Nigeria: Hearing On Return Of Du Merci Children Deferred

By Christian Solidarity Worldwide, CSW UK Office

The initial hearing of a court case filed in Kano State by Professor Solomon Musa Tarfa and his wife to secure the return of 16 children from the Du Merci centres for vulnerable children to their care was deferred on 18 July after the lawyer representing the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development failed to attend the proceedings.

The lawyer also failed to delegate the case, occasioning the suspension of the hearing. The presiding judge subsequently suggested the case should either be deferred until 12 October, when the judiciary return from their annual vacation, or transferred to a vacation judge, enabling the case to be heard between the end of July and the first week of August.

The Tarfas’ lawyer agreed for the case to be transferred to a vacation judge. According to CSW’s sources, the presiding judge will be contacting the Chief Justice of Kano State, who is responsible for allocating vacation cases, and a vacation court will in turn issue a new date.

The 16 children were among 27 who were seized from the Du Merci Centres in Kano and Kaduna States following the arrest of Professor Tarfa on Christmas Day in 2019 and placed in the government-run Nasarawa Children’s Home in Kano City. They were denied access to education until 2021, and one of them suffered deformities after being burnt in a fire and receiving insufficient treatment. In January 2021 the five youngest children, then aged between three and eight, were forcibly relocated to a remote facility, reportedly owned by the former governor of Kano State, where their names were changed and they were obliged to recite Arabic, study the Qur’an and attend a mosque.

In June 2021 the professor was acquitted of abducting children from their legal guardians and confining them in an unregistered orphanage. However, on 3 March 2022 he was convicted on a forgery charge submitted by the prosecution lawyer during that trial a day before resting his case. He was eventually acquitted and discharged by an appeal court on 27 January 2023. However, the children have still not been returned to the Tarfas’ custody.

In an Opinion adopted on 23 June 2021, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded the Tarfas, who had suffered similar mistreatment and detentions in 2002, were ‘singled out because of their Christian faith and because they are running an orphanage in a predominantly Muslim area.’ The Working Group also ruled that the detentions of Professor Tarfa and the 16 children were arbitrary, adding that it felt ‘obliged to place on record its deep frustration at the manner in which the Nigerian authorities have handled the present case, especially in relation to the children concerned.’

The Working Group also stated that ‘the appropriate remedy would be to accord Mr. and Ms. Tarfa and the 16 minors […] an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law,’ emphasising in addition ‘that the 16 minors should be immediately released and that the best interests of the child should be the prime consideration in determining their future placement.’

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘The fact that the Tarfas have had to go to such expense when the children should already have been returned to their care is both unfortunate and unfair. There is no legitimate reason for this not to have occurred automatically upon Professor Tarfa’s acquittal of the initial charges levelled against him. The history of legal delays, adjournments and deferrals in the Tarfas’ case raises concerns that these latest developments may also be designed to prolong the uncertainty and anguish of a family that has suffered for far too long. However, we are hopeful that the recent change of government will mean that justice is finally served, that all the children will be returned, and that reparations will be made for the trauma and expense incurred over the past three and a half years.’