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Christian Foundation Decries Lengthy Detention of Orphanage Co-founder in Nigeria

Professor Richard Solomon Musa Tarfa . Credit: CSW

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is demanding the release of a professor accused of forging certificates to start a foundation that takes care of homeless children in Nigeria’s Kaduna State where many have lost their guardians owing to protracted militant attacks.

The Christian human rights foundation reports that Professor Richard Solomon Musa Tarfa was arrested on 25 December 2019 when armed police officers, accompanied by agents of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), invaded the Du Merci orphanages he co-founded, taking occupants of the facility away.

In a Thursday, October 7 report, CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas called for the compensation of Prof. Tarfa whose trial had been adjourned for the second time to November 23 even after a Nigerian court found the accusations against him unfounded.

“It is frustrating that Professor Tarfa’s trial is yet to end. However, now that evidence has been provided which illustrates the accusations of forgery are unsubstantiated, if justice prevails, we anticipate his full acquittal on 23 November,” Mr. Mervyn said.

He added, “CSW continues to call for the swift return of all of the children who were seized from the Du Merci orphanages in December 2019. They have spent almost two years away from the people they know as parents, and their rights to education and freedom of religion or belief are being violated comprehensively.”

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“We also urge the Kano State authorities to ensure that full reparations are made for the trauma caused to this family during this lengthy, painful and unnecessary ordeal,” the CSW official said.

The professor is accused of forging a certificate of registration from Kano State Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development. 

CSW reports that the adjournment of Prof Tarfa’s trial was announced after a court session on October 6 in which the professor and a witness from his bank testified about how he acquired the certificate from the office of Women’s Affairs and Social Development.

“A bank account statement showing a payment to a director in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs for the certificate was also presented, and the professor and his witness were cross examined by the state prosecutor,” the foundation which advocates for religious freedom reports.

Following the cross-examinations, the case was adjourned until November 23 for the adoption of final written addresses.

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The Nigerian professor was reportedly obliged to accompany officers on a similar raid on the Du Merci orphanage in Kaduna State on 31 December 2020 and was subsequently held in pre-trial detention until 10 December 2020, when he was released on bail.

On 24 June 2021, he was acquitted of abducting 19 children from their legal guardians and confining them in an unregistered orphanage by a High Court in Kano. 

However, the forgery charge that he is currently answering was submitted during this trial by the lawyer for the prosecution a day before he had rested his case, CSW reports.

The organization narrates that the current trial opened on July 27 but was adjourned when the professor’s lawyer asked to be given time to produce witnesses to corroborate his statements.

The professor opened Du Merci Centre alongside his wife Mercy Solomon Tarfa in Kaduna’s Kano State in 1996 to care for abandoned children in the Christian District of Sabon Gari.

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The centre provides accommodation for these children, who view them as parents and are educated and cared for until they are able to live successful independent lives.

According to the October 7 report by CSW, the facility also accommodates young women who are pregnant out of wedlock, until they give birth, reconciling them whenever possible with parents who had rejected them due to social stigma.

Local sources have told the Christian entity that Prof. Tarfa was initially accused of not having a licence to operate an orphanage. “However, once his wife produced documentation proving the orphanage was duly registered to operate, the charges were allegedly changed to criminal abduction of minors,” the organization reports.

“This is not the first time the professor has been arrested in an attempt to close down the orphanage,” the leadership of CSW bemoans, adding in reference to the professor, “He was initially detained in 2002 following a similar raid on the orphanage.”

However, the Christian entity continues, “a High Court ruled that the Du Merci Centre was duly registered and was conducting a legitimate endeavor. The court also ordered the return of children who had been removed from the orphanage.”

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In a past report, Mervyn called for transparency in handling the professor’s case, including identifying the home from which the accused had reportedly kidnapped children,

“We commend every effort to address the abduction of minors in a proactive manner, and are aware of several cases where this is alleged to have occurred,” Mr. Mervyn said.

He added in the June 25 report, “CSW urges the authorities in Kano to focus on ensuring redress in these and other genuine cases, rather than dissipating resources on potentially malicious prosecutions or cases where charges cannot be substantiated.”

The foundation that advocates for the rights of people experiencing all forms of persecution also reported that twenty-seven children who were seized during the raids at the orphanage were subsequently placed in the government-run Nasarawa Children’s Home in Kano City.

Sixteen of the children, the foundation notes, have remained at the government facility ever since, unable to attend school or church, and are also reportedly suffering mistreatment on account of their religious belief. 

In January 2021, the authorities began the process of forcibly relocating the younger children from the government-run home, a situation that CSW reports raised concerns for the children’s continued physical and psychological wellbeing. 

“So far, five children aged between three and eight have been transferred to an isolated rural location, where their names have been changed,” the human rights foundation reported, and added, “Additionally, the Tarfa’s legal representative has been denied access to the children who are still in the government-run home in the State capital.”

Mr. Mervyn decried what he referred to as psychological trauma that he said continued to be inflicted on the Du Merci children, noting that some of the children were vulnerable preschoolers.

The Founder President of CSW termed the treatment of the vulnerable children as “unnecessary, incalculable and unacceptable.”