Remand and Borstal Homes are supposed to be correctional facilities for juveniles who have run fowl of the law, but in Nigeria, these facilities are child prisons, with situations comparable to Guantanamo Bay. In this report, CYRIL OGAR brings gory details of the conditions of Nigerian children Remand Homes.

The dormitory of Borstal Homes in Nigeria is not up to the size of a normal room. Without mattresses and fans to reduce the effect of the scorching heat at the peak of the dry season, about 30 children are held in chains for various offences. An overpowering stench from the crowded dormitory welcomes any first time visitor.

With their emaciated bodies in torn clothes, they hurry to their open bathrooms taking turns for ablution for the 4.00 p.m. Muslim prayers. At mealtime, they scooped cooked rice from the little bowl on the floor.

Suleiman Adamu, a 12-year old boy and pupil of Alfitra Primary School, Tunga, Minna, Niger State who was brought to the home in March 2019 said, “I was brought here by my father who I was living with together with my step-mother. My step-mother accused me of stealing her wrapper. Immediately I got here, I was put in chains so that I do not runaway; you can see I’m still in chains and I don’t know who will rescue me from this problem,” Adamu explained almost in tears as he urged the reporter to reach out to his parents who live in Abdulsalam Quarters in Minna metropolis.

Most of the under aged inmates standing criminal prosecution by the police have not been taken to any court for trial. The Suleja Medium Prison, which is sandwiched by residential buildings, was built in 1914, according to prisons authorities. Though, AljazirahNigeria would not be allowed into the female section of the Suleja Prison, Hassanatu a former inmate at the prison said that while being in there, she shared her prison cell in the awaiting trial inmate’s block with eleven other adult inmates.

“The condition of living is miserable. The toilet and bathrooms are very dirty with broken pipes. Water is a big problem for us. Without proper feeding, there is no clinic to take care of sick inmates. Some of the prison warders often help to buy drugs from outside, and whenever lawyers visit, that is when they bring some drugs and food items for their clients. The situation in Suleja Prison is terrible,” she lamented.

From Minna to Suleja, Markurdi to Port Harcourt, Keffi to Calabar and Lagos to Owerri and all around the country, there is not much difference in the conditions of the children who are languishing in prisons/borstal institutions across the country; without education in most cases and locked up in adult prisons contrary to constitutional provisions.

According to a Prison Census report of 2016 by the Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (a non-governmental organisation) with over two decades of critical interventions in prisons reforms in Nigeria,  child prisoners make up 43.2 per cent in Enugu, 25.9 per cent in Kano and 30.9 per cent in Lagos prisons respectively.

The Child’s Rights Act of Nigeria enacted in 2003 makes ample provisions for children who are in conflict with the law. According to Part Two Section 11 of the Act, “Every child is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly, no child shall be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, held in slavery or servitude, while in care of a parent, legal guardian or school authority or any other person or authority having the care of the child.”

Constitutional provision against denial of basic education

The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, presided by Justice John Tsoho in February 2017 held that children have the right to free, compulsory basic education. Although the right to free education in Section 18(3)(a) of the Constitution was ordinarily not enforceable like all other rights provided for in Chapter 2 of the Constitution, the  compulsory, free Universal Basic Education Act of 2004 enacted by the National Assembly has elevated the right to an enforceable status.

In his verdict, the judge held that both the federal and state governments were constitutionally required to provide adequate funding for the free education scheme. The judgment followed a suit filed by a group, the Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP. Justice Tsoho held that failure of any government at the state and federal levels to fund the scheme would constitute a breach of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Expert views on the issue

The Executive Director of Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, PRAWA, Dr. Uju Agomoh decried the conditions in which under-aged children are being held. “The current conditions of these homes are deplorable as they are consistently deteriorating. An urgent and sustainable intervention must be made by both the government and private individuals to reposition these homes for better service delivery. Anything short of that, the society will pay for it dearly. The children must be rehabilitated in all ramifications.”

Existing Borstal homes in Nigeria include: Borstal Training Institution in Barnawa, Kaduna State, Borstal Training Institute Ganmo, Kwara State and the Borstal Training Institute Abeokuta, Ogun State. The Borstal Institutions and Remand Centres Act 1962 mandate the remand of offenders between the ages of 16-21.

During a recent visit to the Nigeria Prisons, Awka in Anambra State, the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, disclosed that about 523 children were being held at the facility.

During the commemoration of the 2019 African Pre-trial Day themed: “Decriminalisation of Petty and Minor Offences,” the Anambra State Coordinator of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Mrs. NkechiUgwuanyi, decried the high number of underage inmates at the prison.

Illegal trial of inmates

According to the trial magistrate at the Rivers State Juvenile Court, Mrs. Ibiere Foby, the current circumstance where underage inmates are tried using the Child’s Rights Act with a properly constituted family court as prescribed by the law, constitutes a gross violation of the rights of the defendants to fair hearing. She explained that an ideal family court should have a magistrate and two assessors to hear and determine suits concerning children who come in conflict with the law. But that is not the case. “You can see I am the only magistrate sitting in the Juvenile Court here,” she says.

When asked on the legal implications, Foby said, “If matters tried by the Juvenile Court go on appeal, they will be dismissed on the grounds that the trial court is not properly constituted as required by the Child Rights Act. Here in Rivers, we have the Young Persons Law, which is an archaic piece of legislation.”

Similarly, an official of the Rivers State Ministry for Social Welfare, who did not want his name in print said: “The remand home is basically for children whose parents have lost parental control over them, and children who are convicted of minor offences to be held for not more than six months. While  the borstal home is a juvenile prison. So, what we are doing in terms of children who are in conflict with the law, is unconstitutional.

Composition of the Family Court

Section 153 (3) of the Child’s Rights Act provides that, “The court at the Magistrate Level shall be duly constituted if it consists of – a Magistrate, two assessors, one of whom shall be a woman and the other person who has attributes of dealing with children and matters relating to children, preferably the area of child psychology education.”

The Child’s Rights Act of Nigeria enacted in 2003 makes ample provisions for children who are in conflict with the law. According to Part Two Section 11 of the Act, “Every child is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly, no child shall be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treating or punishment, held in slavery or servitude, while in care of a parent, legal guardian or school authority or any other person or authority having the care of the child.”

Similarly, Section 15 dwells on the Right of a Child to Free, Compulsory and Universal Primary Education. It says, “Every child has the right to free, compulsory and universal basic education and it shall be the duty of the government in Nigeria to provide such education.” While Section 212 borders on Detention Pending Trial. Sub-section (2) provides that, “While in detention, a child shall be given care, protection and necessary assistance including social, educational, vocational, medical and physical assistance, that he may require having regard to his age, sex and personality.”

FIDA Nigeria’s Reaction to the Issue

The International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA Nigeria, described the plight of underage inmates in the country as “disturbing.” FIDA Nigeria’s President, Rhoda Prevail Tyoden, while reacting to our findings, said the country’s Child’s Rights Act which is meant to help children who come in conflict with the law, is not being implemented.

“We have the Child’s Rights Act that is meant to tackle the issue, but it is not being implemented. If the Act is fully implemented you won’t have a situation whereby children are locked up in prisons with adult. The Child’s Right Act and the Young Persons Law spell out how this group of people should be treated. But we have a system where these laws are not well implemented.

“Secondly, we should have borstal homes across all the states of the federation, but only three or four states have such facilities; when we have children in conflict with the law in all the states of the country. FIDA Abuja which I belong as a branch; we go to Suleja Prison and we saw teenagers there, and we try to get them out if it is a bailable offence. Sadly, these children are locked up together with adult prisoners. We often say the youth are the fulcrum of every national development, but when children are locked up in prisons, then where is the future of the country? “Tyoden queried.

Children who are in conflict with the law should not be dealt with as criminals, because they are supposed to be in a place where they would realise their mistakes and taken through the process of rehabilitation.

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