At least 77 people were rescued from the church – including 23 children – after a pastor claimed rapture would take place in April, before later saying it had been changed to September.
Dozens of people who were being kept in a church basement in Nigeria as they awaited the second coming of Jesus Christ have been freed by police.
At least 77 people were rescued from the church after pastors had preached to them about Christian believers ascending to heaven once Christ returned, authorities said.
A total of 23 children – some as young as eight – were among those rescued from the Whole Bible Believer Church in Ondo State.
Some people had been kept in the church since last year, according to local residents.
Pastors had encouraged church members “to stay behind” and wait for the rapture, a police spokeswoman said.
Rapture is the idea that Christian believers will be taken to heaven at the second coming of Christ.
One pastor had told church members it would take place in April and later claimed it had been changed to September, according to Ondo State Police.
A father, whose child was among the rescued, said he was denied access to his child and anyone who tried gaining entrance into the church was always attacked by the members.
Two pastors are in custody but investigators are yet to find evidence that the church members were forced to stay in the basement, the police spokeswoman said.
Nigeria is a deeply religious country where many religious leaders are revered. It is not the first time authorities have reported rescuing people held by clerics, whether voluntarily or by force.
A woman raised the alarm about a possible kidnapping involving the church after saying her daughter was not permitted to go to register for her exams, locals said.
Other residents had nuisance complaints about the church but were unaware of what was happening inside.
Tunde Valentino, who lives nearby, said: “They hold services all round the clock and people rarely sleep when they held their vigils.
“It was until Tuesday when a woman came saying they did not release her two children.”
When authorities arrived at the church, some members resisted being rescued and “refused to go,” cursing parents who also arrived, it was claimed.
During questioning, the church members insisted “they walked into the basement themselves” after service every Sunday, according to the president of a local youth group.
He added: “Some of them said they have been there since August; some told us they got there in January this year.”