Nigeria: Hearing On Return Of 16 Du Merci Children Delayed Again

By Christian Solidarity Worldwide, CSW UK Office
Professor Tarfa with four of the youngest Du Merci children
Professor Tarfa with four of the youngest Du Merci children

CSW has learned that a second court hearing of the case to secure the return of 16 children from the Du Merci centres for vulnerable children was adjourned on 24 August.

The first hearing of the case filed by Du Merci co-founders Professor Solomon and Mrs Mercy Tarfa for the return of the children to their care was deferred on 18 July after the lawyer representing the Kano State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, which currently has custody of the children, failed to attend the proceedings. The case was transferred to a vacation judge, as the presiding judge was due to begin annual leave.

According to local sources, during the subsequent hearing at High Court 16, Miller Road, Kano city on 24 August, the female vacation judge began by stating the case should not have been transferred to her court, but eventually agreed to hear the arguments of both parties.

During their submission, lawyers for the Kano State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development claimed they had evidence that proved the Du Merci centre ran a baby-making factory.

The Tarfa’s lawyers countered by drawing the judge’s attention to the fact that this claim had been dismissed by High Court 16, Bompai Road, and by the Kano State Appeal Court. The judge asked them to produce these court judgements at the next sitting, and adjourned the proceedings until 20 September.

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 Professor Tarfa 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.

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘Once again adjournments and deferrals are delaying justice for the Tarfas and prolonging the suffering of children who have been separated for almost four years from the only parents most of them have ever known. We reiterate that the children should have been returned to the Tarfas’ care as soon as the professor was acquitted of the child abduction charge, and the authorities’ continued failure to acknowledge and facilitate this in a timely manner only adds to the injustices this family has endured. Reparations must be made, and the next hearing must result in the return of the remaining 16 children without further delay.’