News last week that Saudi Arabian authorities have set free Miss Zainab Aliyu from the executioner's sword for alleged drug trafficking into the kingdom came as a huge relief for her parents, her schoolmates and for millions of Nigerians who were traumatised by her ordeal. Drug trafficking attracts capital punishment in Saudi Arabia, and some alleged culprits could have been victims of a set up.
Zainab, a student of Maitama Sule University, Kano, travelled to the Holy Land in company of her mother, Maryam and sister, Hajara. Each one of them had checked in a single bag at Kano airport. However, the Saudis arrested Zainab for allegedly concealing Tramadol in another bag tagged in her name, but without her knowledge. Tramadol is contraband in Saudi Arabia. Her troubles started when Saudi cops went to their hotel in December last year, ransacked their bags and then whisked Zainab away. Her four months' stay in a Saudi prison was traumatic as she awaited her grim fate in case Saudi courts convicted her of the offence.
Efforts to secure her release began with the intervention of her father through the NDLEA office in Kano, newspaper publications, and finally the intervention of the Presidency. Zainab's father Habibu Aliyu Kila, who is a journalist, played a key role in her vindication. He insisted on a thorough investigation at the NDLEA office in Kano. NDLEA Commander in-charge of MAKIA Ambrose Umoru launched an investigation that led to the arrest of 10 suspects. He identified the ten people on duty on the day she flew out. They initially denied involvement but after being detained for days, they started to confess. Four officers were found to be innocent but seven owned up to the crime. A woman among the suspects openly confessed to Zainab's father and pleaded for forgiveness.
Zainab's father also acknowledged the role played by Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the SSA, Foreign Affairs and Diaspora to the President, who ensured that President Muhammadu Buhari waded into the matter through diplomatic channels. Besides Zainab, the Saudi authorities also set free another Nigerian, Ibrahim Abubakar over alleged drug trafficking. Abubakar was arrested also because drugs were planted in his luggage. However, Kudirat Afolabi, a Nigerian widow and mother of two was executed in Saudi Arabia on April 1, this year. Unlike Zainab and Ibrahim, Afolabi carried drugs on her body, including her private parts. She was executed alongside two Pakistani men and one Yemeni man. Their execution in Mecca brought to 53 the number of executed drug convicts in Saudi Arabia this year.
While the law must take its cause on the people who planted drugs on Zainab and Ibrahim, we need serious measures in our airports to tame the heartless activities of drug cartels in our airports. The NDLEA commander at Kano airport gave an idea on what should be done. He said the Departure Hall's crowded nature paved the way for criminals to perpetrate their nefarious acts. Measures already taken include allowing passengers into the Departure Hall in batches for screening.
He also said airline operators were instructed to provide a form where each passenger will indicate the number of bags he or she is travelling with. The form is then duplicated and the passenger will have one and the airline operator will have the duplicate. This measure is already yielding results, the NDLEA commander said. Umoru also condemned the presence of lock-up shops and open shops within the Departure Hall, saying such arrangement can aid drug peddlers. He said the absence of modernized luggage scanning machine that can detect narcotic and psychopathic drugs for NDLEA's use at the airport was also a big challenge.
We strongly suggest that government should provide scanning facilities and retrain airport staffers in detection method. All necessary measures must be taken to prevent criminals from sending innocent Nigerians to their deaths in foreign lands.