest whose agenda is unclear.

They have become endemic around the increasingly lawless north, to the anguish of families and frustration of Nigeria’s government and armed forces. Friday’s was the third such incident since December.

The rise in abductions is fueled in part by sizeable government payoffs in exchange for child hostages, catalyzing a broader breakdown of security in the north, officials have said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The government denies making such payouts.

RAGE AND FRUSTRATION

Jangebe town seethed with anger over the abduction, said a government official who was part of the delegation to the community.

Young men hurled rocks at journalists driving through the town, injuring a cameraman, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The situation at Jangebe community is tense as people mobilized to block security operatives, journalists and government officials from getting access to the main town,” he said.

Parents also had no faith in authorities to return their kidnapped girls, said Mohammed Usman Jangebe, the father of one abductee, by phone.

“We are going to rescue our children, since the government isn’t ready to give them protection,” he said.

“All of us that have had our children abducted have agreed to follow them into to the forest. We will not listen to anyone now until we rescue our children,” Jangebe said, before ending the call.

MILITARY SHAKEUP

President Muhammadu Buhari replaced his long-standing military chiefs earlier this month amid the worsening violence.

Last week, unidentified gunmen kidnapped 42 people including 27 students, and killed one pupil, in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger.

The hostages are yet to be released.

In December, dozens of gunmen abducted 344 schoolboys from the town of Kankara in northwest Katsina state. They were freed after six days but the government denied a ransom had been paid.

Islamic State’s West Africa branch in 2018 kidnapped more than 100 schoolgirls from the town of Dapchi in northeast Nigeria, all but one of whom – the only Christian – were released.

A ransom was paid, according to the United Nations.

Perhaps the most notorious kidnapping in recent years was when Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state in April 2014. The incident drew widespread global attention, with then U.S. first lady Michelle Obama among the prominent figures calling for their return.

Many have been found or rescued by the army, or freed years later after negotiations between the government and Boko Haram finally resulted in a hefty ransom, according to sources.

But 100 are still missing, either remaining with Boko Haram or dead, security officials say.

Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at Lagos-based risk consultancy SBM Intelligence, said many northern governors were keen to pay to avoid protracted hostage situations attracting international outrage, which in turn gave an incentive for more abductions.

“When you have these mass abductions now and you see victims are released relatively quickly, unlike Chibok, the one thing that has changed is money,” Effiong said.

(Reporting by Hamza Ibrahim in Kano, Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi, Maiduguri Newsroom and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja and Libby George in Lagos; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Gunmen kill student, kidnap 27 in attack on Nigerian school

By Garba Muhammad

KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Unidentified gunmen killed a student in an overnight attack on a boarding school in north-central Nigeria on Wednesday, witnesses said, and the regional government said 27 others including some staff and relatives were kidnapped.

The assailants stormed the Government Science secondary school in the Kagara district of Niger state at around 2 a.m., overwhelming the school’s security detail, according to local residents.

One student was killed in the attack, teacher Aliyu Isa and a pupil at the school told local TV news station Channels. Another teacher, who did not want to be named, also told Reuters that one student was killed.

“It was only one that was killed,” Isa told Channels. He said the abductors were dressed in army uniforms and shooting as they broke into the school. “They were telling the students not to run,” added Isa, who said he and others fled in the confusion while the gunmen rounded up some of the pupils.

Niger state officials did not immediately confirm the death but said that 27 students, some members of staff and relatives had been abducted by the gunmen.

The attack came two months after gunmen stormed a secondary school in northwestern Katsina state and kidnapped nearly 350 boys, who were subsequently rescued by security forces.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the latest abduction. Kidnappings for ransom by armed groups are common across many northern Nigerian states.

Militant Islamist group Boko Haram and a branch of Islamic State also carry out abductions in Nigeria’s turbulent northeast. About 100 of more than 270 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok in 2014 remain missing.

The Niger state governor ordered the immediate closure of boarding schools in the region. President Muhammadu Buhari dispatched security chiefs to coordinate rescue operations, his spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement.

“President Buhari has (given assurance) of the support of his administration to the armed forces in their brave struggle against terrorism and banditry and urged them to do all that can be done to bring an end to this saga,” said Shehu.

The spate of attacks has raised concern about rising violence by Islamist insurgents and armed gangs and fueled widespread criticism of Buhari’s handling of national security. In January, the president appointed a new military high command.

Violence and insecurity have compounded the economic challenges faced by citizens in Africa’s most populous country, which is struggling to cope with a fall in revenues due to an oil price slump on top of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Reporting by Garba Muhammad; Additional reporting by Maiduguri Newsroom, Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja, and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Mark Heinrich)

Nigerians win UK court OK to sue Shell over oil spills

By Julia Payne and Kirstin Ridley

LONDON (Reuters) – The UK Supreme Court on Friday allowed a group of 42,500 Nigerian farmers and fishermen to sue Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) in English courts after years of oil spills in the Niger Delta contaminated land and groundwater.

Senior judges said there was an arguable case that UK-domiciled Shell, one of the world’s biggest energy companies, is responsible, in the latest test of whether multinationals can be held to account for the acts of overseas subsidiaries.

Represented by law firm Leigh Day, the group of Nigerians have argued that the parent company Shell owed them a duty of care because it either had significant control of, and was responsible for, its subsidiary SPDC. Shell countered that the court had no jurisdiction to try the claims.

“(The ruling) also represents a watershed moment in the accountability of multinational companies. Increasingly impoverished communities are seeking to hold powerful corporate actors to account and this judgment will significantly increase their ability to do so,” Daniel Leader, partner at Leigh Day, said.

“UK common law is also used in countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand so this is a very helpful precedent.”

The decision comes almost two years after a seminal ruling by the Supreme Court in a case involving mining firm Vedanta. The judgment allowed nearly 2,000 Zambian villagers to sue Vedanta in England for alleged pollution in Africa.

That move was seen as a victory for rural communities seeking to hold parent companies accountable for environmental disasters. Vedanta ultimately settled out of court in January.

Nigeria’s Ogale and Bille communities allege their lives and health have suffered because repeated oil spills have contaminated the land, swamps, groundwater and waterways and that there has been no adequate cleaning or remediation.

SPDC is the operator of oil pipelines in a joint venture between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation which holds a 55% stake, Shell which holds 30%, France’s Total with 10%, Italy’s Eni with 5%.

A Shell spokesman said the decision was disappointing.

“Regardless of the cause of a spill, SPDC cleans up and remediates. It also works hard to prevent these sabotage spills, by using technology, increasing surveillance and by promoting alternative livelihoods for those who might damage pipes and equipment,” Shell said.

Shell has blamed sabotage for oil spills. It said in its annual report published last March that SPDC, which produces around 1 million barrels of oil per day, saw crude oil spills caused by theft or pipeline sabotage surge by 41% in 2019.

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said last week that the firm would take “another hard look at its onshore oil operations” in the west African country.

The ruling is the second judgement against Shell this year regarding claims against its Nigerian operations. In a landmark Dutch ruling two weeks ago, an appeals court held Shell responsible for multiple oil pipeline leaks in the Niger Delta and ordered it to pay unspecified damages to farmers, in a victory for environmentalists.

Leigh Day said that the amount of compensation sought would be quantified as the case enters the trial stage. Shell could however try to settle the matter out of court.

In 2015, Shell agreed to pay out 55 million pounds ($83.4 million) to the Bodo community in Nigeria in compensation for two oil spills, which was the largest ever out-of-court settlement relating to Nigerian oil spills.

(Reporting by Julia Payne and Kirstin Ridley; editing by John Stonestreet, William Maclean)

Nigeria’s Boko Haram behind more than 300 schoolboys’ abduction

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – A man identifying himself as the leader of Nigeria’s Boko Haram said on Tuesday the Islamist group was behind the abduction of more than 300 schoolboys, as anxious parents begged the government to secure their release.

Pupils who escaped kidnap on Friday, by jumping over the fence of the Government Science secondary school in Katsina state in northwestern Nigeria and fleeing through a forest, said the attackers were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and rounded up their victims before marching them off.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” in the local Hausa language, has waged an insurgency in the northeast of Nigeria since 2009 but has not previously claimed attacks in the northwest.

The claims in the audio tape, if true, could mark a widening influence of jihadist groups operating in northeastern Nigeria, political analysts said.

They could also signal that jihadists have formed alliances with militant groups operating in the Sahel, which could further destabilize the impoverished north of Africa’s most populous nation which plays a pivotal role in regional stability.

Katsina state authorities said about 320 boys were missing and Nigeria’s government said it had spoken to the kidnappers, who have sought a ransom from at least one parent.

“We’re begging the government to please try their best to get their release,” Hajiya Ummi, whose 15-year-old son Mujtaba is among those missing, said by telephone from her home in Bakori town in Katsina.

“His friends told me he was sick in bed when the bandits struck. He could hardly move but they dragged him out with the rest of the abducted students,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.

Katsina officials had ordered all state schools to close because they did not know the attackers’ motives. Neighboring Zamfara state on Monday also ordered its government boarding schools to close, according to a circular seen by Reuters.

AUDIO CLIP

In an audio message which reached Reuters via a WhatsApp message, a man purporting to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said: “We are behind what happened in Katsina.”

“What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices as Western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and his holy prophet,” he said.

No video footage was released of the missing boys.

The man offered no proof for his statement. Reuters was unable to verify the audio and Nigerian authorities did not immediately comment.

A security source told Reuters Boko Haram was not itself involved in the abduction, but that the kidnappers could have sold the boys to the Islamist group.

Spokesmen for the presidency, police and army did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cheta Nwanze, lead partner at Lagos-based risk consultancy SBM intelligence, said huge swathes of northwest Nigeria were ungoverned spaces where arms and people moved freely across porous borders.

Nearby Burkina Faso has descended into chaos as Islamist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State exploit ethnic grievances and government neglect of the arid north.

On Monday, an attack blamed on Boko Haram killed 28 people and burned 800 homes in the southern Diffa region of Niger, which borders Nigeria to the north.

“There is a danger that jihadists operating in the Sahel could potentially build alliances with groups that have previously remained in northeast Nigeria. That would further destabilize the region,” Nwanze said.

Boko Haram carried out the 2014 kidnap of more than 200 girls from a school in the northeastern town of Chibok. About half the girls have been found or freed, dozens have been paraded in propaganda videos, and some are believed to be dead.

More than 30,000 people have been killed since Boko Haram began its insurgency, aimed at creating an Islamic state.

(Reporting by Maiduguri newsroom; Additional reporting by Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi, Alexis Akwagyiram and Libby George in Lagos, Camillus Eboh and Felix Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Timothy Heritage and Tom Brown)

Gunmen abducted over 300 boys at Nigeria school

By Ismail Abba and Afolabi Sotunde

KANKARA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Usama Aminu was one of the lucky ones. He managed to escape when gunman abducted more than 300 pupils from his school in northwestern Nigeria.

“When I decided to run they brought a knife to slaughter me but I ran away quickly,” he said, sitting on a mat and speaking softly as he described how he had been in bed at the all-boys school in Kankara when he heard gunshots on Friday night.

At first, he said, the boys thought the commotion was from soldiers trying to protect them, but the attackers, armed with AK-47s, were already inside the building, threatening groups who tried to leave their dormitories at the Government Science secondary school in an attack that has outraged Nigerians.

“They said they would kill whoever is trying to escape then I began to run, climbing one rock to another through a forest,” Aminu said.

Many details of the raid and its aftermath remain unknown.

Police said on Friday they exchanged fire with the attackers, allowing some students to run for safety. According to Katsina Governor Aminu Bello Masri, 333 students remained missing, and officials do not yet know the motive of the attack.

State spokesman Abdul Labaran said on Sunday that the military and intelligence chiefs were in Kankara leading the rescue mission.

Muhammad Abubakar, 15, was another pupil who got away, trekking through farmland and a forest in the dark. He said he was among 72 boys who had reached safety in the village of Kaikaibise where he ended up.

“The bandits called us back. They told us not to run. We started to walk back to them, but as we did, we saw more people coming towards the dormitory,” he told Reuters.

“So I and others ran again. We jumped over the fence and ran through a forest to the nearest village.”

Abubakar, one of eight children, said he saw a number of boys being rounded up before they were marched out of the school, which has around 800 students. Seven of his friends are missing.

As he was reunited with his mother, who sells firewood for a living, he said: “I never thought I would see my parents again.”

ANGER

Friday’s raid evoked memories of the 2014 kidnap of more than 200 girls from a school in the northeastern town of Chibok by Islamist group Boko Haram.

Since then, about half of those girls have been found or freed, dozens have been paraded in propaganda videos and an unknown number are believed to have died.

Despite the measures taken to find the boys and track down the assailants, there was growing anger at the precarious security situation in the country. On Monday, #BringBackOurBoys was trending on Twitter.

Late last month, Islamist militants killed scores of farmers in northeastern Borno, beheading some of them.

And in October the country was gripped by some of the worst civil unrest since its return to civilian rule in 1999, following weeks of largely peaceful protests against police brutality in which several demonstrators were shot dead.

Oby Ezekwesili, a former government minister and campaigner who organized the Bring Back Our Girls Movement after the Chibok abductions, said the insecurity that led to the latest abduction was the product of poor governance.

“Nothing of our government system was available to protect those children,” she told Reuters. “What else can define poor governance.”

Anger was also seen on the streets of Lagos, the commercial capital in the south of the country. Electronic trader Agboola Abimbola said it was “depressing and embarrassing” that so many children could be taken in this way.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who is from Katsina and in the state for a week-long visit, has said the military had located the kidnappers in a forest where they exchanged gun fire.

But he is yet to visit the school, which has drawn criticism in Nigeria’s newspapers.

The presidency declined to comment when asked for a response to the criticism.

(Reporting by Ismail Abba and Afolabi Sotunde in Kankara; Additional reporting by Nneka Chile, Seun Sanni and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Editing by Alison Williams)

As America counts, the world holds its breath for U.S. election outcome

By Luke Baker, Libby George and Daria Sito-Sucic

LONDON/LAGOS/SARAJEVO (Reuters) – A day after Americans voted in a bitterly contested election, the rest of the world was none the wiser on Wednesday, with millions of votes still to count, the race too close to call and a mounting risk of days or even weeks of legal uncertainty.

Donald Trump’s pre-emptive declaration of victory at the White House was condemned by some U.S. political commentators and civil rights groups, who warned about the trampling of long-standing democratic norms.

Most world leaders and foreign ministers sat on their hands, trying not to add any fuel to the electoral fire.

“Let’s wait and see what the outcome is,” said British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. “There’s obviously a significant amount of uncertainty. It’s much closer than I think many had expected.”

But while Raab and others urged caution, the Slovenian prime minister broke ranks, congratulating Trump and the Republican party via Twitter.

“It’s pretty clear that American people have elected @realDonaldTrump and @Mike_Pence for #4moreyears,” wrote Janez Jansa, one of several east European leaders, including Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who are fervent Trump allies. “Congratulations @GOP for strong results across the #US.”

The latest vote tally showed Democrat challenger Joe Biden with a lead in the Electoral College – 224 votes to 213, with 270 needed for victory – but with counting still be completed in at least five major ‘battleground’ states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Georgia.

In 2000, the election between George W. Bush and Al Gore hinged on Florida. It was ultimately decided in Bush’s favor by the U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling five weeks after the vote.

In his comments, Trump suggested the Supreme Court – to which he has nominated three of the nine justices – would have to decide the winner again.

On Twitter, the hashtags #Trump, #Biden and #USElections2020 were trending from Russia to Pakistan, Malaysia to Kenya and across Europe and Latin America, underscoring how much every region of the world sees the outcome as pivotal.

In Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies have accused of trying to interfere in the election, there was no official reaction.

But Pro-Kremlin lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov, the grandson of Stalin’s foreign minister, advised Russians to stock up on popcorn to watch the show he predicted was about to unfold, saying U.S. society was fatally split.

“The result of the elections is the worst outcome for America,” Nikonov, who welcomed Trump’s 2016 win, wrote on Facebook. “Whoever wins the legal battles half of Americans will not consider them the lawful president. Let’s stock up on large quantities of popcorn.”

‘IT AFFECTS US ALL’

In Australia, crowds watched the results roll in while drinking beer in an American bar in Sydney.

“The news is so much better when Trump is in,” said Glen Roberts, wearing a red ‘Make Europe Great Again’ baseball cap. “You never know what he said, it’s so good. I think it’ll be less interesting if Trump loses.”

Others were quick to underline the ramifications of the U.S. vote worldwide. “I think it affects us all, what happens over there really matters for the next four years over here,” said Sydney resident Luke Heinrich.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading civil rights groups, warned about the need to reserve judgment on the results until every vote is counted. With a very high number of mail-in ballots this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, full tallies are expected to take days in some states.

Executive director Kenneth Roth said premature declarations of victory were dangerous.

“Autocrats might be perfectly happy to undermine democracy in the United States by welcoming a premature declaration of victory,” he said.

China, whose relations with the United States have sunk to their worst in decades under Trump, said the election was a domestic affair and it had “no position on it”.

Chinese social media users, however, were quick to mock the failure of the U.S. electoral system to deliver a quick and clear result.

“Whether he wins or loses, his final mission is to destroy the appearance of American democracy,” one user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform wrote on Wednesday.

“Let Trump be re-elected and take the U.S. downhill,” another wrote.

In Nigeria, one leading politician, Senator Shehu Sani, said the uncertainty in the United States was reminiscent of Africa.

“Africa used to learn American democracy, America is now learning African democracy,” he tweeted to his 1.6 million followers.

(Reporting by Luke Baker in London, Libby George in Lagos and Daria Sito-Sucic; Additional reporting by Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva, Crispian Balmer in Rome, Justyna Pawlak in Warsaw, Andrew Osborn in Moscow, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Tony Munroe and Gao Liangping in Beijing; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Islamic State says it beheaded Christian captives in Nigeria

MAIDUGURI/CAIRO (Reuters) – Islamic State released a video purporting to show its militants beheading 10 Christian men in Nigeria, saying it was part of a campaign to avenge the deaths of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and its spokesman.

The militant group posted the footage on its online Telegram news channel on Thursday, the day after Christmas, with Arabic captions but no audio.

The video showed men in beige uniforms and black masks lining up behind blindfolded captives then beheading 10 of them and shooting an 11th man.

An earlier video seen by Reuters said the captives had been taken from Maiduguri and Damaturu in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Borno, where militants have been fighting for years to set up a separate Islamist state.

In that video, the captives pleaded for the Christian Association of Nigeria and President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene to save them.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of either video.

Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) split from the militant group Boko Haram in 2016 and has become the region’s dominant jihadist group. Islamist insurgents have killed about 30,000 people in northern Nigeria in the past decade.

Islamic State leader Baghdadi died during a U.S. military raid in Syria and Muhajir in a separate military operation, both over the same weekend in late October.

(Reporting By Maiduguri newsroom and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, writing by Libby George; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Nigerian police free 259 people held at Islamic institution

Nigerian police free 259 people held at Islamic institution
By Alexis Akwagyiram

LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigerian police have freed 259 people being held at an Islamic rehabilitation center in the southwestern city of Ibadan, police said on Tuesday, adding that some complained of being beaten regularly by their captors.

It was the latest in a series of raids on Islamic institutions in Nigeria in recent weeks. More than 1,000 people, many of them children, have been rescued in total.

Many captives have said they were physically and sexually abused and chained up to prevent them escaping.

The raids are increasingly embarrassing for President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim who has called on police to crack down on such centers.

Other sites raided in major police operations have been in the mostly Muslim north of the country. Ibadan is located in the south, which is mostly Christian.

Oyo state police spokesman Fadeyi Olugbenga said the facility was raided on Monday at around 2 p.m. (1300 GMT).

“Yesterday, 259 persons were released. We had women, men and teenagers,” Olugbenga said. Some people were locked inside a building and some were chained.

Images from local TV station TVC taken shortly after the captives were released showed a group of mostly young men and teenaged boys. An infant was also among the group. Many were emaciated.

“We eat one meal a day,” one of the men told TVC.

According to Olugbenga, nine people including the owner of the rehabilitation center had been arrested and were under investigation.

Spokesmen for the president and vice president both declined to comment.

But the president’s office issued a statement in October that said “no responsible democratic government would tolerate the existence of the torture chambers and physical abuses of inmates in the name of rehabilitation of the victims”.

At other raided facilities, some parents thought their children were there to be educated and even paid tuition fees. Others sent misbehaving relatives to Islamic institutions in order to instill discipline.

(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Additional reporting by Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja and Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi; Editing by Catherine Evans, Alex Richardson and Mike Collett-White)

Police free hundreds of males, some chained and beaten, from Nigerian school in third raid this month

Police free hundreds of males, some chained and beaten, from Nigerian school in third raid this month
By Abdullahi Inuwa

KATSINA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Police freed about 500 men and boys from an Islamic school in northern Nigeria on Wednesday, many of whom had been chained to walls, molested and beaten, police sources said.

The raid in Katsina was the third such operation in less than a month, bringing the total of people freed from abusive conditions this month alone to about 1,000.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is under pressure to take urgent action to free the potentially thousands of other children who remain in similar schools across Nigeria.

Another purported Islamic school, where captives were chained to walls, some beaten so badly they needed help walking, was raided in September in neighboring Kaduna state.

Two sources at the scene told Reuters that the owner of the Mal. Niga school in Katsina metropolis and five of his staff had been arrested. Police declined to comment on the raid and blocked entrance to the grounds.

The operation, mounted by Katsina police and federal police from Abuja, freed about 500 students though not all of them had been mistreated, a police source said.

One building, which was well-kept, with clean tiles on the exterior and working plumbing, held 300 pupils who were not regularly mistreated. But about 200 captives at a site next door were regularly abused.

“The second camp is the dangerous place,” a police source said. “The children were molested there.”

The source said the most unruly students and some newcomers were placed in the second building. Students at the first school were sometimes taken to the second building for abuse.

Islamic schools, called Almajiris, are common in the mostly Muslim north of Nigeria. Muslim Rights Concern, a local organization, estimates about 10 million children attend them.

At the other raided facilities, some parents thought their children would be educated and even paid tuition. Other families sent misbehaving or difficult family members and wards to them for discipline.

Buhari, whose home state is Katsina, said in June that he planned to ban Almajiris eventually but would not do so right away.

On Tuesday, an aide said Buhari had directed police: “Go out in search of these kind of centers wherever they are and disband them.”

The centers referred to the places where people are maltreated in the name of religion, the aide said. The statement did not address Almajiris at large.

(Reporting by Ahmed Kingimi in Maiduguru and Abdullahi Inuwa in Katsina, Writing by Libby George, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Nigerian president vows crackdown on abusive Islamic schools after second raid

Nigerian president vows crackdown on abusive Islamic schools after second raid
By Desmond Mgboh

KANO, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigeria’s president on Tuesday ordered a crackdown on abuse at Islamic schools, after a second police raid in less than a month revealed men and boys subjected to beatings, abuse and squalid conditions.

Nearly 300 had been held captive at a school in the Daura area of Katsina, the home town of President Muhammadu Buhari, where police said they discovered “inhuman and degrading treatment” following a raid on Monday to free the remaining students.

Late last month, police freed hundreds from similarly degrading conditions in neighboring Kaduna state.

“Mr. President has directed the police to disband all such centers and all the inmates be handed over to their parents,” said a presidential spokesman.

“The government cannot allow centers where people, male and female, are maltreated in the name of religion,” he said.

Prior to this week’s raid, hundreds of captives had escaped the center, police said on Tuesday.

The 67 inmates who were freed by Katsina police were shackled, and many were taken to hospital for treatment, police superintendent Isah Gambo told Reuters.

“I tell you they were in very bad condition when we met them,” Gambo said.

A freed captive told Reuters on Monday that the instructors beat, raped and even killed some of the men and boys held at the facility, who ranged from 7 to 40 years of age. It was not immediately possible to verify his account.

While the institution told parents it was an Islamic teaching center that would help straighten out wayward family members, the instructors instead brutally abused them and took away any food or money sent by relatives.

Police said they had arrested the owner of the facility and two teachers, and were tracking other suspects.

The more than 200 captives who escaped were still missing, Gambo said. Police were working to reunite the others with family members.

“The inmates are actually from different parts of the country – Kano, Taraba, Adamawa and Plateau States,” he said. “Some of them are not even Nigerians. They come from Niger, Chad and even Burkina Faso and other countries.”

Islamic schools, called Almajiris, are common in the mostly Muslim north of Nigeria. Muslim Rights Concern, a local organization, estimates about 10 million children attend them.

Buhari said the government planned to ban the schools eventually, but he has not yet commented on the Katsina school.

(Reporting by Desmond Mgboh in Kano; Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja; Writing by Libby George and Paul Carsten; Editing by Giles Elgood and Nick Macfie)