LAGOS, July 4 — Nigerian police have rescued dozens of people, including many children, from a church basement where they had been told to wait for what they believed would be second coming of Christ, police said.

Police raided the Whole Bible Believers Church in southwestern Ondo State on Friday after a tip from a local mother who said that her children were being kept there against their will.

Seventy-seven people including 26 children were rescued and two church pastors were arrested, Ondo State police spokeswoman Funmilayo Odunlami said in a statement.

Police said the people had been kept in the church after being told they must wait for Rapture, a belief among some Christians that they will ascend to heaven when Jesus Christ returns.

One of the pastors had “told the members that Rapture will take place in April but later said it has been changed to September”, the statement said.

“Another family who was also around during the rescue said their daughter... dropped out of school due to the strange teachings of the pastor and left home in January.”

Assistant Pastor Josiah Peters told ChannelsTV station church members were holding a seven-day programme inside the church when police raided and forced their way inside.

Police spokeswoman Odunlami said a local resident had led the police to the church after reporting that her children had been abducted. Church members became violent when police arrived.

The pastor had told the children there was no reason for them to go back to school while they waited for the moment, she said.

“They were kept underground within the Church, that is where they have been sleeping,” she told the station.

Michael Olorunyomi, a former church member, told ChannelsTV he and his parents had left the church because of concerns over the pastor’s teachings.

“They were teaching children not to obey their parents, and making husbands to hate their wives,” he said. “They capitalised on visions, prophecies and dreams to dictate the lives of the people without following the bible.”

Ondo State made headlines last month when gunmen raided a Catholic church with explosives and killed 40 people in a rare attack in the country’s usually calmer southwest region.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack but the government said it suspects jihadists from the Islamic State West Africa Province.

Nigerian troops are battling a 13-year jihadist insurgency in the opposite end of the country in the northeast, where conflict has killed more than 40,000 people and displaced two million more.

Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria is almost equally divided between the mostly Christian south and the predominantly Muslim north. — AFP