Extradition: Can a Nigerian face Trial Abroad?

Nigeria has gained notoriety for the fraudulent activities of a few of its citizens. The rise in the number of young Nigerians getting involved in internet fraud, identity theft and romance scams has caught the attention of the world.

In response to the fraudulent activities of Nigeria’s few but notorious fraudsters, many countries have begun exploring other options to bring Nigerian fraudsters to book.

The recent arrest of a Nigerian Instagram celebrity in Dubai for cyber-scam and fraud sent a chilling message to young Nigerians that crime does not pay. However, what Nigerians found even more petrifying was the fact that the young Nigerian arrested in Dubai was extradited to the United States.

A Nigerian twitter user echoing this sentiment tweeted that ‘it’s preferable to die than do time in a US maximum prison as a transnational non-American criminal’. So what is extradition and how does it work?  Can a person resident in Nigeria who commits a crime against citizens or residents of other countries be removed from Nigeria to another country to face trial?

What is Extradition?

Extradition is the legal surrender of a person reasonably suspected to have committed a crime, by the country in which the requested person is physically present in, to the requesting country, in order for the requested person to be prosecuted or punished. It is the delivery of an accused or convicted person to a country requesting the surrender of such person in order to try, or punish the requested person.

The requesting country usually makes the request for extradition on the basis that it has the jurisdiction or authority to try or punish the requested person. The authority to try or punish a requested person may accrue to a country, where it can establish a connection with either the requested person, the crime or the victim of the crime.

A country may have a legal basis for requesting the extradition of a person in the following instances:

  1. Where the criminal acts, irrespective of whether they are committed outside or within the country’s territory have a substantial effect within the requesting state’s territory. This is based on the principle that where a person wilfully does a prohibited act, he is answerable at the place where the impact of the evil is felt.
    For example, economic crimes such as internet fraud may be committed in Nigeria and their impact felt in another country.
  2. Where the requested person is the citizen of the requesting country. States have the right to punish their citizens for crimes committed abroad. A country may therefore request the extradition of its citizen resident in another country.
  3. Where the criminal acts committed (even if they are committed abroad) are such that threaten the interest of the requesting state.
  4. Where the victim of the crime is a national of the requesting state.
  5. Where the crime is considered to be inherently wicked and evil by most civilised countries of the world, even if the requesting state has no connection with the crime, the offender or the victim.

Extradition is resorted to because of the doctrine of territorial sovereignty, which means another country cannot invade the territory of another country, in order to make an arrest. There is no obligation on countries to extradite, and no country can be compelled to extradite a person within its territory. However, an obligation to extradite may exist, if there is an extradition treaty between the requesting state and the requested state.

The Nigerian Extradition Act prohibits the extradition of a Nigerian citizen. However, a Nigerian citizen may be extradited if there is an extradition treaty between Nigeria and the requesting country, which provides for the extradition of each country’s citizens.

By virtue of the provisions of the Extradition Act, Nigeria can extradite requested persons to Commonwealth countries. Nigeria has also entered into extradition treaties with a few countries such as South Africa and the United States of America. Even in the absence of an extradition treaty, an extradition request may be granted on the basis of reciprocity.

Nigerians involved in economic crimes and all other forms of transnational crimes are not immune from detection, prosecution and even extradition. Globalisation and technology have blurred territorial lines and geographical boundaries, making the commission of transnational crimes possible. Nevertheless, extradition and cooperation among countries have also made the prosecution of crimes, irrespective of where committed possible.