With the increasing number of crime in Nigeria committed by minors, Sunday Ehigiator follows the trail from their arrest to remand in correction homes, then the rehabilitation process before they are reintegrated into the society again
Idrisu Muhammadu of Evutagi village in Katcha Local Government Area of Niger State was 16 when he killed his girlfriend Fatima Isah in 2018, for dating his elder brother. Wasila Umaru was 14, when she murdered Umaru Sani with rat poisoning for being forced to marry him in 2014. Oke Godstime was 16 when he defiled a girl of 15 at Umuahia for refusing his advances in 2015, Adekunle Johnson of No 3, Alopoti Street. Amolaso Abeokuta was 16 years old when he defiled a baby of about eight months and half in 2011.
It is interesting to note that all the above listed carried out the act while still minors. In exhibiting delinquent behaviours, these minors carried out criminal activities ranging from murder to car jacking, sexual abuse, assault and even use of weapons.
Depending on the nation of origin, a juvenile becomes an adult anywhere between the ages of 15 to 18, although the age is sometimes lowered for murder and other serious crimes. Delinquency implies conduct that does not conform to the legal or moral standards of society; it usually applies only to acts that, if performed by an adult, would be termed criminal.
According to Brittanica, it is thus distinguished from a status offense, a term applied in the United States and other national legal systems to acts considered wrongful when committed by a juvenile but not when committed by an adult.
Although juvenile delinquency has been been blamed on societal vices relating to underdevelopment, diminishing moral standards, and poverty, some delinquents have however turned their lives around following rehabilitation gotten from either being put on probation or in correctional homes under the care of social workers.
Who is a Child?
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as “a human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”. Also, the National Child Welfare Policy of 1989 defines a child as anybody who is 12 years or below.
However, a draft decree put into law has now set the age of the child in Nigeria as 18 years or below. It is pertinent to note that this age definition of the Convention is already in practice under municipal laws.
What the Law Says about the Rights of a Nigerian Child
According to Oputa J.S.C 1982, “A right in its general sense is either the liberty (protected by law) of acting or abstaining from acting in a certain manner, or the power (enforced by law) of compelling a specific person to do or abstain from doing a particular thing.”
The legal rights of the Nigerian child are contained in various municipal laws and international instruments. These laws are based on certain fundamental principles relating to the promotion of human survival, prevention of harm, promotion and sustenance of human dignity and the enhancement of human development.
These principles recognise the basic concept that the child is the foundation of the society and he or she assures a societal continuity. Accordingly, the survival and continuity of the human society depends upon the protection, preservation, nurture and development of the child. Thus the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees certain ‘Fundamental Rights’ to every persons including children.
To this accord, Part one, item one of the ‘Child Right Act of 2003’, developed to provide and protect the rights of a Nigerian child; and other related matters opines that “In every action concerning a child, whether undertaken by an individual, public or private body, institutions or service, court of law, or administrative or legislative authority, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.”
As Part 20, item 204 of the Act, which dealt on ‘Child Justice Administration’, posits that “No child shall be subjected to the criminal justice process or to criminal sanctions, but a child alleged to have committed an act which would constitute a criminal offence if he were an adult shall be subjected only to the child justice system and processes set out in this Act.”
Stressing on the privacy of the child in same Part 20 under item 205, it forbids any information that may lead to the identification of a child offender to be published, and likewise ask for the confidentiality of the records of a child offender to third parties, to any adult proceedings in a subsequent case involving the same child offender, and can only be made accessible to persons directly concerned with the disposition of the case at hand or other duly authorised persons.
While Item 206 of same part highlighted some prerequisite knowledge for rehabilitating the child offender, which according to it, are “Professional education, in‐service training, refresher courses and other appropriate mode of instructions shall be utilised to establish and maintain the necessary professional competence of all persons, including judges, magisterates, officers of the Specialised Children Police Unit, supervisors and child development officers, dealing with child offenders.”
Law Surrounding Detention Pending Trial
However, Item 212 of same part basically dealt on the ‘Detention Pending Trial’ of a child. According to (number 1a to b of) it, “Detention pending trial shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period of time; wherever possible, be replaced by alternative measures, including close supervision, care by and placement with a family or in an educational setting or home.”
A ooo nd in same item ( number 3b), highlighted that “in the case of an apprehended child who has attained the age of 15 years, that no secure accommodation is available and that keeping him in some other authority’s accommodation would not be adequate to protect the public from serious harm from the child, secure that the apprehended child is moved to a state government accommodation.”
This part of the act could be pointed as why ‘Correction Homes’ were created by the government.
It likewise went further in Item 212 (number 2), to instruct that while “in detention, a child shall be given care, protection any necessary
assistance including social, educational, vocational, psychological, medical and physical assistance, that he may require having regard to his age, sex and personality.”
Hence, on the above premises, rehabilitation processes is mandated on Correction Homes for children in her custody. This took THISDAY on a journey to speak with a top management staff incharge of the Lagos State Government Correction Center in Oregun, Ikeja, who spoke under strict terms of anonymity.
Considerations for Admittance
According to the Child Rights Law of Lagos State, no child is supposed to be on the street especially during the school hours, and especially because education is free from basic one to nine (Primary 1 to JSS 3) in Lagos state.
From THISDAY findings, the above reason is why no child is expected to be found on the street during school hours. And because of that, the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development is saddled with the responsibility to exercise that part of law.
To do this, according to our source, “there is a rescue unit in the ministry, which is saddled with the responsibility of combing the streets of Lagos of not just child hawkers or stray kids during and after school hours, but also lunatics, beggars, and those that are capable of causing nuisance on the street of Lagos, be it under age or adult. Having done this exercise, the male underage among those picked by the unit are selected from the rest and brought to the correction home, while the underage females are taken to Idi-Araba.
“The second means of admission is through the Lagos State Task Force. They also pick children hawking off the streets and the male are brought to the Ikeja Correction Home.
We also admit children to the home through the court. In these case, delinquents or children in conflict with the law are brought to the home once the police has charged them to court.
“Perhaps they committed robbery, stealing, rape and are defiled, or defiled someone, the police take the intervention and charge them to court. From court, they are advised to be brought here since they are under aged and can’t be remanded in prison; even while they await trial.
“The fourth and last way is through individuals, such as parents who feel the attitude of the child is of too much a concern and can’t handle him or her alone and want us to assist in the correction of such child. But such parent can’t just bring them here directly, they have to obtain a court permit.
“For instance, we have family social services scattered all over Lagos state for convenience sake, so for if for instance, you live in Ikeja, you report the child to us at Ikeja Social Welfare Services in Ikeja. They will do all the investigations necessary to ensure that the child is really short of appropriate characters, from there, the social officer would be the one to take the ward to the family court, and present a report to the court. And if the court is convinced with it, they will issue a corrective order. That is what we will see here before we accept that child here. So these are the four basic ways we admit children here.”
Categories of Children in Correction Centers
On the categories of children in the center, he said, “We have four categories of children we attend to here. One is tagged as ‘Beyond Parental Control’; these are ones that are brought in by their parents through court order.
“We have ‘Shelter Matter”; these are those that are in need of temporary shelter. For instance, if there is an accident and the parent of the ward was one of those who lost his or her life in the accident and the ward was rescued, we cannot not hand over that child to anybody. We grant such child a temporary shelter till we see a fit person such as the family member of the child or one capable of taking proper care of the child, depending on the circumstances, before we can let the child off.
“Or if a ward is abused at home perhaps by the parent of guardian, we will take custody of the child by providing temporary accommodation, and will not keep the child with the parent again until we find some other fit person capable of taking better and proper care of the child.
“The next category of children has the highest population of children here. They are those we tag, ‘Care and Supervisions’. They are here for care and supervision. These are the once we rescued on the street either hawking, not going to school, sleeping under the bridge, or wandering around the street sort off.
“You know, as a minor, you are supposed to have either parents or guardian, but without those, such child is bound to be wandering on the street, and they are caught. It is now left for the social workers to now go and conduct all necessary enquiries. So they are the highest number of kids we have here. They also include those you see on the street cleaning windscreen and all of that. In fact, we rescue these windscreen cleaners everyday from the street.
“And the last category are those that are ‘In conflict With The Law’. These are those that have committed an offence or the other. We don’t regard them to have committed a crime because they are underage. So what they did is not classified as a crime because it could be as a result of exuberance or not knowing the consequence of their action. So that is why they are brought in here for correction and for us to let them know the consequences of what they have done.”
Means of Rehabilitation and Integration
On the correction processes, he said, “When a ward is admitted to this place, they go through four different trainings. First is the ‘Psycho-social’ training, which is the most important of all. It basically involves consistent counselling. And this counselling isn’t for the children alone, but based on our investigations, we go steps further by counselling the parents if necessary. Because by the time you look at the situation, you will sometimes realise that they were sent on the street to hawk by their parents due to the economic situation.
“So we counsel them both so that by the time we return such child back to the society, they don’t return to the street. And we have all the counselors within the teachers. In this regards, about 21 children are attached to each social worker for corrections.
“The second step is ‘Educational Training’. You can see that we have an inbuilt school inhere. And the school is staffed by Lagos State Primary Universal Basic Education. So most of the teachers here, likewise teach in other outside schools. They are regulated just the way normal government teachers are regulated. But whenever they are posting a new teacher here, because it is a special school, they take them through one or two weeks training on how to handle the set of children we have here.
“Because whether you like it or not, this place is a special school. In this place, you see a child of 16 years old still in nursery school because they have been on the street before now and have never been in the four walls of a classroom before. And the idea is to be able to read and write. So no matter the age, for the fact that they cannot read and write, they have to start from the basic.
“Another tool we use is ‘Vocational training’, because while they are in school here, it is good they also learn a skill. And we train them in six different skills; cane weaving, leather works, tailoring and embroidery; like our school uniforms that they wear, they are the once seeing them under proper supervision, we have videography and editing, screen processing and photography, and barbing saloon. All this to enable them integrate better into the society when they return. This also help them to be self employed after their time in here. We take some through ICT trainings as well.
“Also, we use religion as a means of rehabilitating them as well; either in the Islamic fashion and Christianity. With this, we have had those who became a believing Muslim converts and those who have received Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour, hence become born again.”
Duration of Rehabilitation before Integration
According to our source, “ideally, they are free to be returned to the society after they might have completely gone through all the processes of correction earlier stated and have being observed to have developed social improvement. All these processes are supposed to end within six and nine months. That is how the program is structured. But sometimes, several other factors could keep them here longer than the specified duration; especially for delinquents.
“You know how slow the judiciary process is, sometimes it may be more than the normal duration they are supposed to spend here due to the slow judiciary process. Because, if a ward is admitted here today, and the Department of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) advise is not out until a year, we cannot do anything and we cannot transfer such child to the prison because, he was under age while he committed the offence, hence he would still be here. So, sometimes, for those that commits an offence against the law of the state, they stay longer.”
Re-admittance after Integration
Sometimes, some of the wards that have been rehabilitated and integrated find themselves back into the correctional centers.
Speaking on such possibilities and the reasons for it, he said “When you are working with a lot of population as these, you can’t expect 100 per cent success. We have some that still return back, but the percentage is less than two per cent. But if you further probe the situation that warrants their returning, you may have no choice but to consider the economic situation of the country.
“ Because, we have done our best on the child and reunited him to the family. But the family might not be buoyant enough to take care of the boy the way we took care of him here. Here, he is assured of three square meals, some stipends, and other things that makes his stay comfortable. So as he returns home, those things aren’t there anymore. So sometimes, we have a situation whereby a ward has been released to the parents, but would still come back to say he prefers to remain here.
“ So in such situation, because we are working for the best interest of the child, we re-examine the boy and if need be, we re-admit. But sometime, we rework on the parents through The Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation (WAPA), to assist the parents in terms of poverty alleviation, by setting her up in a business, so she can use that to feed the child and take care of him. Because, here they go to school and all that, but once they leave here they aren’t sure of that.
“So that is why, part of the requirements we ensure is in place before we release a child back to the family of parents, is the assurance that the boy is enrolled in a school before we release. And you have to give us evidence by bringing to us a note of acceptance or admission from the school. But unfortunately, some would just bring it, just to release the boy, and once the ward is given back to them, they don’t have money to send him to school. And this boy, because he has tasted schooling here, and vocation, has no choice but to comeback to us to report the parent or guardian. So we have a way of readmitting them, and sometimes, transfer them to other homes for further care.”
Insight from Police
To gain more insight on this, THISDAY likewise spoke with the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, Bala Elkana, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, who also confirmed the possibility.
According to him, “once a child has once been rehabilitated by the correction center and reintegrated with the society, and hence decides, to return to crime afterwards, and we catch such child again, we charge the child to court and he is further remanded in center for the second time, so long he or she is still under aged. Perhaps, by the time he goes through the process of rehabilitation for the second time, he or she would be of better behaviour in the society.”
Welfare of Wards During Rehabilitation
According to our source, “The welfare of the wards are paramount. Aside the correction processes earlier mentioned, there is no better way because they are children, you can’t treat them too rigidly even while instilling discipline. Those here are between 10 years of age and 17 years. No one below 10 years here. And there is a process and principle accepted by law, on how they should be treated and we can’t do anything contrary. Even in terms of their health, they are well cared for.”
Closed and Open Centers for Rehabilitation
A further breakdown of the correctional centers showed that the state houses closed and open centers. Explaining the rationale behind this, the source said: “We have three government-owned homes in Lagos State for males, both for junior and senior boys. This place in Oregun is a closed center, the others are open center, in that they live in the home but go to school outside the home. But here, everything resides here.
“This is how it works. When they are rescued in the first place, they are brought here. This is where we stabilise them, and give them the basic things, and trainings that they need. Some are not that willing to stay here, they prefer outside perhaps because of what they take. You know they sustain on the street with all sort of drugs and weed, including tramadol. Because they can’t take them here, they prefer going to the street. So we stabilise them here to be able to live without those things, before we now transfer them to the open home; we even do that through the court.”
Psychiatric Assessments and Medical Interventions
In giving holistic rehabilitation, the correctional homes also take into cognisance the mental and physical health of the wards. According to the source, “We have a visiting psychiatrist that comes once a week; every Friday, to assess them, especially those that we newly admit. You know, they are coming newly because as they are coming newly, they are used to drugs and all that, so they are assessed to see if there is any need for special interventions, or need for them to be placed on medications and all of that.
“We have a sickbay here where they are attended to. But we do carry them outside if the cases are beyond sickbay. We have a health centre along this road, and if the case is beyond the health centre, they refer us to LASUTH. So that is our medical system, but we have a permanent nurse here provided for us by the local government who takes care of the children; especially when they are sick. But once a case is beyond the nurses, we escalate to the next higher medical system.”
Limitation of Admittance
On the limitations of admitting wards into the home, he said, “The capacity is limited, but it is a fluctuated situation. In that, as some are leaving the home, some others come in. So the number of children here yearly solely depends on how many we are able to release within a year, and how many we admitted within same year.
“For instance, I can assure you that if a child is brought here today, a ward would be released tomorrow. And we don’t just keep them here. We work on them. We divide them to all the social workers we have here. For instance, we have 10 social workers here. So the population of the children here is divided into 10. Hence, each social worker has like 21 children under his/her care.
“The social workers are different from teachers teaching them in class room. We do these, so the teacher and social worker can better concentrate on the children under his/her care. If we say all of them should work on them together, there may not be that concentration, and specific issues may not be addressed.”
Benchmark for Child Offenders
On the possibility of an underage who committed an offence while still a minor but unfortunately attained the adulthood benchmark of 18 years before advice comes from DPP, he said, “Like I said, the court process takes too long. For instance, If a ward commits an offence like say when he is 17 years or a bit over the age of 17, I can assure you that they cannot dispense the matter before he gets to age 18.
“But we usually inform the court about the child’s age in such cases, so they can speed up the matter, so he doesn’t turn to an adult here. Because, we don’t allow adults here, and once he is 18 we usually release them to the parents or a fit person, because they are no longer regarded as minor according to law. We can never harbour an adult here. But most of the time, we usually advise the court to address the matter early enough.”
Growth and Success Stories after Integration
According to him, “there are a lot of success stories. A lot of children that left here are all in the society doing well in their various fields. Sometimes, they return to the center to show appreciation, do one or two things to support the center and all. We have a lot of them that are now lawyers, bankers and so on. Mind you, the center is as old as the colonial period. The conception was 1942 by colonial masters, but the home started in 1945 on Military Street on Lagos Island.
“From there, we moved to both Sabo, and Bolade-Oshodi in the 60’s. So in the 70’s around 1976, we moved to this particular location here in Oregun, and that has been were we are till date. So this gives you insight to the calibre of people we now hear of making wave in Nigeria of today, that passed through the home at some point of their lives. So it is about 76 years old now. But the problem in Nigeria of those days is that we don’t really have data.
“So sometimes, when some of the very old alumni of this place comes around, we can’t really resonate with the period they were here. But the impact has being great, with all the testimonies from the alumnus.
“In general, I am satisfied with our efforts here. Although we have instances where children return back to their initial state after they get released here and thereby return here, but with how we have being performing, I will rate it 75 per cent success. I am satisfied. For some of them who are being returned to the home after being integrated to the society is sometimes related to poverty factor. Because here, they experience better standard of living than what they have outside here, so they want to return, and hence go back to the street where they were initially picked up from.”