Monday, January 21, 2013

Nigerians in UK prisons to be sent home

Nigerians serving in various prisons in the United Kingdom will soon be sent back home to serve their jail terms following a bill to that effect now waiting for President Goodluck Jonathan's assent.

The Clerk of the National Assembly Salisu Maikasuwa forwarded the bill passed by the lawmakers to the President in December last year.

Under the new bill, Nigerians serving in UK jails will be repatriated home without their consent.

THISDAY on Sunday had exclusively reported in August last year that the prisoners' exchange programme entered into between Nigeria and UK was suffering a hitch because of the domestic laws in Nigeria, which oppose forceful repatriation.

Of the 571 Nigerians serving in UK prisons as at August 2012, only 40 of them were said to have agreed to return home to serve out the remainder of their sentences.

One prisoner was repatriated to Nigeria in May last year from the UK and is serving out his term at an undisclosed prison in the country.

However, according to THISDAY investigations, the larger majority were stalling the transfer as they know their repatriation home to serve out their jail term could not be effected without their consent.

The newspaper had reported that the 1963 Prisons Act would have to be amended to pave way for the transfer by removing the issue of consent.

If President Jonathan signs the amendment bill into law, at least 350 of the Nigerian prisoners in UK would be eligible for without consent return to Nigeria.

Eligibility is determined by the seriousness of the offence for which a person has been jailed and the amount of time he has left on his sentence.

The Head of Political Section of the British High Commission in Abuja Paul Edwards told THISDAY at the weekend that the Senate and House of Representatives passed the amendment bill after they were convinced the bill does not seek to return prisoners convicted for minor offences such as failure to pay parking fines.

Earlier at a press briefing in Abuja on Friday, British High Commissioner to Nigeria Dr. Andrew Pocock had said the legislation was in an advanced stage.

Presently the agreement between the two countries is that a prisoner must consent to being returned to his country, a condition, which Nigerian prisoners in the UK have exploited to refuse to be sent back to serve out their sentences.

The major reason for the refusal stems from the fact that most prisons in Nigeria are in deplorable conditions and are not fit for human habitation.

Britain therefore demanded that prisoners be transferred to prisons that meet human rights standards where the rights of the prisoners would be respected.

To reduce the unnecessary burden on its taxpayers and ensure that the prisoners are put in prisons that meet minimum standards, Britain reportedly committed £500,000 to train prison guards and to fund an ongoing prison officer exchange programme.

It also built an extra wing at the Kirikiri Prisons in Lagos and provided the funds for the construction of a guard tower for the extra wing after officials discovered that the building was not being used.

An additional £1 million was also allegedly earmarked for ensuring the smooth implementation of the agreement.

At an earlier interview with THISDAY, Edwards had said it makes more sense for a prisoner to serve out his sentence in his home country where he has a family support structure.

"Some of the works we have been doing is to ensure that there are prisons where their human rights would be respected," he had said.

The Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, had also said earlier the prisoners' exchange programme was not effective because of some factors, which included the domestic laws in the country opposing forceful repatriation, the issue of prisoners' consent, unwillingness of Nigerian prisoners abroad to serve in prisons at home and the obsolete 1963 Prisons Act.

He said the act was inimical to any meaningful reform of the prison system.

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