Boy, Found Guilty of Murder at 10, now Spends 2,948 Days in Abeokuta Detention

... Senior lawyers, academics, activists, professionals, parents appeal to Governor Amosun for clemency
By Jamiu FolarinĀ 

After spending 2,948 days in various detentions for the murder of a woman, the case of a 10-year-old boy, Mayowa Abegunrin, was the subject of discussion and reference point to the plights of hundreds of children who are languishing in many Borstal and Juvenile centres across Nigeria.

A lecturer in the Bola Ajibola College of Law (BACOLAW), Crescent University, Abeokuta and Child Rights activist, Mallam Abdussalam Tolani, brought the issue to the front burner at the first Academic Seminar held at the university, tagged " In Loco Parentis".

Citing a letter written by some members of Juvenile Justice Centre (JJC), the lecturer appealed to governor Ibikunle Amosun for the immediate release of the vulnerable boy to prevent him becoming “a nuisance to the Juvenile Correctional Home, Asero, Abeokuta” further lamenting that “there is no single Borstal in several geo-political zones and, thus, juvenile offenders are habitually detained together with adults”.

The JCC members who include professionals, senior public servants and players in private sector lamented that between August 2010 and November, 2018, “the little boy has been a guest of various Police detentions in Odeda, Eleweran and court appearances, enduring excruciatingly painful psycho-emotional injuries,” contrary to statutory provisions which limit the maximum period of detention to three years.

“Since his untimed incarceration, the very regretful boy, now becoming an adult (18 years old!), has become retarded academically and socially, and urgently desires rehabilitation into normal society. Today, the societal verdict of “guilty until proven innocent”, has been pronounced upon his troubled head, in lieu of the fatherly intervention for a Prerogative of Mercy, by the State Governor or the motherly judicial liberation by the Chief Judge of the state, as enshrined in, inter alia, the Child Right Act, 2013”, the letter explained,

Responding to calls by the participants at the academic seminar, Justice Tajudeen Ogunsokan who chaired the event, said the decision of prerogative of mercy resided with the governor and not the Chief Judge.

Justice Ogunsokan who explained that judges act in accordance with the letter and spirit of the law while dispensing justice, called on the stakeholders who are interested in the case of the challenged boy and other related matters, to direct their pleadings to the governor for his prerogatives in the increasing cases of abandoned minors.

While presenting the outcome of his research titled: “In Loco Parentis: A Prognosis to the Social, Legal and Institutional Challenges”, Mall. Tolani gave empirical data to show how issues relating to single parenting, career women, less supervision of children and other social, economic, legal and institutional factors were affecting the future of the young ones.

“This writer is privileged, under the mandate of Juvenile Justice Centre (JJC) to visit the three Institutions in 2018, with more constant touch with the Abeokuta Institute. As at August 2017, the later had not less than 217 boys between the ages of 14 to 20 years old while the Juvenile Correctional Home, Asero, Abeokuta housed, in June, 2018, about 58 children between the ages of 5 to 17 years old, with ailments such as, inter alia, epilepsy, Down Syndrome, psychotic challenges, dyslexia.”

“It is an open secret that when the children come out of these institutions, they become more hardened than they were before admission thereto. The reasons for this are: juvenile suspects are detained beyond the statutory maximum of three (3) years, sometime in company of adults, without trial; the children face dehumanizing and excruciatingly painful conditions of incarceration including poor feeding and clothing, exposure to disease, and the risk of physical and sexual abuse.”

The speaker, also the Executive Secretary of JJC which renders pro bono (free) legal services to kids in conflict with the law, called for feasible legal frame work, preventive application of the law, responsible use of mass media and re-orientation, as the panacea to the challenges.

“...parties to juvenile matters in courts are requested to exhaustively explore Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanics such as arbitration, reconciliation, negotiation and mediation, especially where the factual situations of the cases are not quite contentious. Whatever the pains or gains of the parties, the overriding consideration ought to be the best interest of the offending child. The stakeholders, including the police or other security agencies, prosecution, the courts and custodial authorities are obliged not to maintain retributive justice but to seek and adhere to restorative justice that is rehabilitative.”

The event, declared open by the Dean of BACOLAW, Prof. Momodu Kassim-Momodu, was attended by Ogun State Commissioner of Police, represented by a Deputy Commissioner of Police; the Controller, Borstal Training Institute represented by her Public Relations Officer; the administrator of Juvenile Correctional Home; executives and members of corporate bodies such as Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), National Youth Service Corp (NYSC), and secondary school students.