The inspiration to begin a project for poor orphaned, abandoned and underprivileged children when as Director of the Justice Development & Peace Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria, I discharged my duties towards the Remand Home in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria. To start with, let me explain what a ‘Remand Home’ is:
The term “Remand” is derived from the Latin word “remandare” which means, “to commit again” or “to send back” especially into custody as it is used in terms of sending back to jail when it is said “send back to custody” for “to be remanded”. So it means the placing of someone charged with a crime on bail or in jail. It therefore means some form of detention for young delinquents, the case for which it is used in Nigeria. Hence in both cases, it is some kind of imprisonment for an offender. Rightly speaking therefore, in Nigeria, children kept in the Remand Home are juvenile delinquents by which it is meant, children who have committed various criminal offences but cannot for reason of their ages (below 18) be sent to normal prisons as adults. It is worthwhile to mention here that in the Nigerian situation, offences committed by such children have been observed to include: murder, theft, burglary, rape, assault, etc.
Ideally speaking, the remand home is an effective institution as it has the singular objective of reforming the minor offenders, a reason for which it is also called a REFORMATORY in some countries in Europe and America. The physical structure of the remand home in Benin City Nigeria, for instance, bears some evidence to the sincere intentions of the initiators of the project as it makes provision for facilities like classrooms (for the teaching of inmates), a mobile court (for consideration of cases and continued assessment of inmates), a play ground and separate hostels for boys and girls, an indication of good planning and hope for discipline. So the initiators of the Remand Home in Nigeria had bright prospects for the juvenile delinquents of the country, but if those after them did not harbour or tolerate in considerable measure, same ideas, not much could be achieved. This has been the case with Nigeria and most of her facilities (including structures and organisations). The experience of coups and counter coups with several years of military dictatorship never helped matters. Rather, it had resulted in the ill orientation of politicians as most of those who came into office think not of the people, but of their “pockets”. Therefore, the administration of the Remand Home was not left out. The situation was close to neglect as little or no attention was given to it. The children in the Remand Home were left without necessary attention. Food was in very small supply. So, the inmates practically depended on Churches and Charitable groups for their welfare. The facilities already in place were not maintained – some children, for instance, slept on spring beds without foams or mattresses, others on bare floor. No chairs in their classrooms, no teachers appointed to teach them, and most disheartening, no water and medical attention. So “they were dying like flies”. What is more? The courts kept sending more children to the home.
Young Inmates at the Remand Home
The inmates at the Remand Home unload food items brought for them by Fr. JohnBosco
In the course of my constant visitations to the children in the remand home in Benin City, as well as my interactions with them, I noticed a grave aberration – The Remand Home which was actually meant to be a reformative home for minor offenders and criminals had over the years been turned into what I call “the problem Child’s Home” in that the government now puts in Children with various kinds of problems, including orphans, minor wanderers and street loiterers rather than building a different home for them. The government rounds up street children and put them in Remand Homes. I made series of attempts to get the government, which was Military then, to do change the situation. At one time I even made the wife of the then Governor of Edo State, Mrs Sophie Bosede Iyam, to visit the home. But all these met with little success.
Yet I do realise that children are the most precious and, at the same time, the most vulnerable members of the human family and in need of the greatest protection. So I went practically “begging” in order that the poor kids may survive. And thanks to God and to the Archbishop of Benin City, Most Rev. Patrick Ekpu who became some pillar of support and assisted us in providing some subsistence for the kids.
The wife of the military Governor, Sophie Bosede Iyam interviews inmates on her visit to the Remand home at the instance of Fr. JohnBosco (Standing behind her in the photo above)
The wife of the military Governor, Mrs Sophie Bosede Iyam her chats with Fr. JohnBosco (in cassock) during her tour round the premises of the Remand Home on her visit
After pointing out to the government the fact of the bad influence the criminally minded children were posing to the innocent orphans and underprivileged children, and noticing that the government did not seem sensitive to it nor ready to make a change, I decided to make a difference in the life of the little kids by providing an alternative to such children. Therefore I embarked on a project of building a home for orphans and underprivileged children. And to properly do this job I have to also ensure that their education is taken care of. Work and development of plans gradually came up as an outfit-package that has come to be known as Catholic CHESS (Children’s Home Education & Social Support) Project, which was formally inaugurated on December 27th 2000 by the Archbishop of Benin City, Most Rev. Dr. Patrick Ekpu. Today, Catholic CHESS Project caters for the young, and as it takes firm hold on ground, assistance is sought to help run the necessary but crucial programs for whose purpose the idea was conceived in the first instance.
Please give us your continued support God Bless!
Rev. Fr. Dr. JohnBosco O. Ezehi
Director of Catholic CHESS Project