At 16, Bola Aribigbe (not real name) started acting up, nobody could grasp what was wrong or troubling her. She took to fighting, lying, stealing and keeping late nights. The fighting was more disturbing than other vices. She would rather use her fist to talk instead of her mouth. She soon became a source of concern to everyone around her; her parents, members of her community and her school.
The school had concluded plans to expel her, in order to keep other students safe, when a miracle happened. In 2018, Bola, who was then a 16-year-old girl, got involved in another skirmish and was taken to Ilupeju Police Station, Lagos. The Police then referred her to the Diversion Programme.
The Programme is run by Grace Springs Rehabilitation Home (GSRH). After an assessment by a trained social worker, it was discovered that Bola indulged in these anti-social behaviours because of low self-esteem. She also mentioned that her mother stopped her from playing basketball and didn’t allow her to have a skill in fashion designing (tailoring).
The mother was informed about these concerns and advised to allow Bola to try other things and to observe if there will be changes which she reluctantly agreed to. In the course of the rehabilitation, Bola engaged in tailoring and tie & dye vocational classes, as well as being subjected to coaching, which helped her to balance her academic challenges.
During this period, Bola was also engaged in playing basketball with a community team. As a result of adequate counselling, group therapy, and psychosocial support, Bola changed from being a violent child to being a team player.
And here’s the most amazing aspect of Bola’s transformation; she went on to play basketball with the Milo Basketball Team in Dubai! The amazing story of Bola was among several revelations that participants were regaled with on August 27, during a Diversion Community Rehabilitation Programme, held at Ilupeju area of Lagos State.
It was organised by Grace Springs Rehabilitation Home, in collaboration with UNICEF and the Ministry of Youth and Social Development. One of GSRH social workers, Blessing Akpan, who spoke enthusiastically about Bola, said: “The school proprietor said she was fed-up. She even stated that the girl needed spiritual deliverance.
But the girl said that she wanted to play basketball, and she became stable, diverting her energy to basketball. She later represented her country in basketball.” Akpan also narrated the story of a 15-year-old boy, Tolu, who joined the Diversion Programme through a referral from Family Court Mushin, in 2017. He joined the programme after spending six months in Kirikiri Prison because he damaged his boss’s generator by pouring salt into the fuel tank.
He tried to damage the generator because his boss refused to settle him after his period of apprenticeship. During the social worker’s interaction with him, he disclosed that he disliked with passion to feel cheated and that was why he committed the offence. In the course of rehabilitation, Tolu learned barbing (hair cutting), and through counselling and psychosocial support, he was taught better ways to manage conflicts and became stable.
Today, he is one of the vocational facilitators at the centre, teaching and inspiring other children with his story. Urging parents and guardians to key into the programme, Akpan said that the programme is non-residential, meaning that, the children return home each day after training. She added that the programme was totally free. She further explained: “Parents and children are given forms to go through, so as to understand the sort of help the child needed.
The programme is available for out of school children and those in school. The out of school children come in the morning hours, while those in school come at noon. A child can learn more than one vocational study. We converse with them, to know if they need more attention.
We have meetings with their parents once a month. After a child graduates, we do follow up to make sure they are coping. The vocational training continues in the community until they are good enough to stand on their own.” The programme co-ordinator, Omolara Olawoyin, said that the programme was established to prevent children offending and re-offending.
The programme is an alternative to traditional measures and punishments, such as the trial process, corporal punishment and custodian sentences. “The programme focuses on addressing root causes of offending and preventing re-offending by working closely with the child and the child’s family. The child remains at home with his or her family and in the community, while attending the programme,” said Olawoyin Olawoyin also said: “The programme is also known as Community Rehabilitation Programme.
We target children who are under 18 years of age, who are in conflict with the law. We’re talking about minor cases like stealing and stubborn children, who are beyond parental control. We’re saying, instead of taking such children to court, we rehabilitate and work along with their parents and guardians.
The child goes home every day because we believe that the best place for a child to thrive is with the family. When such a child comes to us, we assess him or her. Our social workers work with them.
We also speak with their parents. The programme is the first in Nigeria. Our plan and hope is for the federal government to replicate it in other states and local governments. We’re working in six local governments for now. The child must accept or take responsibility for his or her action before we can accept them into the programme.
Yes, the child must give consent. If a child refuses to give or didn’t give consent, it’s possible he or she will not finish the programme. We need the co-operation of children and parents for the programme. Another thing, some parents are not ready to take up their responsibilities. They’re the cause of problems at home. There are parents who have not done their best!”
Olawoyin further explained that the children spend between four to six months in the programme. She said if a child was improving, he could graduate at four months, stressing that the maximum graduation period was six months. “We take those out of school on selected subjects. We work with the ministry of education and they help those that want to go back to schools.
We accept referrals from police, prosecutors, magistrates, social welfare workers, among others. But most importantly, we can be called directly,” said Olawoyin. Asked why GSRH doesn’t go after children living under bridges, who appear to need such assistance, rather than those with parents and guardians at homes, she replied: “We also go after them.
But what we do is to counsel them to return home. We have, however, discovered that many of them are not ready to return home. We changed strategies. What we do now is to go after those who recently come under these bridges. At that stage, we can still interact and convince them to return home. Some of them had no reason to be on the streets,” said Olawoyin.
Some of the participants suggested that organisations, which are involved in issues that have to do with children, should begin to research, with the aim of finding out why some children offend and continue to offend. Speaking about children, who beat their parents, Olawoyin said: “If you see children beating their parents, please let us know. Most of them don’t know that what they are doing is wrong. We’ll talk with them. It’s not only about skill acquisitions.
We teach them family values. We offer Psychosocial support, counselling, and vocational activities to empower them and also reconcile parents with children. Furthermore, we also do family mediation. We give the programme a holistic approach. We teach some parents parenting skills. Nigerians should be advocates in their communities.”
Olawoyin said that through a qualified social welfare officer, seconded to the project implementing body, children have access to individual and group counselling sessions as well as family conferences sessions.
She added that the programme was overseen and monitored by the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development at the state level; Mushin, Oshodi, Shomolu and Kosofe Local Government Areas, as well as Ilupeju and Bariga Local Council Development Authority (LCDAs), known as oversight bodies.