Law

Reforming juvenile justice system

Why govt must curb violation of juveniles’ right, by lawyers

 

Agitations for amendment of prison reforms and borstal institutions in Nigeria has been on for some time in several quarters ranging from the National Assembly (NASS), Ministry of Justice and legal stakeholders to advocacy group, NGOs as well as development partners like UNODC and UNICEF.

 

Although, the Nigerian Correctional Act, 2019, has provided for the establishment of borstals in each states of the federation, there are currently only three borstal institutions in Nigeria.

 

Worried by the development, the Senate as part of its resolution reached after a plenary session asked the Federal Ministry of Justice to ensure that any official of the Correctional Service found complicit in the unjustified incarceration of minors should be prosecuted.

 

In a motion titled; “The need to investigate admission of inmates and operations of Borstal facilities across Nigeria”, the Red Chamber also directed its Committees on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters; and Interior to investigate the circumstances surrounding the admission of each inmate of the Borstal facilities and come up with appropriate recommendations to the Senate.

The lawmakers charged the relevant authorities to implement the Child Rights Act 2003; while also tasking State Assemblies on its domestication. The motion which was sponsored by Senator Oluremi Tinubu (APC, Lagos Central) centred on Borstal Institutions’ efforts at keeping delinquents out of prison and away from adult offenders, to avoid molestation and negative influence that can make them become repeat offenders.

 

Tinubu observed that there are only three Borstal facilities in Nigeria, situated in Kaduna, Abeokuta and Ilorin, saying the facilities were established to admit only male juvenile delinquents between ages of sixteen and twentyone as at the day of conviction.

 

She further observed that, “Clause 9 of the Borstal Institutions and Remand Centres Act – Subsidiary Legislation, 1962 provides that delinquents are to be admitted into the institution with a warrant from the court, committing them to a sentence of borstal training; and provides for three months observation period of the inmates”.

The lawmaker, added that, “Clause 123 of the subsidiary legislation also provides that courts of competent jurisdiction may pending determination of suitability for borstal training, order remand or detention in a remand centre or borstal, provided that persons are not less than sixteen years but under twenty-one years of age.”

In a similar vein, a member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Criminal Justice Reform Committee, Emeka Nwadioke, had at another forum advocated that the new Prison Bill can be a good foot forward and a great opportunity to address longstanding concerns occasioned by prison and other reforms. The civil rights lawyer described as “highly unacceptable” a situation where some awaiting trial inmates stay in prison for over 10 years, saying it was a major cause of prison congestion.

 

Nwadioke, who addressed lawmakers on some aspects of the draft bill, stated that the Prison Amendment Bill “offers a credible framework to address some fundamental ills plaguing Nigeria’s prison system”.

 

Contributing to the discourse, the Director, Access to Justice, Joseph Otteh, said Nigerian prison system framework is still part of the penitentiary system. He highlighted problems associated with brutal conditions in which prisoners live, among which are; overcrowding, horrifying sanitary conditions and its decrepit infrastructure, grossly inhumane nutritional provisions, the failure of the prison system as institutions for reform of character, the troubling level of inmate deaths as well as lack of a system of accountability for lives.

 

However, he noted further that it seems every push to lower the prison population is marred with parallel counter-force pushing in the opposite direction to exacerbate the problem. Otteh said: “I think prison reform must look, amongst other things, at how prisons can force changes themselves too, by ensuring they can deliver their services in ways consistent with respect for the dignity of those incarcerated.

“Perhaps by giving prisons the power to reject prospective inmates when the available prison space and capacity reach a certain threshold that can force states to begin to think of creative ways of handling petty crimes. “On the part of the government too, it’s important to ensure crime control policies they establish are responsible ones, and take account of the finishing lines.

Why impose fines, for instance, that poor people cannot pay when you can ask that they do community service as an alternative?”. In a related development, at a flag-off of one of its juvenile decongestion programmes, the Federal Ministry of Justice had in collaboration with the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reforms and Decongestion visited classrooms and medical centres where over 300 children underwent a risk assessment exercise.

Against this backdrop, there was a call for the reform of borstal institutions to achieve the goals for which they were established for effective public interventions in child welfare, child protection, criminal law/family law, family care and more importantly the provision of special juvenile courts to address cases of juvenile matters.

According to the Chairman Presidential Committee on Correctional Reform and Decongestion, Justice Ishaq Bello (Rtd), the committee assessment during one of its trips around borstal homes in the country revealed the shortfalls of the present law.

Bello noted that contrary to the provisions of the Borstal Institutions and Remand Centres Act 2004, which allows for only the institutionalization of offenders between the ages of 16-21, most children in Borstal homes are either below or above the stipulated age bracket. He added that most of them seen at the Ilorin Borstal Institute, for instance, were in their 30s and 40s with wives and kids.

“Additionally, children are not classified on the basis of their age, physical and mental health, length  of stay, degree of delinquency and character.

“Moreso, factors like sequence of the delinquency, possibilities of functioning as a contamination risk and requirements of custody, juvenile educational and vocational training needs of children, their background, possibilities of their social adjustment, their prospects after release, as well as rehabilitation are not taken into consideration”, Bello said.

Corroborating the retired jurist, the Acting Director, Administration of Criminal Justice and Reforms Department, Mrs. Leticia Ayoola-Daniels, hinted that a legal framework designed to rejig the juvenile is underway.

According to Ayoola-Daniels, plights of children in detention needed to be reviewed and strengthened to meet with human rights standards and international best practices.

As a way of tilting towards the new directive, in 2021, the Attorney- General of Ogun State, Akingbolahan Adeniran, was quoted as assuring the Federal Government’s delegation that the state government will give full support to ensure that the welfare and trial of the juvenile are properly taken care of, adding that no child will be detained unnecessarily.

The Ogun State AG represented by Director of Public Prosecution, Olaotan Olusegun, said legal advices are out within four weeks to ensure that the future of the children is not jeopardized.

Also speaking at the parley, the UNICEF Chief Child Protection, Ibrahim Sesay, explained that juveniles needed to be well-reformed, otherwise, the society would feel the consequences. He encouraged the Federal Ministry of Justice to sustain the programme while pledging both technical and financial support.

On his part, the UNODC Representative, Dr. Oliver Stople, expressed gladness that the mission to upgrade the recreational, vocational and educational facilities at the prisons has started.

AGF’s intervention However, after years of advocacy and agitations, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), recently gave approval for the setting up of a technical committee with the mandate to review the Borstal Institutions and Remands Centres Act 2004 LFN as a    way of addressing challenges confronting juvenile justice system in the country.

Speaking at the inauguration of the 13-man committee last week in Abuja, the AGF thanked all stakeholders who have been at the forefront craving for review of the Act.

 

The AGF particularly hailed the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, the Controller-General of the Nigerian Correctional Service and development partners like the United Nations office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Malami, while giving a keynote address observed that millions of children in Africa and around the world have their rights violated on a daily basis.

According to the AGF, apart from being denied access to education, health care and schools benefit, unduly separated from their families, and affected by exploitation, abuse and violence in their homes and communities, groups of children have continued to fall victim of prejudice and discrimination.

Represented by the Solicitor General and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Beatrice Jeddy-Agba, the AGF stated further that, “Among the most vulnerable are children born into poverty, children of ethnic minorities, children in detention, children on the street and children with disabilities.

Yet, only a fraction of children whose rights are violated come forward and seek redress, and even fewer obtain an effective remedy. “We also have children who come in contact with the law as offenders, deviant activities such as theft, burglary, alcoholism, drug abuse and violence at an alarming rate”.

Addressing the sustained request for a reformation of juvenile justice system, Malami said it has now become imperative to review the Nigerian borstal institute legal framework and bring it up to conformity with the Child Rights Act, 2003, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and the Correctional Services Act, 2019.

 

Now that the Justice Ministry, Law Reform Commission and other stakeholders are on the verge of reviewing by drafting a bill christened Borstal Institutions and Remand Centre Acts 2004, it is expected that the final document would be speedily presented to the President for onward transmission to the National Assembly for enactment into law.

Lawyers speak In the meantime, some senior lawyers have commended the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), over his efforts at tackling the challenges confronting juvenile justice system in the country.

The lawyers while baring their minds on the issue at the weekend noted that the review of the Borstal Institutions and Remands Centres Act 2004 LFN is long-overdue. Speaking on the issue, an Abuja- based lawyer, Adeoye Koyejo, hailed the move by the AGF. He noted that such will protect the rights of juvenile offenders which have always been trampled on.

Koyejo said: “Child offenders should not be imprisoned, especially where the offence can be dealt with by fine or community service. The laws provide that in worst cases such juveniles should be detained in an approved institution.

 

“It is particularly worrisome to find children incarcerated with adults in prisons. We all agree that reform and rehabilitation, not punishment are the guiding principles of the Child Rights Law and that a child in conflict with the law is a child in difficult circumstances, who has fallen out of the protective net at some point and has been robbed of an opportunity of a safe and secure childhood”.

On her part, Esther Igwe, while also hailing the move, called for proper and timely intervention that will strengthen the rehabilitation process and reduce reliance on institutionalisation.

Igwe said: “Juveniles in prison has been an issue much talked about as problematic in our judicial system. I always frown at it anytime I visit the prisons. As you know, inmates are taken to prison with warrants and when they are  taken there, the prison officials can’t reject them. “But the problem is that before being taken to the prison, the arresting agencies would have, in many cases, changed the age of an inmate, maybe from 16 to 18 or 20.

 

And at times, some of the arrested persons don’t even know their dates of birth.

“A strategy must be devised to stop the trend, in order to ensure that whoever that is being brought to the prison that looks like an underage, should be investigated by going to the court to find out if the age written in their warrant is correct and if need be, medical check-up can also be undertaken to ascertain the age of an inmate who we feel is an underage”.

For Zakariyya Sarki, the reformation which is long-overdue is a welcome idea. “Borstal homes are meant to be places for reformation of juvenile and young offenders. Although, they are no longer new to the modern criminal justice system, particularly in the area of corrections, people have continued to doubt their effectiveness in correcting the behavior of individuals.

“It was found that, virtually all borstal institutions in Nigeria are not living up to their expectations. Due to the dearth of facilities in the borstal centers, many juvenile delinquents are sent to adult prisons as a result of which they learn more offending, become recidivists and hardened criminals at adulthood. “Those living within the borstals are not given adequate care.

The reformation should include schools, families and community-based corrections as more suitable for delinquents and not closed institution, like borstal, that separate them from family and adequate education.

 

“Borstal homes should not necessarily be discarded. However, to make the institutions more effective, the government should ensure child welfare and protection, education and healthcare to the young through sincere investment and political will. This could leave the institutions with low number of young offenders that could be managed effectively”, Saraki said.

 

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