Britain, Nigeria sign prisoner repatriation scheme

ABUJA - Nigeria and Britain on Thursday signed a “compulsory prisoner transfer” agreement, allowing their nationals jailed in the other country to serve the rest of their time behind bars back home.

The two countries said the scheme meant Nigerians who commit crimes in Britain and Britons who break the law in Nigeria will be “properly prepared for release into the community in which they will live following their release”.

But Amnesty International said it was “extremely concerned” about sending back criminals from Britain to Nigeria, where prison conditions have been described as “harsh and life-threatening”.

The London-based human rights group’s deputy Africa director, Aster van Kregten, said Nigerian prisons were “appalling and damaging to the physical and mental well-being of inmates”.

“Conditions such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of food and medicines and denial of contact with friends and family fall way short of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners,” she told AFP in emailed comments.

“The Nigerian federal authorities should prioritise prison reform and halt the suffering of thousands of prisoners across the country.

“Amnesty International outlined concerns about the conditions in prisons in Nigeria in 2008 and five years later there has been little improvement.”

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan and British Prime Minister David Cameron made a prisoner transfer scheme a key objective after meeting in 2011 and its signing was hailed as a sign of their close ties in criminal justice.

Cameron has previously pledged that British taxpayers’ should not foot the bill to keep foreign nationals in the country’s prisons.

Members of Cameron’s centre-right Conservative Party have complained that convicted foreign criminals have used human rights legislation to delay or prevent their repatriation.

Both countries have similar arrangements with other nations and said its implementation would be overseen by a special joint committee of officials, with the first prisoners sent home before the end of this year.

Britain’s justice minister Jeremy Wright, who signed the agreement with Nigeria’s Attorney-General Mohammed Bello Adoke in Abuja, said it would have “significant benefits for both our countries”.

“Removing foreign national offenders is a key priority for the British government and the prisoner transfer agreement...plays a significant role in supporting this,” he said in a statement released by the Ministry of Justice.

“It is right that our two countries, which have such strong ties and shared interests, should develop our own arrangements.

“I strongly believe that this agreement will have significant benefits for both our countries,” he added.

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