Nigeria's northern governors to close Islamic schools due to coronavirus risk

KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria’s northern governors have agreed to close disputed Islamic schools which house millions of men and boys across the region due to concerns over the new coronavirus, the group said in a statement.

The governors said the risk to children from the virus prompted this week’s decision to close the schools, and children would be evacuated to their parents or states of origin.

Orphans would be taken care of by the state government where they are located.

Islamic schools, known within Nigeria as almajiris, fill a gap left by state educational institutions. State schools are so overcrowded they cannot accommodate a booming population in northern Nigeria, which is predominately Muslim.

Fewer than half of children in the region attend government primary schools, according to the latest official figures, from 2015. Many families live on less than $2 a day and have few other options besides the almajiris.

The Islamic schools enrol an estimated 10 million students, according to Nigerian human rights organisation the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC).

But the schools have for years been dogged by accusations that some force children to beg on the streets, and late last year, raids at several schools uncovered horrific abuse.

Professor Ishaq Akintola, director of MURIC, said the schools should have been closed when the federal government closed state schools and universities on March 19.

“This is a belated order,” Akintola said. “There is no need for children to be roaming the streets in this COVID-19 environment.”

Nigeria currently has 782 confirmed cases of the virus.

Reporting by Garba Muhammad in Kaduna. Additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram. Writing by Libby George. Editing by Alexandra Hudson