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Judge’s absence stalls trial of six suspects in Zainab’s ordeal

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June 10 Fixed For Hearing

The prosecution of six cargo handlers accused of planting illicit substances in airport passengers’ luggage failed to hold yesterday at the Federal High Court, Kano, due to the absence of the presiding Judge. The accused persons- Idris Umar (alias Umar Sanda), Sanni Suleiman, Nuhu Adamu, Rhoda Adetunji, Udosen Itoro Henry and Sani Hamisu- were to be arraigned before Justice Lewis Allagoa on three-count charges bordering on conspiracy, export of illicit drugs and trafficking of unwanted substance to Saudi Arabia, contrary to the provision of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and punishable under section 14(b), Section 11(b) and Section 20(g) 2014 Act.

The Guardian observed that as at 9.45am, Court 1, where the trial was scheduled to hold, was still under lock.Although, no staff of the court was willing to speak with journalists on why the case was not coming up, Counsel to NDLEA, Aondover Nyam, told The Guardian that the trial had been fixed for a later date.

Nyam explained that the Judge’s absence might not be unconnected with other pending urgent cases awaiting his attention elsewhere.Although the suspects are presently on bail, the prosecution was optimistic that the trial, now fixed for June 10, would be given accelerated hearing.The suspects were apprehended by the NDLEA at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano (MAKIA) for conniving with notorious syndicates to plant 2,000 taps of tramadol in a luggage tagged with the passport details of Zainab Aliyu.

Zainab, a graduate of Maitama Sule University, Kano, awaiting call up to national service, was arrested in her hotel room on the basis that a luggage bearing her nametag contained the said unlawful substance.She had travelled to Saudi Arabia to perform spiritual rites of lesser pilgrimage in the company of her mother, Hajia Maryam Aliyu, and her younger sister, Hajara Aliyu, when the Arabian security accused her of unlawful possession of illicit substance uncovered in her luggage.

It took the rare intervention of the federal government and public outcry to secure the release of Zainab on Tuesday after four months in detention. Unlike hundreds of drug trafficking and other related offences Nigerian detainees still in Saudi Arabia prisons, Zainab narrowly escaped death and is waiting to return home.

Last month, Kudirat Adesola Afolabi, a widow, was executed for a similar crime and just four days afterward, another Nigerian, Saheed Sobade, was said to have been arrested in the kingdom for being in possession of 1,183 grammes of cocaine in Jeddah, showing how desperate Nigerians still risked their lives by trafficking in illicit substance despite the frightful consequences of the heinous act in the highly conservative Islamic and sharia-compliant country.

However, some of the detainees, like Zainab, are innocent of the crime, as such substances are concealed in their luggage or such luggage are tagged with their names without their knowledge or consent by criminally-minded syndicates operating at the airports of departure. Narrating how Zainab landed in Saudi custody, her father, Alhaji Habibu Aliyu, a press secretary to a former Jigawa State governor, Saminu Turaki, demanded urgent probe of the airport operators, who he claimed were responsible for the ordeals of his daughter and many innocent persons who might not be as lucky as her to be heard.

He urged the federal government to look into the plight of innocent Nigerians serving jail terms outside the country, saying some of them might be innocent of the crimes they were charged to have committed.He recounted: “My wife, Maryam Habibu Aliyu, my daughters, Hajara Habibu Aliyu and Zainab Habibu Aliyu, travelled through Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano on Monday, December 24, last year via Ethiopian Airlines, with flight number ET 941, which departed at 2.25p.m.

“They underwent normal procedure at the point of departure at the airport in my presence and that of all staff, including the agent, Haj Rabiu Umar Kazaure, of Tura Travel Agency. My wife and two daughters, with their three bags or luggage were screened and checked in and they left for the holy land, only for me to awaken the following morning, a day after their arrival in Medina, by my wife’s telephone call. “She said the security personnel came and arrested Zainab. She told me that they found a bag that was left at the airport, which did not belong to her, but was tagged with her details, including her passport number.

“So, I made contacts with concerned authorities in Nigeria and the Nigerian Embassy in Saudi Arabia and was advised by the ambassador to report to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), which I did and, today, I give Almighty Allah the glory that she survived the ordeal after four months.“We just hope justice will be done on those people that did such a terrible thing because of money. Only God knows how many people had been killed or are now languishing in prisons due to their heinous acts.”Upon receiving the petition, the NDLEA in Kano swung into action to unravel the ugly trend.

NDLEA Commander in Kano, Dr. Ibrahim Abdul, told The Guardian that the six airport handlers working at Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, were arrested in connection with the drug cartel, adding that the 2,000 taps of tramadol found in Zainab’s luggage by the Saudi authorities were suspected to have been planted by them.“Our investigation revealed how the six persons inserted the illicit drugs into the luggage of the passengers who were en-route Saudi Arabia for lesser hajj. After receiving the petition, we swung into action and from the database search, we found out that the airport handlers inserted the substance in their luggage .

“From our discovery, we found out that Zainab, her mother and younger sister, were entitled to 40 kilogrammes (kg) worth of luggage each, totalling 120kg. Unfortunately, the whole of their luggage weighed 40kg. “So, these agents and handlers found the opportunity to occupy the remaining 80kg, and that they did successfully with drug syndicates, who planted 2,000 batches of tramadol in the bags and tagged them in the name of Zainab. That was how they landed the innocent lady in trouble.”

Abdul said it took a combined team of experts of NDLEA and a sister agency to generate data and uncover the fact through airport systems, where the six persons were detected, disclosing that the suspects had been arraigned before the Federal High Court in Kano on a three count-charge.Besides Zainab, a document exclusively obtained by The Guardian at the Nigerian Consulate in Saudi Arabi indicated that 88 Nigerians were languishing in various Saudi prisons. These inmates, who have already been convicted of drug trafficking and other related offences for months, have not enjoyed the kind of public outcry and federal government intervention Zainab received.


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