Inside the dormitory of the Minna Remand Home in Niger State, not up
to the size of a normal room, without mattresses and fans to reduce
the effect of the scorching heat in the month of March, 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 hurried to their
open bathroom taking turns for ablution for the 4 pm Muslim prayers.

At mealtime, they scooped cooked rice from the little bowl on the floor.

“We are suffering here,” said Suleiman Adamu, a 12-year old boy and
pupil of Alfitra Primary School, Tunta, Minna, who was brought to the
home in March 2019 over the loss of parental control.

“I was brought here by my father whom 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 run away;
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 his parents who live inAbdulsalam’s Quarters in
Minna metropolis.

Most of the under-aged inmates standing criminal prosecution by the
police have not been taken to court for trial.

Harande Buba, 13, who was remanded for alleged culpable homicide based
on the orders of the Chief Magistrate Court 1 in Minna on April 12,
2017, said he had not been charged to court.

Narrating the incident that led to his incarceration, Harande said
what started as a mere child’s play soon developed into a serious
fight that led to his victim’s death.

“The boy I was fighting hit me with a stick and in retaliation, I used
a machete on him which led to his death.

“Since I came to this home in April 2017, I have not been to court.
Nobody cares to check on me. We do not feed well here, because we
don't have food. We wash our clothes without soap, and that is why our
room smells. Life is so difficult here,” Harande said.

Located in the heart of Minna capital city, the remand home brims with
children whose hopes and dreams have been dashed for alleged violation
of the law.

For Usama Haruna, a 12-year-old boy who aspires to be an engineer, the
thought of being held in shackles at the home is the worst experience
of his life.

“Though my parents are poor with mother doing menial jobs such as dish
and clothe washing in private homes and restaurants, and my father a
scavenger, it is my dream that someday I will work hard to become an
engineer, then I will take care of my parents and siblings.

“ I regret the offence that has brought me into this remand home. My
parents do not know my whereabouts. We were arrested by the police
from Suleja and brought to Minna. Please go to Suleja and inform my
mother that I’m being held here,” Usama appealed to the reporter as
tears welled up his eyes.

On visiting Suleja a satellite town of about an hour 30 minutes’ drive
from Minna, due largely to the deplorable state of the Minna-Suleja
highway, our correspondent met Usama’s mother, Fatima Huruna, in
Suleja at Saida Low-Cost Housing Estate, where the family resides in
one - room gatehouse.

“One evening in March 2019, we waited for Usama to come home because
he used to accompany his father to his scavenging work. He was nowhere
to be found, we began to ask after him. Someone told us that he might
have been arrested by the police and taken to Minna.

“ But we have no money to travel to Minna to look for him. That is why
we are praying to Allah that one day he would return home,” Usama’s
mother told the reporter.

Usama is being tried at the Magistrates’ Revenue Court 3B of Angwan
Daji in Minna for the alleged defilement of 6-year-old girl. An
offence he allegedly committed in Suleja in February 2019.


But Haranda, Suleiman and Usama are lucky as they are at a remand
home, not locked up with adult inmates in a regular prison system. Not
so for Happiness Kure, a 16-year-old girl, who is languishing at the
Suleja Medium Prison, Niger State.

The Suleja Medium Prison, which is sandwiched by residential
buildings, was built in 1914, according to prisons authorities.

Though our correspondent was not allowed into the female section of
the Suleja prison,  Happiness told our reporter that shares her prison
cell in the awaiting trial inmates’ block with eleven other adult
inmates.

“Our condition of living here is miserable. When I first got to this
prison in February last year, we were initially five in our room; I
had my own separate mattress from other women. But later, one after
the other, we are now eleven in the same room that is meant for five
of us, including my mother who is breastfeeding my kid sister.

“Our toilet and bathrooms are very dirty with broken pipes. Water is a
big problem for us. We don’t feed well. Whenever my kid sister falls
sick here in prison, there is no clinic to take care of her. Some of
the prison warders often help us to buy drugs from outside, and
whenever lawyers visit, that is when they bring some drugs and food
items for us. The situation we are facing at Suleja prison is
terrible,” Happiness lamented.

Her tortuous journey to incarceration began in February 2018 following
the alleged murder of her father by her fleeing boyfriend, the
embattled teenager told our correspondent.

Though standing trial alongside her nursing mother, Asabe Kure, at an
Abuja High Court at Gwagwalada, the police is yet to call a single
witness in the case.

"Since I came to this prison in February 2018, my education came to an
end. You can see that my mother and little sibling who is just twelve
months old are also being held here for the same alleged offences. Our
condition here is unbearable. The most painful part of our situation
at the Suleja prison is the fact that I cannot go to school. Does that
mean our lives are over?" Happiness wondered in a cracking voice.

From Minna to Suleja, Markurdi to Port Harcourt, 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 organization)
with over two decades of critical interventions in prisons reforms in
Nigeria,  child prisoners make up 43.2 percent in Enugu, 25.9 percent
inKano and 30.9 percent 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 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.”

When asked why fetters are put on the inmates’ feet, the
Officer-in-Charge of the Children Remand Home in Minna, Hajiya Hadiza
Mohammed, explained that it is to prevent them from absconding.

“We do this to especially new children that are brought into the home
because we are not familiar with them. We also put the chains on
stubborn and badly behaved inmates. But after a while, when we must
have observed that the inmates have improved in their behavior, let
them off the chains,” Hajiya Mohammed said.

While the child inmates in Niger State are chained, the situation is
different at the Port-Harcourt Remand Home in Rivers State as they are
allowed to move freely within the compound located at Nembe Street,
Borokiri.

The home, according to the Officer-in-Charge, Mrs. Joy Ololube, is
however overwhelmed by the daily challenge of inadequate feeding and
others.

"We are overwhelmed by the challenges of difficulty of conveying the
children to the court during the hearing of their suits. Most of these
inmates have not been to court for trial for the past two years. Also,
the Approved School which is supposed to provide education and skills
for the children has since closed down due to lack of resources to run
the school,"

She also disclosed that when inmates fall sick, there are no
healthcare facilities to deal with emergencies.

“We rush them to the nearby Naval Base hospital which is directly
opposite our home. But at a point, the Naval authorities became tired
of our problems and they began to reject our children. These are the
challenges we battle with every day,” Mrs. Olulube said.

An 18-year-old inmate, Daniel Okon, said he was remanded at the home
in 2015 for murder charges when he was 14 years old by the Juvenile
Court 2, Port-Harcourt, and since then had not been to court due to
non-availability of a vehicle that would convey him to court.

" I was a JSS 2 student of Community Secondary School, Udung-Uko in
Akwa Ibom State. But since I came to the remand home, my education has
stopped. Now, I do not know what to do. I want to appeal to both the
governors of Akwa Ibom and Rivers states to come to my aid. I need to
go back to school and complete my education," Okon pleaded.

Another inmate, Tuanwii Joseph, a 17-year-old was only 14 years old
when he found himself in the remand home in Port-Harcourt.

"I came into the Port-Harcourt Remand Home in 2016 as a result of the
murder case. The problems we are faced with here is the fact that our
trials are stalled and we don't have the opportunity to continue with
our education. I got here when I was Junior Secondary School 3. But
since I was remanded by the Juvenile Court 2, I have not been to court
and there is no school for me to attend in the remand home. Life is so
difficult for us here. You can see for yourself that this home is a
place of suffering. We need help," Joseph stated.

Asked why the Port-Harcourt remand home was left unattended to by the
Rivers State government, Mrs. InimaAguma, Commissioner for Social
Welfare, explained that arrangements were being made to reposition the
facility for better service delivery.

“ Before I was appointed commissioner, there were issues of feeding
and lack of vehicles to convey the inmates to court, I have ensured
there is proper feeding. I have also ensured that a doctor comes in
once in a while to examine the children. Also, the Rivers State
government is working assiduously to get the Approved School back on
stream for the inmates," Mrs. Inima disclosed.

The plight of inmates at the Benue Remand Home in Gboko is equally
heartrending as the children also lack access to both formal and
informal education.

With the roofs of the main building meant to house the inmates blown
away, the sixteen children are crammed into a small room where they
share one bathroom and toilet.

Mrs. Apaa Dorathy, who is the officer-in-charge of the home, noted
that the facility lacks water, electricity supply as well as a vehicle
to ferry the inmates to court for trial.

She explained that the trial of inmates had been stalled due to lack
of legal representation.

While there is a furnished classroom stocked with books for the
inmates, there are no teachers to impart the desperately needed
knowledge that the children yearn for. This situation, Mrs. Apaa said,
was caused by the precarious security situation in the state, which
has prevented the posting of members of the National Youth Service
Corps (NYSC) to the home.

"This is the only correctional centre in the state that caters for the
23 local governments. We are being confronted by a number of
challenges that require urgent intervention given the fact that these
children who have come in conflict with the law are the future of the
society, and therefore should be properly rehabilitated and
reintegrated into the society.

"However, that is not the case as our mandate is hampered by the lack
of resources like mobility to convey the inmates to court for trial.
We lack water and electricity here as you can see. Our school lacks
teachers, and therefore, it's not functioning. So, how do we cater for
the needs of transforming these inmates into better citizens," Mrs.
Appa said.

An inmate the Gboko remand home, ThankgodUnogwu (14), a JSS 2 student
of Jesus Comprehensive College, Eke-Olengbecho in Okpokwu LGA of Benue
State, was remanded at the home last October over cultism related
offences.

"Life is difficult for us here. We just stay here without going to
court, let alone going to school. Even feeding and water is a big
problem here. Only God can deliver us from what we have found
ourselves. I regret the crime I have committed, but I need a second
chance at life to become a better person," Unogwu said.

The problems were corroborated by the Benue State Chief Judge, Justice
Aondaver Kakaan, who described the conditions of the children as
"horrible".

"What the children need is reformation, but that is not the case. The
state government has not been forthcoming in that regard. It is so sad
that these inmates have to live in subhuman conditions.

"We have been making efforts to establish the family court as required
by law. However, we don't have the funds to execute the mandate. The
issue of juveniles can only be tackled through reformation," Justice
Kakaan said.

However, at the Borstal Institute in Kaduna State, the school
authorities said their inmates have facilities for both formal and
informal education.

"Our inmates have most of the facilities for formal education and
skill acquisition. Our inmates take the Senior School Certificate
Examination (SSCE). However, we have some challenges that require
government interventions such as the expansion of facilities in the
institute," a staff who pleaded anonymity told our reporter.

The staff who also declined to comment on the number of inmates being
held at the Borstal Institute, equally turned down the request by our
correspondent to go into the inmates' dormitories to speak with some
of the inmates.

"You know we don't allow outsiders into the dormitories or interact
with the inmates," the warden said.
Upon arriving at the heavily guarded facility, located at Barnawa in
Kaduna, the huge buildings and spacious premises give an impression of
a fully functional home for children. However, a couple whose child
was being held at the institution, was seen with a sack of food items
like garri and provisions, among others.
When asked why they were at the home, the mother of the inmate who
pleaded anonymity, said: “My husband and I come regularly to donate
food items to the institution as a way of supporting them for better
service delivery, because the children are too many and, as a result,
they do not feed well. We can only appeal to the government to help us
take good care of the children in the home by providing a suitable
environment for their education.”

Constitutional prohibition 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 the 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.

This provision was the basis for the judgement of Justice John Tsoho
of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.

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 the 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 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," Agomoh said.

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 mandates the
remand of offenders between the ages of 16-21.

During a recent visit to the Nigeria Prisons Akwa 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 the 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."

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. But due to the non-availability of
resources to do the proper things, we have to make do with what we
have."


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 inmate in the country “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. The Act says we need to have Family
Courts; comprising of Magistrates and assessors. The Family Court
should be functional to address these issues, but it is unfortunate
the courts are not working.

“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
see 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 you take them through the process of
rehabilitation.

“We have enough laws that can cover every kind of offence in Nigeria
but the issue we have is the implementation of the law, the government
has simply refused to implement this law.And that is why we are now
advocating for the adoption of the VAPP Act. We now have ten states
that have adopted it.”

The association recommended the sensitisation of Nigerians on the
prevalence of social ills in the society as a way of helping to guide
children away from crime.

“It is not enough to have the laws; we should rather go round
sensitizing people through awareness programmes on the societal ills
that our laws have failed to effectively tackle, because we have the
laws but the laws are not effective.

“The political will to get the child right act implemented is not
there. The law covers everything; the dignity of the child, everything
should be done in the best interest of the child,” the FIDA President
said.


This investigation was supported by the Institute for War and Peace
Reporting, IWPR, and the International Centre for Investigative
Reporting, ICIR

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