Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana
By Omololu Ogunmade and Christopher Isiguzo
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, has criticised the recent agreement between Nigerian and British governments to repatriate over 1,000 Nigerian citizens serving different jail terms in British prisons to Nigeria to complete their jail terms in the country.
This came as a human rights organisation, Centre For Victims of Extra–Judicial Killing and Torture (CVEKT Africa), yesterday raised the alarm that over 120 Nigerians that were currently serving jail terms in Czech Republic were being subjected to unjust, inhuman and discriminatory conditions. The group asked President Goodluck Jonathan to promptly intervene in their plights.
Falana, in a letter addressed to the Senate President and copied to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, entitled: “Illegal Plan by Britain to Repatriate Nigerian Prisoners in the United Kingdom,” said the Federal Government sealed an agreement with the UK government under the auspices of Prisoner Exchange Agreement without considering the legal implication.
While citing the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as African Charter on Human Rights to affirm the perceived illegality inherent in the agreement, Falana tasked the National Assembly to halt the move now.
The lawyer, who believes that the Federal Government was not well advised on the matter, threatened that should it go ahead with the “illegality and unconstitutional act,” it should be adequately prepared to face potent legal actions against the move. He implored the National Assembly not to back the agreement by any legislative act.
The letter read in part: “As part of the measures to decongest its overcrowded prisons, the British government recently approached the Federal Government for a deal to repatriate the over 1,000 Nigerian citizens in British prisons to serve out their sentences in Nigerian prisons. Without considering the legal implications of the deal and the interests of the Nigerian citizens involved, the Federal Government is reported to have reached an understanding with the British Government on the so-called Prisoner Exchange Agreement.”
While citing Article Six of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act which states that “no one may be deprived of his freedom except for reasons and conditions previously laid down by law,” and Section 3 (3) of the Prisons Act which stipulates that “every superintendent is authorised and required to keep and detain all persons duly committed to his custody by any court, magistrate, justice of the peace or other authority lawfully.”
He also recalled that Section 253 of the Criminal Procedure Act provides that “a warrant under the hand of the judge or magistrate by whom any person shall have been sentenced or committed to prison for non-payment of a penalty or fine shall be full authority to the superintendent of any prison and to all other persons for carrying into effect the sentence described in such warrant not being a sentence of death.”
Falana said he had opted to cite the multiple provisions above to buttress his position that the Federal Government “lacks the power to reduce Nigeria to a dumping ground for foreign convicts from the United Kingdom or from any other foreign country”.
He also reasoned that authorities of Nigerian prisons neither have the powers to admit nor the authority to keep persons who have not been committed to their custody by Nigerian courts or judges, emphasising that any Nigerian citizen tried, convicted and sentenced to prison terms by foreign courts cannot by any means be admitted and kept in Nigerian prisons.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director, CVEKT Africa, Rev. Father Tony Amarube, told journalists in Enugu that the organisation received a representation from the Truth and Justice Organisation Nigeria early this year on the case of some six Nigerians currently languishing in Czech prison.
He noted that the organisation decided to intervene in the matter because it engages in the promotion of humanitarian and human rights cases as well as intervention and advocacy actions and programmes on behalf of victims of extra judicial killings and torture as well as other forms of human rights abuses.
According to Amarube, after receiving the representation from Truth and Justice Organisation Nigeria, CVEKT, immediately sent a written representation and appeal to Jonathan, seeking an immediate and decisive intervention by the Nigerian government in view of the emergency nature of the matter which “we perceived not only as a human rights contravention on part of the Czech Republic but as an affront to the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
He disclosed that the gruesome condition of these Nigerians was first highlighted by an international law advocate, Daniel Uchenna of Dou consulting LB Limited, a London-based law firm and charity organisation, which he said had in January 2010, made a frantic representation to the Nigerian Ambassador in Czech Republic, the then Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as the National Assembly for their intervention but to no avail.
The CVEKT boss noted how the Duo Consulting LB Limited had lamented how the Czech government through its judiciary had been violating fundamental principles of human rights, fair trial and judgment in respect of Nigerian suspects in their country based on information received from Nigerians incarcerated in that nation for various criminal charges some of whom contacted the Duo organisation for intervention. “It was revealed that Nigerian suspects were given discriminatory jail sentences by the Czech authorities, and mentioned specific instances in which Nigerian suspects were unfairly heard and sentenced to jail terms based on frivolous and speculative accusations without any substantial or direct evidence to justify the sentences,” adding that such action amounts to racism and ethnic profiling which violates the principle of equal treatment under international law.
Further, he said: “Among these instances is the case of Chijioke S. Okonkwo, a Nigerian, and Eva Jasinka, a Czech: file ref No: 47T 16|2008 in which the said Chijioke Okonkwo, was sentenced to 12 years jail term whereas his Czech counter, Jasinka Eva, was given four years and discharged after only 13 months of jail term because she was a citizen of that country, while the Nigerian is still languishing in prison since 2008.
“Another case is that of Sunday Tony Ojukwu and Raphael Ifedili Ejiama, both Nigerians and Denisa Bradacova, a Czech: file ref No: T25| 2008 whereas Ojukwu and Ifedili, were sentenced to 10 years each, Bradacova was discharged from the custody after only one year.”
He said Duo Consulting had suggested that because the European Union (EU) supports the Czech Republic with grants for non-citizens, serving jail terms in Czech, jailing foreigners, especially Nigerians at the filmiest cause had become a matter of course.
While calling on Jonathan to immediately intervene in the matter, the Catholic priest, described the Czech Republic’s action as a form of race discrimination that is prohibited under international law which he said emphasised that prohibition against racial discrimination is a peremptory and non–derogable norm and that states must ensure that they do not discriminate in purpose or effect on grounds of race, colour, national or ethnic origin.