The two countries have signed an agreement that would enable Nigerian prisoners in the UK come back to the nation to complete their prison terms while UK prisoners in Nigeria would be taken back to complete their sentence in their country.
Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo condemned the idea, saying he would want Nigeria and the UK to exchange ideas in other areas that would be beneficial to the country rather than shipping lots of prisoners back to complete their jail terms in Nigeria.
“I don’t subscribe to this agreement. Anybody convicted in a jurisdiction should serve out the jail term in that jurisdiction. The person should serve in the system that found him or her guilty. This agreement is strange to me,” he said.
Mr. Yinka Odumakin, National Publicity Secretary, Afenifere said this situation of returning criminals to their base was improper and uncalled for, saying that “we need them to exchange better things with us and not this.”
He stated that since the two countries have different laws, it was improper to serve a jail term in another jurisdiction, adding that the idea was nothing cheery.
Barrister Chris Akiri stated that the UK had sentenced lots of Nigerians to prison for flimsy reasons and that they were now finding it difficult to spend tax payers’ money to cater for the Nigerian prisoners.
“How many UK prisoners do we have in Nigeria? It is like in the ratio of 1:100. When you have about 100 Nigerian prisoners in the UK, you have about one UK prisoner in Nigeria, that is if there is any.
“This exchange means what? They have sentenced our people for little offences and use tax payers’ money to take care of them. It is a stupid exchange idea,” he said.
Mr. Joe Igbokwe, Publicity Secretary, Lagos State All Progressive Congress, APC, said: “I am looking at this issue of exchange of prisoners between UK and Nigeria with suspicion. I believe the target is to set former Governor James Ibori who is currently serving a jail term for corruption in the UK free.
“I am saying this because no ordinary Nigerian serving a jail term in UK will want to come to Nigeria to finish his term. Nigeria is among the countries in the world that have the worst prison condition. While UK citizens may want to return home, Nigerian prisoners may not want to return back to serve their terms here.” A human rights lawyer, Barrister Supo Osewa said it is a game plan towards 2015 election.
According to him, once Ibori is transferred back to Nigeria, the support of Niger Delta people will be secured for Jonathan..
In addition, he said the former Delta State Governor may be pardoned even if it is not pardoned, he can dictate political matters from prison, after all some Nigerian politicians won elections in the prison in the past.
In his own reaction, Barrister Ebun Adegboruwa said once Ibori is transferred back to Nigeria, he will be a threat to the opposition.
He said Nigeria is not capable of keeping high profile prisoners behind bars and some high profile criminals who were convicted in the past spent their jail terms in conducive environment.
Barrister Paul Ogundele, a Lagos-based lawyer said once Ibori is relocated back to Nigeria, he will be pardoned and it will not augur well for the country because his conviction is to serve as deterrent to other offenders.
The former secretary of Nigeria Bar Association, Lagos branch, Mr. E.K Uko said it is a way of releasing Ibori from Prison.
According to Rasak Olookoba, Secretary General of Coalition of Odua, “If it is part of President Goodluck Jonathan’s desperation to come back to power, it is a condemnable act. If it is goodwill, let all Nigerians languishing in prisons abroad be brought back home, not only in UK alone but in Malaysia, India, all over the world. That is when it will be a welcome development. What aroused our curiosity is the fact that it is limited to UK alone.
“Why is it that the pact is signed only with UK government, a country where his kinsman, who came from the same region with him, James Ibori is serving a jail term? Another coincidence is the fact that why is it now that Mr president is desperate to survive all political opposition and agitation against him.
“We are watching him. The image of Nigeria has been shattered already, he should not add to it. If it is for political gain. We will rise against it,” he said.
Britain’s Justice Minister Jeremy Wright had said Thursday that the eligibility of Ibori to complete his prison term in Nigeria would be determined by Nigeria and UK governments.
Wright gave the clarification in Abuja when he visited the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Viola Onwuliri, shortly before he signed a Prisoners’ Transfer Agreement (PTA) between both countries.
Responding to questions from journalists on the fate of high profile Nigerians currently serving in UK jails, including Ibori, under the new agreement, Wright said the consent of a prisoner was not required before repatriation.
“In relation to individual prisoners, there has to be a good deal of discussion between our two countries about individual prisoners and the agreement of both countries to be secured before individual transfers.
“The compulsory nature of this prisoner transfer agreement is that the prisoners’ themselves do not have to choose where they go or not but the respective countries do still have an opportunity to discuss whether a transfer should be made,” he said.
In April 2012, a British court sentenced Ibori to jail for 13 years for money laundering and associated crimes.
Ibori’s wife, sister, mistress and London solicitor are also in a UK jail having been convicted of related crime.
Earlier, Onwuliri, who described the PTA as “historic,” said experts from both countries would work out modalities for implementation before its ratification.
“We have been on the prisoners agreement for a long time and we are happy that we are beginning the year on a happy note by signing this agreement,” she said.
The minister expressed delight that the agreement would improve the condition of Nigeria prisons based on earlier agreements reached before the signing.
She pledged that the Nigerian government would continue to improve the condition of prisons around the country, which had received a boost with a one million pounds commitment from the UK Government.
Also speaking, Mr. Abdulazeez Dankano, the Director of Consular and Immigration Services in the Ministry, noted that both countries were signatories to the Scheme for the Transfer of Convicted Offenders within the Commonwealth.
Dankano stated that the scheme allowed for transfer of prisoners between Nigeria and the UK where the consent of both states and the prisoner was obtained.
He said that under the Commonwealth Scheme, only one Nigerian had been repatriated from the UK since inception.
There are 521 Nigerians currently serving jail terms in the UK and only one British national in Nigeria prison. According to ministry officials, about 60 percent of Nigerian nationals in UK jails can qualify for the compulsory prison transfer agreement signed by Nigeria’s Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke and Wright.