Nigeria and the United Kingdom signed an agreement on Thursday on the exchange of prisoners between them.
Under the agreement, high-profile prisoners like former Governor James Ibori of Delta State, and other Nigerians in the UK prisons will be transferred to Nigeria to complete their jail terms.
The UK Minister of Justice, Mr. Jeremy Wright, signed on behalf of his country while the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, signed for Nigeria in Abuja.
Wright, who visited the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Viola Onwuliri, and the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, added that the British government would give the Federal Government £1m [about N280m} for a comprehensive reform of Nigerian Prisons.
During the visit to Onwuliri, Wright told journalists that under the agreement, the consent of a prisoner was not required before his repatriation could take place.
He said, “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.’’
In April 2012, a British court sentenced Ibori to jail for 13 years for money laundering and associated crimes.
Ibori’s wife, Nkoyo, his sister, mistress and London solicitor were also convicted of related crime.
Onwuliri, who described the pact as “historic,’’ said experts from both countries would work out modalities for its implementation.
“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,’’ the News Agency of Nigeria quoted her as saying.
The minister expressed delight that the agreement would improve the condition of Nigeria prisons based on earlier pacts reached before the signing.
She pledged that Nigeria would continue to improve the condition of its prisons.
Also, the Director of Consular and Immigration Services in the ministry, Mr. Abdulazeez Dankano, 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.
After the agreement was signed, Wright stressed the importance of respecting the agreement by the two countries, adding that there was a need for the prisons in Nigeria to be improved considerably.
The UK minister, who led a five-man delegation to Moro said, although the prisoners were paying for the crimes they committed, conditions in their detention centres should be made humane and accommodating enough for them.
He thanked the Federal Government and Moro for making it possible for the two countries to finalise the agreement.
“We believe that the agreement today is a positive step in furthering our mutual relationship and partnership with Nigeria for prisoner exchange. Under the agreement Nigerians in UK prisons will be repatriated to Nigeria to complete their terms,”Wright said.
On his part, Moro promised to do everything within his powers to ensure that the agreement became operative before the end of the year.
He said, “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 UK; 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 them in the past which have not given us results.”
He assured the visiting minister that even though Nigeria was grappling with prison congestion, it would not hamper the new agreement.
Moro commended the British government for assisting in the reform and transformation of Nigeria’s prison system, especially in the provision of necessary facilities that would make the prisoner transfer viable.
There are 521 Nigerians currently serving jail terms in the UK and only one British national in Nigerian prison .
According to officials, about 60 per cent of Nigerians in UK jails qualify for the compulsory prison transfer agreement.