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Welcome home Zainab Aliyu

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Zainab Aliyu (middle), with officials of Nigerian Consulate in Jedda, shortly after her release…

Many Asian countries including Saudi Arabia and Singapore impose the capital punishment on drug trafficking. This has not deterred dare devil traffickers from trying their luck in these countries as the ‘rewards’ are extremely bountiful if successful. Many Nigerians have been killed in that continent for alleged drug peddling with the government doing little or nothing to intervene on their behalf. Only recently, a Nigerian woman was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for drug running. When the news broke out of the arrest of Zainab Aliyu for drug running in Saudi Arabia, many Nigerians were apprehensive that another execution was looming. She was a student who had gone on the lesser hajj and was arrested in a Medina hotel for the alleged possession of illicit drugs. Her father was an influential journalist who had once held a position with the Nigerian Union of Journalists and he used his clout to reach out to President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on the Saudi authorities to release his daughter unconditionally.

For the first time the Ministry of Foreign Affairs swung into action and diplomatic efforts were put in motion to secure her release and the release of one Ibrahim Abubakar who was also in detention for an alleged similar offence. The office of the Presidential aide on Diaspora Affairs was also active in securing their release. I was skeptical initially on the success of these efforts given Buhari’s antecedents on the issue of drugs. We recall that as the military head of state in 1984, he executed three young alleged drug offenders. As a devout Muslim, I also wondered if he would want to ruffle feathers against his spiritual home. There were investigations conducted by the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency and the Airport Authorities at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano and it was discovered that there was a cartel that specialized in planting illicit drugs in the luggage of travelers without the knowledge of the latter.

In the case of Zainab Aliyu, it was tramadol that was placed in her luggage. Tramadol is an illicit drug but not as deadly as either cocaine or heroin. We can’t say if her fate would have been different if any of the aforementioned two substances were found in her suitcase. Zainab had an influential father who incidentally is a northerner like the President. He was known to have personally met with the President who assured him that all was well. What if she was the daughter of a talakawa who just managed to scrape money to go to Mecca? Would she have been able to secure the much needed audience with Buhari? Can we rule out the man know man network rather than her being released because she is a citizen of Nigeria whose life is highly cherished especially abroad? If in reality there is the existence of a drug cartel does that mean that some Nigerians who didn’t have connections in high places would have been innocently executed?

Some tribal jingoists opine that there was an intervention on their behalf because they are Hausas. Their membership of this favoured tribe who can do no wrong and who were born to rule couldn’t be subjected to the indignity of being executed with ignominy in a foreign land. They posit that most Nigerians who get killed for drug running abroad were the non Hausas.They didn’t receive as much attention as either Zainab or Ibrahim. Some even went down memory lane and said that none of the three executed young boys in 1984 was Hausa. April 30 and May 1 will remain evergreen days for both Zainab and Ibrahim as it was the days they cheated death which boldly stared them in their faces. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is sustained by tax payers should make strident efforts to intervene in genuine cases of framed up Nigerians who are implicated in drug running. We shouldn’t wait to have connections to Mr. President before a precious life is saved. The office of the Diaspora Affairs should also work hand in hand with the Foreign Affairs Ministry to ensure that no innocent life ever gets lost especially those of the voiceless who have nobody to speak up for them.

We recall when Miyetti Allah said that the life of a cow is more valuable than that of a human being and there was conspiratorial silence from the Northern leaders. The government mustn’t give the impression that certain tribes are second class citizens if this nation is to move forward and to the next level. All Nigerians irrespective of tribe or religious leanings must be made to feel like first citizens whether at home or abroad. We need to emulate how the west protects her citizens abroad. Sometimes, even when they are guilty of offences or crimes, the relevant authorities still plead for clemency and reprieve so that no life is lost. We must see ourselves as Nigerian citizens first before our various tribes. This was what Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, one of the nation’s founding fathers lived and preached and this wonderful legacy must not be allowed to perish.

This drug cartel is as deadly as boko haram and the government must dedicate some resources as a matter of urgency to fight them to a standstill. Every life is precious and travelers must not be made to travel in fear. The cartel must be destroyed totally so that the innocents don’t get to pay for crimes which they didn’t commit. The Nigerian citizens must feel their government presence in their travelling lives so that there is no cutting back on travels just because of the fear of being unjustly detained and executed. There should be a systematized way that the offices in charge of Diaspora Affairs and Foreign Affairs deal with these cases. This should also extend to citizens on death row who are unjustly detained in foreign jails. Efforts should be made to get them out and if push comes to shove assist in their return back to Nigeria with the provision of a buffer for them to live meaningful lives. We welcome back home Zainab Aliyu and Ibrahim Abubakar as they reunite with their families. It is my sincere wish that under no circumstances should any innocent life gets lost to the chopping block or executioner’s axe.

William Shakespeare said ‘All is well that ends well’. The government shouldn’t rest on its oars to ensure that all lives of Nigerians are well protected abroad.

• Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos.


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