That prisoner swap programme

Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN)

The prisoner swap agreement under which Nigerians in prisons in the United Kingdom are being returned to their home country regrettably gives the impression that most Nigerians in that country are criminals who should be bundled back home under any cover. This is sad, given the fact that an overwhelming majority of Nigerians in Britain is making positive contributions to the economic and social development of the host country.

While those in prison for one offence or the other are indeed liabilities, the fact remains that a larger percentage of Nigerians are assets to the UK, do not deserve the stigma they often endure and Nigeria does not deserve the bad light in which it has been painted.

Against this background, the Senate, the other day, appropriately called on the Federal Government to stop receiving prisoners from United Kingdom under the Transfer of Sentenced Persons (TSP) deal. The decision of the Senate was, commendably, based on the need to regularise the pact before implementation.

According to reports, the Senate, in an attempt to get a clear picture of the deal, invited the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami and his Foreign Affairs counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama, to shed more light on the swap deal for further legislative action. Also invited was the Minister of Interior, Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazzau (rtd), who was expected to brief the committee on his level of involvement in complying with the agreement.

The resolution followed a motion sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu pointed out that based on the agreement, the UK government had commenced the return of several prisoners to Nigeria and has initiated an application for the transfer of more prisoners.

He observed that the UK government has referred to the agreement as “compulsory”, whereas, the content made no mention nor indicated that the agreement was compulsory. Making the agreement compulsory, by implication, means that Nigerian prisoners in the UK must, as a matter of necessity, be repatriated back to the country.

That raises the question of to how many British prisoners are in Nigeria that may be repatriated in return. Or is the deal a one-sided agreement in favour of Britain? It needs to be pointed out that Nigerians are not the only prisoners in the UK. There are Europeans, Asians and prisoners of other African countries. How are these other prisoners treated?

Do other countries have similar prisoner swap agreements with the British authorities or is the deal only meant for Nigerians? On what is the prisoner swap arrangement based? These are fundamental questions that need to be answered.

Granted that many Nigerians have been branded notorious lawbreakers as a result of the activities of a few bad eggs, it needs to be stressed that the percentage of Nigerians who get involved in criminal activities is negligible, just a tiny fraction of the population, and not too different from what obtains even in the most advance countries.

The about 468 Nigerians serving prison terms in the UK is nothing compared to the millions living in London city alone and building the British economy.The point being made is that UK and indeed other countries should refrain from unduly blowing up the pains caused by a few persons while refusing to acknowledge the gains made from the majority of Nigerians.

They should celebrate the ingenious contributions made by Nigerians to development in all spheres of human endeavour and de-emphasise the harmful few in relation with Nigeria even as such countries mete out appropriate punishment to those.

It is ridiculous that the British authorities find it convenient to trumpet the number of Nigerian prisoners but fail to mention the large population of medical doctors of Nigerian extraction working in the UK. And that is just one profession.

Britain, for decades, has been deriving huge benefits from the resources of Nigerians who consume British goods back home in Nigeria, own real estate in Britain with huge property tax being paid and have shares in companies quoted on British Stock Exchange.

Nigeria, of course, neither supports illegal migration nor condones illegality by its citizens. But Nigerians should not be falsely criminalized and a great country should not be stigmatised.

Nigerians, wherever they may be, must comport themselves with dignity as all the nation’s cultures teach. Honesty is the only policy in all of Nigeria’s cultures and Nigerians must live that principle wherever they may find themselves.

The Federal Government should, however, not abdicate its constitutional responsibility of protecting the rights of its citizens abroad even when they run foul of the law. The government should rise to the challenge of making the environment conducive for earning a living in other to prevent would-be migrants and also to attract Nigerians in the diaspora back to the country.

As for the TSP, the Senate should thoroughly examine its implications for Nigeria. Where it is established that the deal is not in Nigeria’s national interest, it should be rejected.

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