Parental failure, police wickedness exposed as CJ frees 42 juveniles
It was a moment of grisly and sobering revelations, when the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Kazeem Alogba, on Tuesday, reviewed the case files of 42 juveniles who had been remanded in the Borstal Training Institution, Adigbe, Abeokuta, Ogun State. The exercise, which took place in the foyer of the Lagos State Magistrates’ Court in Ogba, was, in part, an exhibition of what can only be described as sheer wickedness by some men of the Nigeria Police Force. The reviewed cases also stressed the need for circumspection on the part of Nigerian judges and magistrates when confronted with criminal case files; just as it demonstrated that parental failure is largely to blame when children come in conflict with the law and have to be locked away. Of the 42 reviewed cases, two stood out to particularly drive home these points.
Five skinny striplings, their gaunt appearances gave away the harsh conditions inside the Adigbe borstal home. On interrogation by the Chief Judge, the juveniles, including two siblings, said they were picked up by the police right from their bed, where they were sleeping. There had been a street fight in their neighbourhood in the Agege area of Lagos. What followed was a police raid. The scores arrested were taken to the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti. Many were released after paying N30,000 each for bail. Failure to pay led these five boys into detention.
Their story enraged the Chief Judge. Did the police investigate the case? If so, what evidences did the police present to the court, necessitating their long remand? What actions did their parents take? These were some of the questions the CJ raised.
“These are children, caught sleeping in the same room, no arms found with them, nobody was said to have been killed by them and then they have stayed in detention for almost a year!” the Chief Judge was aghast.
Justice Alogba said, “If it is true that these children were caught sleeping together, you are all experts in your field, a thorough investigation would have revealed to you that these children don’t belong to any gang or any cult or involved in any nefarious activities.
“The police, the courts, the prosecutors, this does not speak well of us. And if these people are not well catered for, they will come out to become people who hate society because these places are not five-star hotels. If you allow them to go there, they get better trained to become criminals and one day, they will be released, then, we will all face it.”
Just as pathetic as the story of the five boys was the case of a 16-year-old apprentice vulcaniser, who was arrested in January 2019 in the Odo Eran area of Iyana Oworo.
The police had charged him with cultism and he had spent 19 months in detention. But the boy told the Chief Judge on Tuesday that he only fought with a commercial motorcyclist who refused to pay him for his services. He said in the scuffle between him and the motorcyclist, the headlamp of the motorcycle broke and the motorcyclist called the police.
“I don’t belong to any cult,” the boy said.
Mrs Iyabo Soluade of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Upper Room Assembly, who was on hand to pick the boy, said she paid N30,000 to officials before the teenager could be removed from Ikoyi Prison and transferred the borstal home.
Soluade said the boy could not have been a cultist, as he was among a group of teenagers taken up by the church to train in different vocations. She explained that she got to know about the boy’s arrest after waiting for two weeks, to no avail, for the boy show up and pick a vulcanising machine procured for him by the church
Troubled by there revelations, the Chief Judge warned men of the Nigeria Police Force against the notion that mass arrest of people is a measure of their success.
He said, “It is not the number of people who are caught that will tell that we have done our work well. If anybody who did these thought that he was doing his work and it is a measure of success, I think that person is not fit to be in the police force. A good police force with good men will do their investigation. But you just put these boys in detention and you were transferring them from one place to another. How many serious offenders have they met along the line when they were traversing police stations? Remember, we all have children too and what we do to others’ children, by the grace of God, will be done to yours too. You will all pay for it!”
Judges, magistrates must look beyond papers
The Chief Judge said the cases had emphasised the need for judicial officers not to take papers brought before them on face value.
He said, “That is why as judges, magistrates, we must bring back our jurisprudential training and look beyond the papers we have before us. I am not saying that people who are brought should just be let off for fun. But when children like this are brought before you, you have to wake up to your duty to society.
“It is not a thing of joy that you just send people to jail or remand homes. You will not be doing your work if you just do that without taking into consideration all parameters and all circumstances of each case that comes before you. Why will this kind of children be brought before you and the cases are not progressing and you allow these children to be held in remand? You have not done yourself any good at all. And henceforth, I am not going to take kindly to this kind of thing.”
‘Don’t be timid in doing your job’
Justice Alogba also called on magistrates and judges not to be timid to strike out a criminal case, if they were convinced that was the right thing to do.
“And as I have always said, don’t be timid in doing your job. Somebody is brought before you and there is no prima facie case and the prosecution is not making any progress, please strike out the case! Let them write petitions. I am solidly behind you.”
CJ threatens to detain mother
On being questioned, the mother of one of the boys revealed that she left him with her grandmother when she remarried. She drew the ire of the Chief Judge.
“That’s absolute nonsense!” the Chief Judge said. “Your child should come before whoever you are marrying. If anyone wants to marry you and cannot take your child, leave them and face your child!
“If I have my way, I will say they should detain you. Does it sound reasonable that you don’t know the whereabouts of your child for three weeks? Please, parents, wake up to your responsibilities. And not just the mothers, also fathers. We are all guilty of this.
“When it pleases God to favour us with these children and we abandon their growth, we abandon their moral upbringing, all because we are chasing other things of life, which can never bring pleasure to anyone. If you fail to take care of these children, you will not rest. It is a matter of give and take; it is a matter of garbage in, garbage out. So, I will call us to reawaken ourselves to the duty that we have towards these children.”