The pains, hopelessness of Nigerian children in Ogun Borstal home
By Sodiq Ojuroungbe
Before his journey to the Abeokuta Borstal home, 17-year old Tony has carried out many robbery attacks undetected. But nemesis caught up with on Monday, 23rd of May, 2016 when he was arrested by the Nigeria Police force alongside his members after being part of a syndicate that went to rob an apartment in Gbokoniyi area of Abeokuta in Ogun state.
Tony was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of robbery. Since then, he has spent his life within the four walls of the Abeokuta Borstal home. At first, a remorseful Tony thought the home will avail him another chance at living a positive life but the reality turned out opposite.
Tony, who now has served three years, expressed sadness over the ill-treatment he received from the home and how he has given up about life in totality.
“I have given up about life; I was sentenced to five years in prison for robbery. In the next one year I will clock 18 and that means I will be transferred to the real prison. I am already ready for the life I will live in the real prison because where I am is nothing different from the real prison.
“I can even say our experience here is worse compare to those in the prison; they don’t feed us the way they supposed to. They don’t train us regularly, except on occasional basis; many of us do not have anything we have learnt since we are here than the fact that we were put under surveillance where nobody can come to.”
Tony’s life was not like this at the beginning. The child was born into a family of five and he happens to be the second child of the family. While his father engage in driving, his mother was a trader at Lafenwa markert. But, life became unbearable for Tony at the age of 12 when he lost his mother to a short illness. The father who has to work extra time just to meet ends meet could not look after young Tony and before a twinkle of an eye, Tony has taken solace in the street and started looking for how to survive in it.
“Because I always need someone to talk, I mingle with bad boys that taught me how to rob, smoke and drink. If I have had the opportunities of growing up in a better society, maybe I will not become like this,” he said.
Like Tony, 16-year old Tunde who was born and brought up in one of the most dangerous environment in Abeokuta popularly called Ago-Ika. Because of lack of parental care and the influence of bad guys who dominated the environment Tunde lives, he became a member of Eiye Confraternity at the of 14. He was arrested when his cult group killed a rival cult member in 2018.
Tunde is a product of a broken home as his parents also cut his cod of care and attention at early age and he also see the boys on the street as the true family that will always be there to listen to his pains.
”Before I clocked 14, I have started smoking Indian hemp and mixing with some of these bad guys and before I know what is happening, I have been initiated into Eiye Confraternity.
“As a boy that needs to survive in the new cult group that I just joined, I started engaging in robbery and hooligalism. It was when myself and my other cult member went to drop (kill) a rival cult in Itoko that we were arrested with guns and I was found guilty which made me end up in the place.”
Even though he has no relative to look after him outside the walls of the Borstal home, he sees no hope in what the institution has to offer.
“We go through daily pains here and surviving in this environment for the past one year has become a thing that we don’t have any other choice. They don’t feed us well, they just abandoned us, and we are only useful during times that they discover that some people are coming to visit us.
“Our life here is nothing different, there is no rehabilitation whatsoever, they see us as condemn that cannot be useful in the future.”
The stories of Tony and Tunde are not isolated; they reflect the experience teenagers at the Abeokuta Borstal home. Not every of the kids in the juvenile home have the opportunity of people checking on them. Some of them have been abandoned because they are regarded as criminals at such tender age and many of them have not been able to know peace even when they are put under a surveillance and tight security so that they don’t escape.
Because of the hardship and pains many of the juveniles pass through in the home, some of them have tried escaping the facility more than once. While some of the attempts were successful, many of it was not successful as the officials in the home usually caught them. This shows how uncomfortable and unbearable the home has been to many of the kids.
THE STATE OF THE BORSTAL HOME
A visit to Borstal Training Institution in Abeokuta, Ogun State is not only tortuous but one that leaves the visitor with the impression of a home where the pupils are forced to grapple with dehumanising challenges.
The road leading to the home from Panseke-Adigbe road is a nightmare to the users owing to the fact that the road is under construction.
From observation by this reporter, the dormitories were overcrowded, while the toilets and bathroom were located in at the extreme end of the rooms the juveniles sleep.
The windows have no nets, making the occupants of the over-crowded rooms susceptible to cold and mosquitoes as well as other insects’ bites.
It was further observed that the workshops such as tailoring, welding and other forms of skill acquisition had no functional equipment for effective training and skill acquisition.
The tall wall buildings of the home is guarded by prison officers so as to avoid jail break.
The treatment of juvenile offenders at remand home 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.
The visit to Borstal institution in Abeokuta shows that the juvenile do not only pass through hardship of surviving a tall fence environment with heavy security, but, also go through the pains of not being fed well so that they don’t have strength of causing trouble or trying to escape according to what one of the officials who pleaded anonymity said.
It was observed that the home lack relevant educational and vocational trainings to equip inmates to live a sustainable life when they eventually return to the larger society.
The kids in the home comprise of those that have been convicted which are regarded as committers and those awaiting trials called non-committers. It was observed that those convicted have a uniform they put on, but, the kids still awaiting trial are just been kept there till judgment.
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.
Some of the kids in the home that are seen as hardened criminal were chained because they have tried to escape more than two times and feeding of such kids were based on routine according to one of the officials who pleaded anonymity.
WHAT THE JUNIVILE ACT SAYS ABOUT DETENTION OF JUVENILE
The treatment meted to juveniles at Abeokuta Borstal home is in negation to the role the home is supposed to play in accordance with the Child Right Act 2003.
Section 234 of the Child Right Act explained the assistance the home is expected to render during rehabilitation: “A child in respect of whom an order referred to in section 227 of this Act is made, shall be provided, where appropriate, with necessary assistance, including accommodation, education or vocational training, employment and any other helpful and practical assistance, during the period the order is in force.
Section 236 sub sections (5) noted that “Inter‐Ministerial and Inter‐Departmental co‐operation shall be encouraged for the purpose of providing adequate academic or vocational training for any child offender placed in an institution or ensure that the child does not leave the institution at an educational disadvantage.
Section 204 of Child Act 2003 also speaks on what may subject a child to criminal justice process: “Child to be subjected to only child justice system and processes. 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.
Also section 222 from subsection 1-2 stipulated offences that may lead to the detain of a child
(1) Notwithstanding anything in this Act to the contrary, where a child is found to have attempted to commit treason, murder, robbery or manslaughter, or wounded another person with intent to do grievous harm, the Court may order the child to be detained for such period as may be specified in the order.
(2) Where an order is made under subsection (1) of this section, the child shall, during that period, notwithstanding anything in the other provisions of this Act, be liable to be detained in such place and on such conditions as the Court may direct, and the child whilst so detained shah be deemed to be in legal custody.
JUVENILES SPEAK ON THEIR EXPERIENCE IN THE HOME Presently, there are three functional borstal training institutions in Nigeria located in Kaduna, Ilorin and Abeokuta.
Borstal Institutions are run by the Nigerian Prisons Service. Borstal is sometimes used loosely to apply to other kinds of youth institution or reformatory such as Juvenile Reformatory Homes, Approved Schools and Youth Detention Centres. The court sentence for juveniles is officially called “borstal training” and juveniles who have served this sentence are not considered as ex-convicts.
Unarguably, 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.
They decried the harsh law being used on them, explaining that they are not being fed the way they supposed to and they are being treated like real prisoners as their movements are being monitored.
Speaking on their childhood experience, many of the kids described it as a bad one, saying that they took into crime because they don’t have parental care.
Just like the way life has not been so sweet for Tony and Tunde, a 15-year old boy simply identified as Jamiu ended up in the home after he committed murder. Even though, Jamiu claimed to have mistakenly killed the persons in question with knives, he stressed that the treatment he receive is even worse compare to others that were arrested for robbery or cultism.
Jamiu who has been remanded in the juvenile home since he was 11 did not even have the opportunities of enjoying childhood like other kids because he has spent one of the most important part of his lie behind four walls.
“I was born and brought in Mushin and I have been remanded here since I was 11 year old for murder.
“I had an argument with my brother then and I mistakenly stabbed him to death. Since then I have been remanded here so that they can rehabilitate me, but, all I have received since I get to this place is pains.
“I did not enjoy my childhood at all because I have spent the 6 important years of my life behind tall walls and surveillance.
“We are suffering here, they don’t train us especially people like us that has committed murder. They always believe that we are criminals that cannot be changed; they always see us as someone that must not be fed too much.
“Although, there are some of us that have attempted escape more than once and the treatment they give to those ones is worse compare to ours.
“If I went back to the society, I don’t think there is nothing I can do because I have not been able to get the training like that here.
“Yes, they always train us occasionally, but, the training was not every time except the few ones among us that benefit, but, people like us that have killed someone before, we are condemn in this place”.
BORSTAL ADMITS CONGESTION, ESCAPE ATTEMPTS BY THE JUVENILES After several efforts, the Public Relations Officers of the Borstal institution, ASP Yusuff Raji who later spoke on the state of the home admitted that the juvenile home is congested because it is the smallest among the three Borstal institute across the country.
Raji added that the rooms which have been over crowded with juvenile offenders have affected the standard of living and provision of enabling environment to the children at the home.
The PRO who was trying to be cautious with the choice word disclosed that the facility supposed to accommodate not more than 150 children, but, it is currently accommodating over 300 juvenile offenders.
He said, “This Borstal happens to be the smallest in all the three we have in the country, it is the smallest in terms of structure, facilities and everything.
“And I think it is one of the most populated out of the other ones which have bigger landmark and hostel facilities.
“In our facility, we have three blocks; the third one is under construction while the other two have been in existence for quite long. It is a block of three rooms and set of toilets at both extreme.
“In honesty, the place is congested because the facilities are built to serve like 150 children, but, it ended up having around over 300 children.
“If I am telling you that it is not congested I might be too cautious with my word, it is congested and this congestion affects a lot of things in terms of enabling environment for the boys.
“I don’t know the number of people that are supposed to be in the rooms, but, one thing I am sure is that the number exceed what ideally it should be there.
Raji while speaking on the attempts made by some of the juveniles to escape from the home said many of the attempts have not been totally successful.
He stressed that the home is not a place of comfort because the kids are restricted which always warrant the attempts made by some of them to one to escape from the home.
According to him, some of them are not comfortable finding themselves behind closed doors and at slightest opportunities; some of them still find a way in escaping from here.
“Though, majority of them have not been successful, but, the fact that you are locked up in a facility or restricted for people that have the freedom all the day of their life, definitely, they are not confortable.
“There have been attempt to actually escape, because they are restricted and limited, but, after a while they still have to live, so, we always make them accustom their lifestyle in a way that they will be able to cope when they get outside”, he concluded.
The PRO however insisted that the juvenile offenders who he claimed are called committers are being fed three times a day contrary to the investigation.
Even though, he admitted that some of them are not always satisfy with the quantity of food they are being given, but, the home ensure that they serve them three square meal.
He said, “Feeding is not a problem, they are fed three times a day, in fact, it is normal three square meal, but, for them you know they are still growing up and there is tendency that they eat more than you expect.
“The truth is just that the arrangement of meal cannot be like when you are at home because we have standard portion for everybody either you eat more than that or below that.
Raji further explained that the home also engage in training and certification of the children in the home.
According to him, the training is in different aspect, the training could be in terms of education which is a general training, and we don’t allow most of them that are still in school to stop schooling.
“We always do welcome test for them to be placed in appropriate class and once they are placed in appropriate class, we have staff that are teachers, corpers and even volunteers that assist them in class.
“We have vocational training like tailoring, carpentry, photography, among others”, he maintained.
NGO’s INTERVENTION Apart from the fund the home is getting from the federal government, many Non-Governmental Organizations always come to the home to donate and give out relief materials to the juvenile offenders. It was further gathered that the NGOs always train the juvenile offenders occasionally through educational, psychology, among others training.
Speaking with the Chief Executive Officer of Ifeklyne Charity Foundation, Ifeaka Ogbolime which happens to be one of the few NGOs that come to the remand home regularly, said he was deeply touched when he was told that the children in the home needed support.
According to him, there is still a lot to be done in terms of provision of health needs, educational materials, food supply and power
“We visited Borstal training institution in July 2015.I heard of the institution first when i paid a visit to Badagry Prison service to deliver some relief materials to the inmates.
“I was deeply touched when i heard the kids needed support. I thought i had to visit there and also deliver some relief materials and find out”
JUVENILE THREAT TO SOCIETY – Medical expert
Meanwhile, a medical doctor, Isioma Chukwuka-Nwodo has expressed concern on the living conditions of the children and the effect the society.
Chukwuka-Nwodo stressed that many of the kids are frustrated, hungry and angry with the society and if care is not taking, they will look for other channel so that they can express their anger.
She also said the prison officials must be ready to listen and know the fundamental reasons why they are in the rehabilitation centre through frequent counselling, among others.
“The truth is that any child below the age of 18 is still going through development which is mental and physical development. It is a time that they want to enjoy their environment and they want to know more about life and find the things they can do to survive. When you now look at the juvenile n remand home, it is possible that it hinder their development.
“If they don’t try to correct by knowing how they get there, when they come out, it become a bigger challenges for the society. They are frustrated in so many years, they are angry with the society and hungry.
“They will look for a channel to express that anger and frustrations and that means it is possible they commit worst crime than why they went to the remand home. The majority of them if they are not well rehabilitated and rehabilitation is not just mental rehabilitation, but, also physical rehabilitation, educational rehabilitation”, she concluded.
JUVENILES PUT HOPES ON GOV’T INTERVENTION While the Borstal home continues to be torturous, a few of the juveniles, like Tony and Jamiu are still optimistic of a better life, if government intercedes.
The children called on the government to come to their aid by empowering them and ensuring that the training is been constant so that they can be of better persons when they get back to the society.
Jamiu said, “Government should please come to our aid, we also want to turn a new leaf and we want to make this country proud.
“They need to help us here so that many of us will not go back to the society and become hardened criminals”.
Also, Tony opined that if the government must be ready to orientate the prison officials managing the facility so they don’t see them as people that cannot be corrected.
“I want the government to come to our aid here, we are suffering and there is no doubt about that we are going through pains.
“They should help us by bringing vocational programmes that would assist us. The people here always see us hardened criminals that cannot be changed and that are why they have not assisted us so that we can become better person”, he said.
This investigation was done with the support of the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)