Juvenile Justice System in Nigeria: A Necessary or a Luxury? – Terinwa Adesipo


Historical development makes it apparent that the first organized and institutionalized form of Juvenile justice system was given birth to in faraway America, although, it is originally dated back to the middle ages when the church employed a system akin to this in tackling crimes and delinquencies, a system that was specially designed to house and treat all the limitations that comes with adolescence, one largely defined by such conducts that bespeaks nothing but immaturity and such other such as juvenile delinquencies with the major, if not only goal of rehabilitation. There exist no society without a trace, if not an inevitable heaps of juvenile conducts, after all, the youths are a part of every society while adolescence is an inevitable stage of every man’s life, a stage displaced in importance only by childhood.

The juvenile justice system exist majorly to preserve the ever-continuing rationality and mental well being of  the child and the youths, while securing for them such basic right such as right to life and dignity, the system of which was ultimately created with the aim of preserving and rehabilitating the youths, a system so inventive and vital so much that it goes to root of the existence of every society. Let me clearly and unequivocally state that, there exist no justification for the commission of a crime but adolescents just like children are a “special” class of the society, those who are mostly defined by nothing but immaturity, mis (priority), and occasionally if not inevitably, a lack of sense of direction; the resultant effect of childishness.  For this reason, they should be made to enjoy this somewhat special treatment with the bright hope that they will be wholly and effectively reformed without ever having to by any bit or in any way perceive the harshness that comes with penalties such as being kept away behind bars and prison walls when there are better, effective and efficient alternatives. After all, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

The young are young, not only young at age but also at understanding the gravity that comes with the illegal acts they sometimes manifest, or of what effectiveness is going fishing with a loosely deficient fishing net, the fisherman should be rest assured of nothing but an empty basket after long hours of strenuous fishing; this in comparison with imprisoning a juvenile delinquent as well as treating them similarly as “grown” and fully matured delinquents is nothing but a futile attempt at reforming them. Simply put, a delinquent would hardly be rehabilitated and reformed by been sent behind bars or prison walls created specifically not for them, neither was it fashioned out in a way that reforms them; a place where they are become connected and mentored by “adult” criminals, a means that therefore contributes nothing to the rehabilitation and reformation of the child is therefore of no benefit to the child and even the society.

Just like every other aspect of the Nigeria life, what defines her existence are premised mightily on such “colourful” but unhelpful concept we like to baptize “uniqueness”, one that only connotes that we have different and special ways of doing things, as a means of distinguishing ourselves even though those means are unhelpful and bespeaks negativity. There is therefore no gainsaying as to the fact that we are a people who possess a “unique” way of doing everything, an identifying hallmark that now greatly defines our existence, “uniqueness” in breaking the laws, a uniquely deficient electricity sector, a uniquely designed unmotorable asphalt, a uniquely designed hospital with no facilities and medical personnel, a uniquely designed vote “buying” system, a uniquely designed unfitting system of government, a uniquely designed political life, and now, a uniquely designed administration of criminal justice system where children, adolescents and youths are kept away behind prison doors for committing minor offences.  The tragic fact about this uniqueness is that it has done more harm if ever any good to our existence, one that proudly contributes and serves as a tower of strength to various malady that now bedevils our existence as a nation.

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Justice just like Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher intoned is the greatest virtue; the only duty the law as well as everyone must strive to achieve, it is the only hope of greatness, progress, unity and equality for all and sundry, while the judiciary is considered to be the last hope of the common man, justice itself is the only hope of man. The criminal justice system as well as laws exist to regulate the actions of man in the society, but laws cannot be made to come alive without an efficient and effective administration of Justice system, an administration of justice system just like that of the Nigerian state that therefore derives delight in the imprisonment and incarceration of its juvenile as well as youths is a threat to its existence. It is so tragic seeing plethora of juveniles some of who are just too young to be being kept away behind the walls of the Nigeria Prison for crimes that can be considered minor when they can be reformed, trained and restored back to the society to live a life filled with purpose, fulfillment and defined by legality. It is now a pastime for such Nigerian law enforcement agency to jail juveniles as comeuppance for crimes that they could as well had been kept in retention centre, correctional facilities or reform homes or even just community service. A visit to Nigeria prisons would attest to the numerically large presence of young boys and girls behind the walls of the prison or of what importance is incarcerating a boy of 14 years or a girl of 15 years? This ridiculously are actualities that exist behind the walls of the Nigeria prison?. The question then will be what happens to such other inventive, productive and efficient alternatives that the juvenile justice system preaches?

Pardon the quick aside, but in a clime like Nigeria, juvenile delinquency is almost inevitable, some might ask why? But what can be said of a system that gives no two straws about its youths, or what do we say of a deformed educational system governed by incessant strikes and disruption of Academic calendar, a teeming population of youths with no jobs, no shelter and a lot of those who are on the street, homeless and hopeless, a system that boast of kleptocrats, oligarchs and megalomaniacs, while stylishly and embarrassingly sending the message that there exist no future for the youths and the child in Nigeria, but the only way out for them is to seek solace in criminalities , one which has successfully materialized into a growing population of youths who are the brothers, sisters and family members of  cybercrime, armed and unarmed robbery, kidnapping, cultism, drug abuse, thuggery and hooliganism among innumerable other “uniqueness” the system now represents.

It is disheartening that the young child in Nigeria is tragically and wrongly orientated in nothing but how the only sure way to survive and succeed in this part of the world is by crook and not by book, by stealing and not reading, by criminality and not legality. They have been greatly (mis) informed that those beautiful things of life can only be achieved by employing the instrument of illegality and criminality, and that those other things such as greatness, progress, success and top notch achievements achieved through integrity and moral uprightness are only a figment of existence. Maybe a reason I was not too surprised but full of pity when in a conversation with a young boy of 13 years who lived on my  street, he stated how schooling is only a waste of time, and how all he intends to do after his High school is nothing but “carry gun”, couldn’t still help but be bewildered, a blatant reflection of how pitiable the society now is, because growing up the dream a lot usually possess even though did not end up achieving them was how it is respectful to be a doctor, an engineer, a pilot among innumerable other profession that were considered great and purposeful. A friend of mine who overheard the conversation in a re-orientating manner informed him about how being upright, purposeful and learned are sure tools needed to excel in the market of life, the young lad at the drop of a hat counter-argued stating that those are just mere lies we have been hoodwinked to believe and how embezzling public funds, cybercrime and “carrying guns” are the only path to “success”. Hearing this from a young boy, I couldn’t but help cry for the posterity while reflecting about how great virtues which ones defined our existence have now been tossed into the trash can of the past, pray tell, why won’t juvenile delinquency reign in Nigeria?

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Seeing the ills that now inflicts its youth, the Nigeria Criminal Justice system rather than logically battle this menace by creating a well structured justice system that reforms the child and rehabilitates the youth via such productive, effective and problem solving means such as an effective juvenile justice system, it proudly, unabashedly and immediately sends delinquent behind prison doors, with the message that there exist no room for juvenile delinquents (only rich and powerful adult delinquents) in Nigeria, this is nothing but an avowed disregard for living and existence, because as far as I checked, they are just kids who are a product of a society that glorifies “adult criminality”.

The Nigeria criminal Justice system is apparently and blatantly ill structured, one that neglects inventive and progressive means such as an effective juvenile justice system where rational, logical, rehabilitative and reforming modus are employed to tackling issues of delinquencies, while sending the message that life out there is only for “grown and mature” criminals. It is so disheartening to know that most Nigeria prisons shelters minors and juveniles, a chunk of whose crime can only be termed “minor” offences but who are now made to live away in the dark (v)alleys of the prison walls, as if this were not enough, they are treated and trained to be cruel and grown criminal, those who see the world only from the perspective of wickedness and hatred. Methinks, nothing can more inspire cruelty and motivate wickedness in a young child than be made to go through such life threatening lessons from the dungeons of the prison walls, the resultant effect of which would end in nothing but destruction of such a society.

The United Church of Christ, a liberal-leaning protestant mainline protestant denomination, feeling concerned about the ill treatment of juveniles delinquent once reported that that as against the United Nations convention on the Rights of the Child which states that crime committed by a juvenile should not result in execution or life in prison without parole, and that as against this sacred principle, five states executes people for juvenile offences to which Nigeria alongside Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are all guilty. What then is the beauty of treating young delinquents as though they are adult criminals, why treat them with a system that does not aid in their rehabilitation but rather deforms them the more, why deny them the right to live a purposeful, meaningful and reformed life when they can still be reformed and restored back to the society as purposeful and upright adults? this are all questions begging for urgent answers.

In a bid to tackle this menace that comes with such juvenile offences, the Child Rights Act was birthed in Nigeria, providing for such basic things such as the rights accrued to a juvenile when facing a criminal charges while furthermore providing for such other things such as a specialized Children police unit, to be created to exclusively deal with issues that concerns juvenile delinquencies, the reality of which is very much a castle in the air in today’s Nigeria. Sadly, or what can be said of a law that provides that the police or the prosecutor dealing with a case involving a child offender possess the power to dispose of a case without resorting to formal trial, but should necessarily employ such other helpful and reasonable alternatives such as supervision, guidance, restitution among innumerable others but the manifestation of which is not in any way done or seen to be done.

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The Nigeria state has gone a bit far in its existence but in this few years, it has gotten wrong a lot of things, we have greatly metamorphosed into a nation that is failing not to say failed, one bedeviled by disunity, disorderliness, insecurity and criminalities. Let me clearly state that life as well as crime are to sacred to be treated with negligence and disdain, the child as well as the youth are too important to be neglected and kept away behind prison doors, the young shall surely grow and today’s juvenile is tomorrows adult. What then will be the lot of a system that rather than rehabilitates and reforms its youths, proudly and unabashedly destructively preserves and educates them behind prison doors, a school that teaches them nothing but helps in “training and developing” them to be professional delinquents.

I believe that it is the apex point in Nigeria’s existence where the minds of the child and the youth must necessarily be re-oriented, one that preaches that legality, integrity and good virtues as against criminality and illegality is the only way to attaining great heights and cutting the mustard in the market of life. It therefore should be essentially noted that this cannot be made to happen without a fundamentally restructured national, political and judicial life where criminality of the “old and matured” is aided and encouraged but those of the young must be developed, trained and preserved behind prison doors. A criminal justice system that refuses to reform its youths is not only a danger to itself but also to its unborn generations. It is therefore the apex time in the history of the country when the criminal justice system must be restructured and reformed to rehabilitate not only the young but all and sundry before it transmogrify into the instrumental toolkit of destruction that might well consume the entire nation.

Christ being re-crucified in Nigeria, the juvenile justice system as well as the way such issues of delinquencies are addressed and treated might well be the ultimate test of our existence as a nation, one which the future of the country solidly and mightily depends on. Moving forward, I, just like the Twenty third general synod of the United Christian Church  “affirm the rights  of juveniles to an equitable system of justice that respects the life and promises of youth”, one that understands that criminality and illegality should be never be made to survive in the life of the youths as well as juveniles but in doing this that only reasonable, sensible and productive means that reforms and rehabilitates them must be employed. This ultimately is the beauty of the Juvenile justice system. The juvenile justice system I believe is not only the power to destroy juvenile criminality or delinquency, in it lies the power to keep alive the mental, physical and social wellbeing of our youths, preserve our peace, ensure lasting security, attain illimitable progress and together enjoy a lasting and enduring unity as a nation, in it only lies the power to develop great leaders of tomorrow, leaders of potential who will help in re-building and shaping not just Nigeria but the world. Please, I beseech, let us save our youths as well as our future from this destruction, let them be reformed and restored to the society, the society needs them, our world needs them, posterity needs them, let them be given another opportunity at life, a life of greatness and purpose. Please, I pray, let this cup of be made to pass over them.

Adesipo Adeterinwa is a third year law student of the Faculty of
Law,  Lagos State University

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