‘House of torture’ puts focus on Nigeria Islamic schools

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Students rescued from the Islamic boarding school queue for food and profiling at Ahmadu Bello stadium in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, on September 27, 2019. (AFP)
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A policeman watches over students of the Islamic boarding school who were rescued the day before in Rigasa area of Kaduna, in northern Nigeria, on September 27, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 04 October 2019

‘House of torture’ puts focus on Nigeria Islamic schools

  • Private Islamic schools — known locally as Almajiri schools — are widespread across mainly Muslim northern Nigeria
  • Activists have long pushed the government to reform or end the Almajiri system, arguing that it fails to provide children with the basics of an education

KANO, Nigeria: Horrific revelations of torture and abuse at a compound billing itself as a Qur'anic reform school in northern Nigeria have shone a spotlight on Islamic institutes unregulated by the authorities.
Last week police in the city of Kaduna raided a building to find hundreds of men and boys — some reportedly aged as young as five — held in atrocious conditions at a facility proprietors described as a religious school and rehabilitation center.
Inmates were discovered chained to metal railings and with their hands and feet shackled together. Some bore scars from alleged beatings while other recounted being sexually abused.
“If they caught you if you want to run away from this place, they would hang you, they would chain you,” one of the victims Abdallah Hamza said.
The shocking revelations made headlines but activists insisted they were symptomatic of abuses that have long-riddled a system beyond official control.
Private Islamic schools — known locally as Almajiri schools — are widespread across mainly Muslim northern Nigeria, where poverty levels are high and government services often lacking.
The authorities have estimated that there are more than nine million students enrolled at the institutions.
“The latest example from Kaduna represented the worst of the system and very inhumane conditions,” Mohammed Sabo Keana, team lead at the Abuja-based Almajiri Child Rights Initiative NGO, told AFP.
“But they are a clear manifestation of what a lot of children go through — including being made to beg on the streets, subjected to violence, sleeping in the worst conditions imaginable and living with terrible sanitation levels.”

Failed education system
Activists have long pushed the government to reform or end the Almajiri system, arguing that it fails to provide children with the basics of an education.
In June Nigeria’s presidency said that it wanted ultimately to ban the schools — but insisted it would not be doing so anytime soon for fear of creating “panic or a backlash.”
Now calls for change look likely to grow in the wake of the latest scandal.
In a statement on the case the office of President Muhammadu Buhari — himself a Muslim from northern Nigeria — denounced the facility “as a house of torture and a place of human slavery.”
“We are glad that Muslim authorities have dismissed the notion of the embarrassing and horrifying spectacle as (an) Islamic School,” the statement said.
But it steered clear of mentioning any move to prohibit the schools and insisted that enforcing free compulsory education was a “panacea.”
“To stop unwanted cultural practices that amount to the abuse of children, our religious and traditional authorities must work with the federal, state and local governments to expose and stop all types of abuse that are widely known but ignored for many years by our communities,” it said.

Like rehab centers
Defenders of the Almajiri system argue that it can offer poor families services the Nigerian state woefully fails to provide.
Millions of children in the country go without any education despite primary school nominally being free.
Retired civil servant Yusuf Hassan runs the Almajiri Foundation in the northern city of Kano that has looked to improve the system.
He insisted that most schools are not like the one uncovered in Kaduna and instead blamed so-called “rehabilitation centers” where families send relatives considered delinquent or drug addicts.
“Some parents who have children that are difficult to manage at home take them to such rehabilitation centers,” he said.
“Some of the centers end up chaining the kids because they know they will run away.”
Hassan blamed a lack of any government medical or psychiatric care to help tackle widespread drug addiction in northern Nigeria and said a first step should be to separate rehab centers from schools.
But even some of those who have lived through the brutal treatment meted out in such institutions have argued they can be a force for good.
Mohammed Usman was chained up in one when his family took him there to get over a drug addiction in his twenties.
“Of course students were flogged when they misbehave which made us to mind our manners and stay in line,” Usman, now 45 and a high school teacher, told AFP.
He said he was taught about religion, morality and “respect” and eventually managed to get clean.
“I was there for nine months and when the teachers were satisfied with my rehabilitation I was released and returned home. Ever since, I have never used drugs.”


Donald Trump Jr.: provocateur, master preacher for father

Updated 16 min 2 sec ago

Donald Trump Jr.: provocateur, master preacher for father

  • The son has become the prime warmup act for the father at political rallies
  • He has not shied away from the spotlight or criticism
SAN ANTONIO, Texas: The shout of “2024!” from the crowd was unmistakable. It stopped Donald Trump Jr. cold.
President Donald Trump’s eldest son had been in the midst of a humor-laced screed in which he decried Joe Biden as too old and Elizabeth Warren as too liberal and insisted his father’s 2016 campaign was too disorganized to possibly collude with the Russians. As many in the crowd of several hundred laughed, Trump Jr. held a dramatic pause before exclaiming his response:
“Let’s worry about 2020 first!” he yelled.
The son has become the prime warmup act for the father at political rallies, often appearing more than an hour before the president speaks, another bombastic provocateur who revels in the tribal loyalty of the supporters who pack Trump rallies. It is a call to arms to a fawning crowd and Donald Jr. has become a master preacher.
His speeches are laced with the same incendiary, sometimes false rhetoric as his father’s, at times even questioning whether Democrats can call themselves Christians. But in these venues, his word is gospel.
The “2024” call from the audience at a San Antonio convention center room on Tuesday underscored the rising stardom of the president’s eldest son, who has become the swaggering embodiment of the “Make America Great Again” ethos.
By far the presidential scion with the closest connection to conservative voters, Trump Jr. is already playing a key role in his father’s reelection effort, especially in strongly Republican districts. But where he was once under the scrutiny of special counsel Robert Mueller, now he is drawing criticism for seemingly hypocritical attacks on another son of a famous politician.
And he doesn’t seem to care at all.
“In 2016, my father said something very serious. He goes: ‘What do you have to lose?’ And he was right,” said Trump Jr, broadening a pitch the president first made to black voters to reach the entire electorate. “So America, you gave him a chance and he has delivered on those promises. Now, what do you have to lose? A lot.”
And then Trump Jr, who was the headliner on this warm October day, gleefully skewered one of the president’s Democratic foes. “Joe Biden, when on the campaign trail, his whole thesis was that government has failed. No s--t, Joe!“
Trump Jr. was one of the campaign’s potent tools in 2016, frequently sent out to small towns and rural areas where the Republican candidate looked to turn out disaffected voters who hadn’t cast ballots in years. An even more aggressive campaign schedule is in the works for 2020.
“He’s the future,” said Annie Davidson, 65, of Alamo Heights. “He’s just like his father and I can’t wait to vote for him someday too.”
By far the most outspoken of his siblings, Trump Jr. has never shied away from a political fight, even when it leads some to question his own sense of self-awareness.
He has been one of the loudest critics of Biden’s son Hunter, suggesting that Hunter Biden only had opportunities in other countries, including Ukraine, because of family connections.
“When you’re the father and your son’s entire career is dependent on that, they own you,” Trump Jr. told Fox News this past week.
Some critics could not resist noting that Donald Trump Jr. shares both the first and last names of a man who gave him his high-paying corporate job and elevated his standing during the 2016 presidential campaign. It was the president’s push for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens that prompted House Democrats to launch an impeachment investigation.
“We’re left with a situation where every presidential action is under a cloud of suspicion for corruption, and that suspicion increasingly seems justified,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Trump Jr. has pushed back, suggesting that his criticism of Hunter Biden was not for having a famous father, but rather for trading access to his father’s office to enrich himself. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden
Hunter Biden told ABC this past week that while his decision to take the job was not unethical, it showed “poor judgment.” But he also made clear that “Trump Jr. is not somebody that I really care about.”
Moreover, despite a pledge to immediately cease all international business once the president took office, the Trump Organization has continued to work on previously struck agreements and profited from the presidency. Congress has called for investigations into foreign officials being steered to stay at the Trump hotel in Washington and Air Force crew members spending nights at Trump’s Scotland golf resort.
Trump Jr.’s eyebrow-raising attacks on another political son came just days after he had to distance himself from a headline-grabbing tempest when it was revealed that he had recently attended a Florida conference for Trump supporters where a parody video was screened that depicted the president killing members of the news media and political opponents.
Trump Jr. said he never saw the video, which aired as part of a three-day conference at the president’s golf club outside Miami. But Trump Jr., who prides himself in his ability to use social media to poke at liberals, was quick to draw an equivalency on Friday. He used Twitter to point out an apparel company’s Midtown Manhattan billboard that depicted the president being assaulted.
“Since you had time to thoroughly cover a stupid and tasteless meme seen by 8 people with incredible outrage, I figured you should dedicate the same time and outrage to THIS BILLBOARD IN TIMES SQUARE you hypocrites!” he tweeted. “Unless of course you’re just full of s--t.”
Trump Jr. has long relished posting button-pushing tweets. His Twitter feed has traded in conspiracy theories and hard-line messages about immigration and gun control and he has a book on the way that hits the same themes. He once circulated a post that compared Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles candy that contained some that “would kill you.”
Trump Jr. declined a request for an interview for this story.
He is unbowed and unapologetic, and his approach appears to mirror his father’s combative defiance toward the controversies that swirl around the White House and the Trump family.
Though he runs the Trump Organization with his brother, Eric, Trump Jr.’s political obligations frequently keep him far from his office on the 25th floor of Trump Tower. The more politically minded of the two brothers, Trump Jr. has embraced his role as a popular emissary for his father, crisscrossing the country on campaign trips, showcasing his relationship with former Fox News host Kim Guilfoyle and headlining Republican fundraisers.
Though he grew up in Manhattan and Florida’s gilded coast, Trump Jr. has established deep ties among rural Republicans and has become an outspoken defender of the Second Amendment. He is viewed by many close to the president as a more logical political heir apparent than his sister, the far more cosmopolitan and refined Ivanka Trump. Where Ivanka Trump, a senior White House aide, has taken to promoting women’s and economic issues while hovering in diplomatic circles at international summits, Trump Jr.’s Instagram feed is filled with hunting and fishing photos.
In 2018, he did more than 70 events for GOP candidates and state parties and will easily eclipse that next year when his father’s name is on the ballot. Those close to him say he may run for office someday, but probably not until after his five children are considerably older.
His front-and-center role for the campaign is a relatively unusual one for recent presidential offspring. Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton had children too young to campaign. And while President George H.W. Bush’s adult children — including a future president — were in Washington at times, they did not assume the star presence of Trump Jr.
He has not shied away from the spotlight or criticism, having been battle-hardened by the pressure he faced during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which looked into a 2016 meeting Trump Jr. had with a Kremlin-connected lawyer seeking damaging information on Hillary Clinton. No charges were brought against him.
On the campaign trail, Trump Jr. derides the impeachment inquiry and credits his father’s business acumen for economic gains, declaring in San Antonio: “It’s nice to have someone running the country who has signed the front of a paycheck and not just the back.”
The crowd roared and Guilfoyle applauded. After the rally, the eldest Trump son headlined a big-dollar dinner in Texas and, days later, was barnstorming in West Virginia for more Republican candidates.
There was more talk of, someday, a possible Trump political dynasty.
“I expect Don to be a player in the conservative movement for years and years to come,” said Andrew Surabian, a Republican strategist who advises Trump Jr.