Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Imo state Governor, Chief Emeka Ihedioha is worried about the fate of juveniles in Nigeria’s Correctional facilities across the country.
The Correctional centre in the state just like in virtually every other facility is currently overcrowded with 2,645 inmates, made up of 2,404 awaiting trial and 241 already convicted.
Unfortunately, 48 of these inmates are juvenile with little or no hope of returning to their parents.
State Comptroller of the Nigeria Correctional service, Chris Okoye said the old prison service was not having the desired effect on young offenders because of lack of reformatory and remand homes in the custodial centre to look after them.
Experts said that aside the custodial homes, Borstal institution is very necessary to broaden the knowledge of the young lads before they are reintegrated into the society.
The reform centre, according to the comptroller, will keep them away from hardened criminals; noting that it would be of no use if they were remanded for reform and they came out hardened.
“We have some facilities to take care of this young ones but it is a pity they are not enough, there are no reformatory homes, no remand homes, that will help to keep the juveniles away from the incoming harden criminals,” Okoye said.
It was the foregoing scenario that prompted the Imo state Government through Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Information and Advocacy, Adaora Onyechere, to explore how the juveniles could be saved from the impending danger.
The Government organised a three-day programme on reformation and reorientation of the young offenders, recently, right inside the correctional centre in Owerri.
Governor Ihedioha, who went round interacting with the juveniles, giving them words of encouragement, however, expressed same fear that the aim of bringing the inmates to the correctional centre might be defeated, if they were not properly reformed at the end of the day.
He regretted that only three Borstal institutions for reform were available in the country, in Kaduna, Ilorin and Abeokuta, with none in the whole of the South-East and South-South.
He explained that Borstal institutions are where juvenile offenders are remanded and given both educational and vocational training to rehabilitate and reform them before reintegration into society.
Ihedioha, however, clamoured for a Borstal institution in the state, as it will reduce the chances of youths who according to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) survey constitute over 40 per cent of Nigerian population are less than 18 years old.
He was also moved by the number of the juveniles as he promised to set up a committee on prerogative of mercy to give freedom to the young offenders.
“I specially thank Adaora for convincing me; it is important to see different sides of the world, anyone of us could have been here. I hope our visit would touch their lives individually.
“The Attorney General in conjunction with the state Correctional service has been directed to look into this, particularly juveniles and advise the government appropriately.
“Government is committed to any form of correctional system especially to correct and not to condemn; we would not leave any stone unturned in reforming the inmates.
“We would set up a committee on prerogative of mercy to see to the freedom of these young inmates, also we would work towards establishing a Borstal institution in the state, none presently can be found in southeast or south south, therefore, therefore, we shall engage the Imo command on how to set the ball of reform rolling,” Ihedioha enthused.
Supporting the governor’s promise, House of Assembly member for Nwangele State Constituency, Amara Chyna-Iwuayanwu, who was also present at the event, vowed to take the matter to the floor of the house for quick consideration.
The lawmaker said: “I am touched by what I have seen here today, it’s a pity most of the inmates here may not be guilty but they are here still awaiting trial. We are going to fast-track their cases and see that most of them get justice”.
On her part, Onyechere affirmed that establishment of Borstal centres has become necessary in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
She attributed present plight of some of the young offenders to ignorance, poverty and unemployment even as she maintained that the only way to get the juveniles reintegrated to the society was through good Borstal reformation.
The church was not also left out in the agitation for new life for the juveniles as Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Diocese; Most Rev. Anthony Obinna was represented by Rev. Father Gerald Njoku.
“We thank the governor for showing concern, juveniles are often neglected, the church has played significant roles to economic, social emancipation of these young ones and we shall continue to partner any organisation or individual to reform them,” Njoku stated.
Leader of the juveniles, 17-year-old Sopuruchi Onuora, from Ahiazu Mbaise who is also pastor of the correctional service chaplaincy, promised the governor that if released, they would never go back to what brought them to the centre.
“We thank you for coming to visit us, most of us you see here are not guilty of what they said we committed; we want you to remember us and as you do this, all those plotting against you shall fall, you shall complete the work for which you were sent in Jesus name,” Onuora prayed.