Nigerian police have freed 259 people from an Islamic rehabilitation centre in the southwestern city of Ibadan, police said on Tuesday, taking the number rescued from abusive institutions since September to nearly 1,500.
Images from local TV station TVC taken after the captives were released showed a group of mostly young men and teenage boys. Many were emaciated. An infant was also among the group.
“We eat one meal a day,” freed captive Olalekan Ayoola, told TVC, saying the food was not fit for a dog to eat.
Nigeria launched a crackdown on informal Islamic schools and rehabilitation centres in late September after a man was refused permission to see his nephews at one institution and complained to police.
Oyo’s commissioner of police, Shina Olukolu, told reporters on Monday that anyone found culpable would be prosecuted to “serve as a warning to others who may want to operate such houses that serve as illegal detention centres”.
Spokesmen for President Muhammadu Buhari, who ordered the crackdown, and the vice president both declined to comment.
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.”
Islamic schools, known as Almajiris, are common across the north of the West African country. Such schools have been dogged by allegations of abuse and accusations that some children have been forced to beg on the streets.