Senate: Bill To Transfer Nigerian Prisoners Abroad Scales Second Reading

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ABUJA, July 26, (THEWILL) - The bill for an Act to amend the transfer of Convicted Offenders Act CAP. T19, LFN 2004, that will see Nigerian Prisoners in foreign countries transferred back to the country scaled through the crucial second reading on the senate floor today.

The Act which gives municipal effect to the common wealth on convicted offenders between common wealth countries was enacted in Nigeria in 1988. The bill will facilitate Nigerian offenders convicted outside their country serving out their term in Nigeria (if in commonwealth country); ensure penal justice for criminals irrespective of where their crimes are committed and harmonise penal systems and reciprocity within the common wealth.

The executive bill moved by Senate Majority Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, is to give effect to the Common Wealth scheme on convicted offenders between Common Wealth countries and seeks to amend the provisions of the extant Act by removing the consent and verification procedure of returning convicted prisoners to serve out their term in Nigeria.

He told senators that the present Act was replete with some deficiencies that if not adequately addressed, would jeopardize its execution.

"It is the recognition of the inherent shortcomings in the extant Act that necessitates the need to amend it. The amendments are in consonance with international best practices and underline the spirit behind the Common Wealth scheme on convicted offenders," he said.

However, the Senate was stunned to learn that over 16, 000 Nigerians are serving various jail terms in the United Kingdom. Senator Benedict Ayade (PDP, Cross River) who made the revelation while contributing to the debate also disclosed that the United Kingdom spends 1.6 million pounds daily to feed about 16,400 Nigerians currently serving jail terms there.

However, President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, bemoaned the number of Nigerians in UK saying that it is a cause for serious concern if it is true that about 16, 000 Nigerians are serving jail terms in that country alone.

"I believe that there are safeguards in the bill itself. I am shocked to hear that 16, 000 Nigerians in the UK are in jail. We don't know the authenticity of the figures. It is not a thing to be proud of if the numbers mentioned are true.

"The lesson is that we should improve our prisons for the purpose of reformation. It is not right to transfer the responsibility of reformation to other nations," Mark stated.

During the debate, senators deferred on the bill over issues of Nigeria’s poor prison system, the slight differences in the legal systems and the financial burden it will have on the economy.

Contributing, Senator Abdullahi Adamu (PDP, Nasarawa), who declared his support for the bill in principle, questioned the timing of the bill saying, “We are aware that member states of the Commonwealth are at this point debating the enormity of the expenditure in maintaining their prisons.” He stated that the expenditure will be heavy for Nigeria.

On his part, Senator Barnabas Gemade, (PDP, Benue) said the practice was normal and should be encouraged adding that the Senate should pass the bill in conformity with the Commonwealth. He said if the Commonwealth countries are removing the freedom of members to choose where they should serve their term, Nigerians should also do the same for their citizens in our jails.

Senator Suleiman Adokwe (PDP, Nassarawa) however said the amendment bill has to be looked at with suspicion even though it is what the Commonwealth has agreed. "We have to protect ourselves from the European system," he said.

Ayogu Eze (PDP, Enugu) said the Act when amended will serve as a deterrent especially to persons who commit crimes in other countries and come here to receive ceremonious welcome. "It will curb crime."

Opposing the bill, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri (PDP, Bayelsa) said it was not important at this time of Nigeria's national development as it will be too much burden financially. In the same vein Senator Nkechi Nworgu (PDP, Abia) did not totally support the bill and questioned the haste by the Senate. Senator Aisha Alhassan (Taraba) noted that the country was not ready for it.

"The fact that other countries have removed theirs does not mean we should remove ours. I have worked as a magistrate and there are times we go for prison visits and on a second visit some of the convicts are not there. She stressed that the prison system in Nigeria was not reformatory. "If I was convicted in the UK I will not agree to come back," she said.

The Bill has been referred to Committee on Judiciary, Legal and Human Rights, which is yet to be constituted.