By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja
The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, on Tuesday, urged the Federal Government to grant Presidential amnesty to 13-year-old Omar Farouq, who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by a Sharia Court in Kano State for alleged blasphemy.
Farouq was on August 10, found guilty and jailed with menial labour by the Sharia court, after he was accused of using “disparaging language on Allah” during a disagreement with his friend.
UNICEF pleaded for clemency for him during a virtual interactive session the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, held with Attorneys-General and Heads of Courts of the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory on Tuesday.
The topic of discussion at the virtual meeting was the implementation of the “Amnesty and Decongestion Programme for Juveniles Deprived of The Liberty during Covid-19 Pandemic and Beyond”.
In its goodwill message, UNICEF, through its Country Representative, Mr. Peter Hawkins, pleaded that Farouq should be considered in the planned amnesty program for juveniles.
Hawkins stressed that section 212 of Nigeria’s Child Rights Act, 2003, prohibited the arbitrary detention of juveniles.
While commending the Cross River State Government for the prompt release of 30 children below the age of 18 that were in detention, the UNICEF representative, begged FG to also release Farouq from detention.
“Due consideration should be given for him to have amnesty as part of this program”, Hawkins pleaded.
The plea came shortly after the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Ja’afaru Ahmed, disclosed that a total number of 738 juveniles are currently detained in three borstal centers in the country.
The NCS boss who was represented by a Deputy Comptroller-General, Mr. Tunde Ladipo, said the juveniles are currently locked up at borstal centers in Abeokuta in Ogun State, Illorin in Kwara State, and in Kaduna.
According to him, “In the three borstal centers, the one in Abeokuta has 328 children, Illorin has 165, while Kaduna has 245 children”.
He said the facilities serve as rehabilitation centers for the treatment of juvenile and young offenders that were admitted through valid warrants from courts of competent jurisdiction, and with the consent of parents or guardians.
He said the NCS took stringent measures that ensured that no inmate in the country was exposed to COVID-19.
Meanwhile, in his speech at the virtual meeting, the AGF, said the Federal Ministry of Justice has articulated plans for the second phase of nationwide custodial decongestion that will focus on implementing amnesty and decongestion for juveniles deprived of their liberty during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Malami thanked the AGs of Kogi, Kaduna, Edo, Ebonyi, Anambra Delta, and Zamfara for submitting their juvenile lists, even as he urged other states to do the same within the week “for a collaborative effort to ensure the success of this Juvenile Decongestion Programme”.
He said: “Considering the vulnerability and susceptibility of juveniles and children deprived of liberty in locked facilities, correctional centres, borstal homes, including those detained with their parents or caregivers, and those detained on national security grounds, to contracting the Coronavirus, due to the congested environment they are detained in; the Ministry classifies this Second Phase of the said exercise to be very strategic in achieving Juvenile Justice Reform and attainment of Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
“I wish to underpin the importance of this intervention exercise which is aptly focused on juveniles, by stating its relevance to the effective implementation of some of the provisions of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019 especially section 35, that clearly stipulates provisions on juvenile offenders.
“Also, this intervention will serve as an impetus to the adoption and implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Childs Rights Act, 2003 that promotes the principle of detention as a last resort and use of diversionary alternatives for children in conflict with the law”.
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