PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan has signed a bill facilitating the exchange of prisoners between Nigeria and the UK that enables both countries to swap each other's citizens that are behind bars.
Under the new law, both countries can send prisoners serving time prisons to their home nation without the consent of the subject. As of at August 2012, 571 Nigerians were serving various jail terms in the UK prisons and it is expected that a substantial number of these will now be returned to Nigeria soon.
Of the Nigerian prisoners in the UK, 350 of them are eligible for return without their consent under the new laws. Eligibility is determined by the seriousness of the offence for which a person has been jailed and the amount of time he or she has left on his or her sentence.
According to the British Home Office, catering for prisoners is proving to be a huge drain on the treasury and over the last few years, the UK has been signing exchange agreements with countries that have a large British prison population to reduce its costs. In the case of Nigeria, however, the law needed to be changed to allow prisoners to be moved without their consent and over the last 15 months, a new law has been drafted.
With the National Assembly and President Jonathan having passed the law, a draft agreement to see to the implementation of the prisoners’ repatriation is being worked out by both sides. Last year, the UK committed over £1m to upgrade some Nigerian prisons and constructed an extra wing in Kirikiri Prison in Lagos alongside a guard tower to accommodate the returnees.
Martin Uhomoibhi, the permanent secretary in the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said two articles in the agreement had yet to be sorted out by both countries though. At a meeting of the Nigeria/UK Dialogue on Immigration Return in Abuja, yesterday, he expressed optimism that the articles would be sorted out soon so that implementation could
Mr Uhomoibhi added: “The meeting is also intended to review the existing memorandum of understanding on immigration between the two countries and access the progress made in the collaboration against human trafficking, migration irregularities and the intention to double trade figures by 2014."
Paul Edwards, the head of the political section at the British High Commission in Abuja, said it made more sense for a prisoner to serve out his sentence in his home country where he has a family support structure. He added that the bill did not seek to repatriate prisoners for minor offences such as failure to pay parking ticket fines.
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