Nigeria were told in clear terms that their first fully litigated extradition request was inadequate and, moreover, that the conditions in their prison estate were so bad that detention within it would amount to inhuman or degrading treatment.
Nigeria sought to secure the return of Mr Ogunnowo, a man charged with a series of offences arising out of a purported ‘sham marriage’. This was only the second time that Nigeria had made an extradition request to the UK authorities that had come before the courts. The first such request was never litigated, so Mr Ogunnowo’s case provided the first opportunity for Westminster Magistrates’ Court to grapple with the multitude of issues that the proceedings brought about.
Extradition between the UK and Nigeria is facilitated by a multilateral treaty, “The London Scheme for Extradition within the Commonwealth”. Nigeria is a Part 2 territory under the Extradition Act 2003, but the country has not been designated by the Secretary of State under s71(4) of the Act and therefore must satisfy the extradition judge that there is a prima facie case disclosed on the paperwork. The documentation supplied in support of Mr Ogunnowo’s request was fairly shambolic. District Judge Fanning discharged Mr Ogunnowo on all counts alleged against him on the basis that a prima facie case could not be established. The key ‘statement’ supplied, which was said to have come from the Nigerian police file was patently deficient, having been handwritten and barely legible with no indication of when or where it had been taken, by whom and with no counter-signatory. As such it could not comply with s84(5). In addition, a number of the counts lacked adequate particularisation and others failed to disclose an extradition offence.
The request could not be remedied. Whilst, of course, the court could have sought further information in respect of the inadequately particularised matters, the time for that had passed. The case had been rumbling along for nearly a year before Westminster with these issues fully aired early on, so the time for Nigeria to plug the gaps had run out.
Requesting further information was considered likely to be fruitless in light of the lack of engagement in other respects.
Notably, the dire state of Nigerian prisons, which had invoked the remarkable titles attributed by Amnesty to their reports such as “Welcome to Hell Fire” and “If you see it, you will cry”, were unlikely to be remedied by a sticking-plaster assurance. The problem is more than skin deep. The opinions of the experts were accepted and notice was taken of the extensive evidence of torture and maltreatment in prisons and holding cells in police stations.
DJ Fanning expressed his view in no uncertain terms:
“I could not countenance sending RP to a Nigerian prison in the absence of an assurance in the terms indicated above. Lest I be criticised for failing to set out in this judgment the details I have read concerning the treatment of prisoners in Nigeria, all I urge is that the open source bundle of materials be read. The sources of that material are not fly by night. They include the UN Special Rapporteur on torture; Amnesty International; the US State Department; UNDOC; Human Rights Watch, and the British High Commission in Nigeria.”
The levels of overcrowding are extreme and the material conditions are appalling. Any assurance would have been scrutinised and heavily challenged. But nothing was advanced, despite the length of proceedings and an additional period of time allowed by a judicial ruling that a discharge was inevitable in the absence of such a guarantee.
The Court highlighted those hurdles within the Othman criteria that posed a significant problem for Nigeria, including the lack of any evidence of bilateral relations in this context, this having been the only extradition request that had come before the courts to test such arrangements. Further, had there been one, there was a significant problem regarding the compliance with any such assurance being objectively verified or properly monitored.
It was undoubtedly right that the Court found that there was no effective system of protection against torture in Nigeria. The problem truly pervades all elements of the system.
Louisa Collins is a barrister specialising in extradition, international crime and human rights law. Louisa is ranked in Chambers and Partners and Legal 500 for her extradition work.