Citing interviews with dozens of patients, families and staff at various Nigerian mental health facilities visited between 2018 to 2019, Human Rights Watch said patients, including children, were being forced to eat or drink herbs as part of their treatment in some traditional healing homes.
A 22-year-old woman at a Christian healing center in Abeokuta, a city in southwest Nigeria, told the rights group she had been held captive in a church for five months and denied food as part of a “spiritual cleanse” for her condition.
“I was tied with chains for three days straight so I could fast. For the three days I had no food or water. It wasn’t my choice, but the pastor said it was good for me. Sometimes if they say I should fast and I drink water or take food, they (the church staff) put me on a chain,” she said.
“The chaining is punishment. I have been put on chain so many times I can’t count,” she added.
People brought to these facilities by family members ended up being held in chains and detained for months in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, the report says.
“People with mental health conditions should be supported and provided with effective services in their communities, not chained and abused,” said Emina Ćerimović, a senior disability rights researcher with Human Rights Watch.
Crackdown on abusive centers
Authorities in Nigeria have rescued hundreds of people held under degrading conditions in a crackdown on religious rehabilitation centers in recent months.
Following the recent raids, Buhari said his government will no longer tolerate the existence of “torture chambers” claiming to be rehabilitation centers. He also called on law enforcement to keep exposing illegal activities.
“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,” Buhari said last month.
“But it’s not enough to raid these centers and shut them down. People rescued from these desperate conditions and other Nigerians experiencing psychological distress should have access to proper psychosocial support and mental health services,” Ćerimović said.
The rights group also called for public education to improve citizens’ understanding of mental health conditions.