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Nigeria and the United Kingdom (UK) have signed a Prisoners Transfer Agreement (PTA) to pave way for the repatriation of some of the 521 Nigerians serving jail terms in the UK.
A top government source said former Delta State Governor James Ibori would be one of those to be repatriated to complete his jail term in Nigeria. Ibori still has more than six months to stay in prison.
Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke and the UK Justice Minister, Jermey Wright, signed the agreement on behalf of their countries yesterday in Abuja.
According to the agreement, a prisoners’ consent will not be required before repatriation.
Adoke said the signing of the agreement was an indication of the friendly and cordial relationship between both countries.
“The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan remains irrevocably committed to the welfare of Nigerians residing in the UK. It is therefore our expectation that the Government of the United Kingdom continue to accord more convicted Nigerians appropriate legal protection under UK law’’, he said.
Jeremy, who said there was only one British national in Nigeria prison, commended the National Assembly for passing the legislation that paved way for signing the agreement.
He reiterated the commitment of the UK government to support the improvement of prisons reforms in the country, adding that UK had provided some assistance for the improvement of the Kiriki Prisons in Lagos.
According to him, the UK has pledged to commit one million pounds to help improve the condition of prisons in Nigeria.
He said: “This is a good agreement for both Nigeria and the United Kingdom and I think it gives us the opportunity to strengthen our partnership and our friendship. It is also an opportunity to ensure that those prisoners who come from either country will serve their own sentences in their own countries and that is better for their rehabilitation.
‘‘It gives us the opportunity to ensure the security of the rest of our population by making the necessary arrangements for their release.’’
Jeremy expressed hope that both countries would demonstrate that the agreement was effective and meaningful at end of year by transfer of prisoners as soon as it was ratified.
He said the signing of the agreement had opened a range of opportunities for partnership in other areas including the criminal justice system.
The UK minister, while fielding questions from newsmen, explained that not all the 521 Nigerians serving in UK jails would be eligible for the transfer.
“The sentence that they are serving would need to be longer than 12 months for this agreement to be relevant to them’’, he said.
On high profile Nigerians serving jail terms in UK, Jeremy said, “there has to be a good deal of discussion between individual prisoners and the agreement of both counties would have to be secured before individual transfers.
“The compulsory nature of this prisoner transfer agreement is that the prisoners themselves don’t have the choices 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.
The minister visited the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Viola Onwuliri.
Onwuliri described the agreement as “historic’’ and noted that after the signing, experts from both countries would work out modalities for its implementation before its ratification.
Also speaking, Mr Abdulazeez Dankano, the Director of Consular and Immigration Services in the foreign ministry, noted both countries were signatories to the Scheme for the Transfer of Convicted Offenders within the Commonwealth.
Dankano said the scheme allowed for the transfer of prisoners between Nigeria and UK where the consent of both states and the prisoner was obtained.
He said under the Commonwealth scheme, only one Nigeria national had been repatriated from the UK since its inception.
The British government promised to give the country 1m pounds (about N280 million) to reform prisons to ease the stress of the inmates.
Jeremy, who also led a five-man delegation to the Ministry of Interior, said: “We believe that the agreement today is a positive step in furthering our mutual relationship and partnership with Nigeria for prisoner exchange. The UK government will give the Nigeria one million pounds (about N280 million) to assist on comprehensive reformation of the country’s Prisons to ease the stress of the inmates,” he said.
Minister of Interior Abba Moro promised to do everything within his powers to ensure that the agreement on prisoner exchange becomes operative before the end of this year now that the agreement has been signed.
“I think that it is in the mutual interest of the two countries that the agreement reached should be implemented to the letter especially with the kind of traditional historical relationship that Nigeria shares with the United Kingdom, we have no reason to say one thing and do another. This government anchored on transformation, is desirous of ensuring that we do things very differently from the way we were doing things in the past which have not given us results,” Moro said.
He equally assured the visiting minister that even though Nigeria is grappling with prison congestion, it would not hamper the prisoner exchange pointing out that already arrangements have been put in place to reconstruct some of the prisons and provide six new ones in various locations for the transfer arrangement.
Moro praised the British government for assisting Nigerian in the transformation ofin its prison system, especially in the provision of necessary facilities that would make the prisoner transfer deal viable, adding that the Federal Government was committed to the fulfilment of the terms of the agreement.