By Ruona Agbroko
July 18, 2009 03:24PMT
The Federal Government and an official of the British Home Office have denied media reports that the UK government is to "build a £1 million jail" in Nigeria. Nigeria's former Minister of Interior, Godwin Abbe, and a spokesperson of the British Home Office, in telephone interviews with NEXT, said the reports were purely speculative.
"There is nothing like that! The British government is not building any special prison for Nigerians who are being transferred to this place," Mr. Abbe, who was moved to the Ministry of Defence on Tuesday, said. "When they come here, whatever conditions they find, they will take it. That is the standard of our country. Why are you going to give special privileges?
"They have offered to build and improve on the structures. But what they are doing is not anything like building a prison. And if the prisoners are brought to Nigeria, they will not dictate to us where the prisoners should be kept. As far as we are concerned, we want to make sure bilateral relations remain cordial, that's all. We, as a nation, will do our best and not play to the gallery."
Also speaking on telephone, a spokesperson for the Home Office, who identified himself as Mr. Polo, said, "It's not about building a prison; it's about helping and assisting. The U.K. government is working to help Nigeria with prison reforms. This will include work to equip and upgrade existing prison facilities and help with prison officer training."
Mr. Polo said the negotiations with Nigeria were in line with a 2006 U.K. policy.
"There are currently around 400 Nigerian nationals held in prisons in the U.K. who may be eligible for transfer, under a no-consent prison transfer agreement policy. The U.K. and Nigerian officials are still in the process of discussing the details. The U.K. position is to work towards freeing up spaces and saving taxpayers' money on enforced removals," he said.
The U.K. reportedly spends £30,000 per year to keep a prisoner in jail and has battled with chronic prisoner overcrowding crisis since 2005, when the number of foreign criminals soared past 11,000, the equivalent of more than one in every eight inmates.
James Slack, Home Affairs Editor of the Daily Mail told NEXT via email that the news emerged because Lin Homer, the U.K. Border Agency chief, was being questioned by members of the British parliament. "The scheme seems to be at an early stage; a similar proposal relating to Jamaica was scrapped," he said.
Rights of prisoners
Ms. Homer had told the Home Affairs Committee that the U.K. intends to help Nigeria in the area of prison reform. "We are in negotiations with Nigeria to help them establish better prison conditions in Nigeria. It's about helping them generate a structure that can cope with (the prisoners). We are prepared to invest if that would enable us to send people home," she said. "We haven't yet, we are in talks with Nigeria and it would be well worth the money to do so."
However, all sources interviewed have confirmed that a prisoner-transfer agreement is being discussed between both nations.
"Yes, there are talks going on between the U.K. and Nigeria on transfer of Nigerian prisoners from U.K. to Nigeria," Mr. Abbe said. "Nigeria is willing to accept Nigerians, whether they are free or in bondage. Nigeria is willing to accept all Nigerians back home.
"The only difference is that the Nigerians in British prisons have a right. Their consent must be sought by the British and Nigerian governments before these prisoners can be transferred. Anything short of that would be contravening the laws of Nigeria.
"We are in touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to ensure that aspect of the law is revisited by the Ministry of Justice in Nigeria and the National assembly."
He added that the National Assembly has yet to visit that aspect of the law, "which provides that the consent of the prisoner should be sought."
"It is pending before them," he said.