There is urgent need to fix the remand homes in the country

The Government Remand Home, Sapele, Delta State, has had far less attention from the authorities than required and we can see the consequences. In 2013, no fewer than 11 members of a notorious criminal gang escaped from the confines of the home. Many of them are still at large. Recently, 25 inmates, within the age bracket of 14 and 17, who were held for offences ranging from rape, robbery, burglary to murder, overwhelmed their handlers and forcibly exited the correctional facility.

The inmates, who are now on the run, according to reports, were angry because the correction officer locked them in without food and went to church. When she returned at midday, according to the report “the angry inmates attacked her and fled through the back fence of the home and with only three staff on duty, there was little they could do.”

The treatment of juvenile offenders at Sapele is reflective of the national attitude towards children in correctional homes. Their conditions are not remarkably different from those of adults in conflict with the law. Like the prisons, the few remand homes in the country are more or less oppressive institutions aimed at punishing offenders rather than rehabilitating them. The institutions are decrepit, ill-equipped and the inmates ill-fed. They are denied humane treatment and have no access to recreational and sporting activities.

Even more, they also lack relevant educational and vocational trainings to equip inmates to live a sustainable life when they eventually return to the larger society. Indeed, a recent study at the Port Harcourt Remand Home in Rivers State revealed that the place was poorly configured to manage juvenile offenders. And as the Sapele incident acutely demonstrated, many of the personnel are not only ill-trained, but grossly insufficient.

Some time in 2009, Dimeji Bankole, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, could not control his emotions when he visited the Bortal Remand Home in Abeokuta, Ogun State, to launch an Information Communication Technology (ICT) centre for the institution. He was greatly disturbed by the plight of the inmates whose age ranged from eight to 15 years. At the occasion, Bankole said the Nigerian society would be better off if its leaders could address the ills afflicting the youth before their attitudes were formed.

The attendant result of the poor, difficult and deprived environment in the custodial institutions is such that many of the young offenders are transformed to hardened criminals. They often plot their escapes and later constitute themselves into greater burden and danger to the society.

There are no reliable statistics, but there is no doubt that many of the children in the remand homes across the country are from the poor in society; those in dire need of care and protection. Many of them lived on the street and engaged in any activities to scrape by before running afoul of the law. Unfortunately, the prevailing depressed economy in the country is no doubt accentuating the problem of juvenile crimes as many families are increasingly becoming unable to live up to the challenge of parenthood.

But the country owes those children in corrective institutions care and protection. The poor living conditions in the remand homes are a violation of the children´s right to health, nutrition, education, and recreation. Nigeria is signatory to the Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter, and thus the treatment of the young offenders must conform to international standards.

There is therefore an urgent need to ensure that these institutions are well funded and provided with their basic needs. The inmates must be equipped with the basic skills to fit easily into the larger society at the end of their reformation, and to fulfill their full potential.