Lessons in UK/Nigeria prisoners transfer - Punch
Nigeria and the United Kingdom have sealed a pact on prisoners transfer that was initiated in 2011. In Abuja, the authorities are excited about it; but we are not, because of the national affront and indignity embedded in it. Jeremy Wright, the UK Minister of Justice, who signed the pact on behalf of his country during a recent visit to Mohammed Adoke, his Nigerian counterpart, in Abuja, said the UK was encumbered by the £40,000 it spends annually to keep a felon.
Wright declared, 'Foreign prisoners must serve their sentences in their own countries.' The UK prisons are brimming with Nigerian prisoners, among whom is James Ibori, a former Delta State governor, who is serving a 13-year jail term for money laundering. Nigeria's High Commissioner to the UK, Dalhatu Tafida, said early this month that 800 Nigerians were in the UK prisons in 2008 when he assumed office, 'but today, the figure has dropped to about 390.'
Besides the pact with Britain, Nigeria is also a signatory to a scheme for prisoners transfer within the Commonwealth, according to Abdulazeez Dankano, a director in charge of Consular and Immigration Services in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The prisoners swap deal involves a £1 million offer to help Nigeria overhaul its prison infrastructure. The Supervising Minister in charge of Foreign Affairs, Viola Onwuiliri, is upbeat about the agreement. '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 told a news agency.
But bundling home a band of felons from abroad should not enthral anybody. Rather, it should be seen as an image crisis, which should prod the leadership into soul-searching on why citizens soil their country's name abroad. Conscious of the parlous state of our prisons, the affected prisoners have kicked against their relocation home.
The first set will be transferred by the end of 2014. Apart from the UK, Nigerian prisoners are in other countries in Europe, America and Asia. In December 2013, Dankano put the number of those incarcerated abroad at 15,316. In China, there are 400 Nigerian students in jail. Generally, their offences range from drug trafficking, money laundering, credit card fraud, human trafficking to immigration and sexual abuse. Sometimes, the government's failure to discharge its obligations to our citizens abroad goads them into abhorrent conduct. This played out in 2013 when the Federal Government scholarship grants of 16 students in Russia were unpaid. They were arrested, following a violent protest.
As London has shown in 'our bad ambassadors'' imminent return, domestic policies shape a country's diplomatic front. Nigerians are always keen to leave our shores because the domestic environment is decidedly hostile. The dreams of many youths have been killed; our universities and other institutions of higher learning are grossly ill-equipped and, therefore, offer little. About 70 per cent of Nigerians live below the poverty threshold as the economy grows artificially without creating jobs and development.
The last official unemployment tally was 23.9 per cent. The Statistician-General of Nigeria, Yemi Kale, noted, 'In 2004, Nigeria's relative poverty measurement stood at 54.4 per cent but increased to 69 per cent or 112.518 million in 2010.' Without doubt, the figure has increased three years after.
Global reports on national well-being have all unravelled scary statistics about Nigeria, which force not a few citizens to think twice about living here. For instance, the country is a large graveyard for its children, a fact corroborated by the United Nations Children's Fund, which says that one million children die each year before their fifth birthday. Half of the world's malnourished children are Nigerians, according to Save the Child, a UK-based charity, in its 2013 report. Also, the Economist Intelligence Unit - a sister company of The Economist magazine - in a survey of 80 countries, came out with a damning report: Nigeria is the worst place to be born.
Thirty years after the late Sani Abacha pejoratively classified our health institutions as 'mere consulting clinics,' to justify the military coup of December 31, 1983, they have remained so. It is not, therefore, surprising that the wealthy in our midst prefer to send their wives in labour to the UK or America to be delivered of their babies.
Ironically, the country is richly endowed, but poverty of leadership, typified in the corruption-driven, endless importation of petrol and kerosene, despite being a major crude oil producer, has made it impossible for social infrastructure to be provided. Abroad, the excellent health care, better education, good roads, electricity and thriving economies and opportunities on offer compel Nigerians to leave their country.
In Ghana, Togo and Chad - our neighbours - electricity supply is taken for granted. But here, it is a luxury. A pregnant woman, Chinyere Celestine, and her four children, suffocated to death in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State in May 2013, having inhaled toxic fumes from their generator at night.
Other countries may latch on to the UK/Nigeria felons transfer deal to repatriate Nigerian prisoners. But will Abuja get the strong message therein