Cause for concern – The Nation

  • FG must smash syndicates putting banned substances in travellers’ luggage at airports

It is disturbing that 23 Nigerians convicted of drug trafficking are said to be on death row in Saudi Arabia. The news followed the shocking April 1 execution of a Nigerian woman, Kudirat Adeshola Afolabi, in the kingdom, for drug smuggling. Two Pakistani men and a Yemeni man were also put to death for drug trafficking on the same day, according to the kingdom’s authorities. Convicted drug traffickers are sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.  It is noteworthy that 53 people were executed in the kingdom between January and April.

In a memo to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama,  the Nigerian Consul-General in Saudi Arabia, Amb. M. S. Yunusa, said: “There are 24 Nigerians who were condemned to death between 2016 and 2018 for drug trafficking in contravention of the Kingdom’s Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Control Law.” He added that 12 Nigerian women were currently serving various jail terms at Dhahban prison for drug smuggling.

It is a cause for concern that these Nigerians were caught trafficking in drugs.   The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Relations and the Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said of the executed woman and those on death row: “drugs were found in their bodies, including their private parts.”

Ironically, innocent Nigerians are not safe. The envoy also drew attention to “a frightening development that portends grave danger to passengers travelling to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano.” According to him, “Some criminally minded individuals working in cahoots with greedy airline officials at MAKIA, have perfected the art of checking in extra bags containing prohibited drugs, particularly Tramadol, using the particulars of innocent passengers and baggage tags presumably assigned to such passengers travelling to the Kingdom.”

This information is alarming. The consul’s corroboration of the information is equally alarming. Yunusa highlighted the case of one Ms. Zainab Habibu Aliyu, whose father had petitioned the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the Nigeria Police.  An investigation led to the arraignment of six suspects in Kano. The accused persons were “charged with conspiring to export Tramadol to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and for illegally checking in additional baggage containing the banned substance and linking same to Ms. Zainab Aliyu and Ibrahim Abubakar, passengers on board Ethiopian Airline flight ET 941/ET 402 to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on 24th December, 2018.”

Also, seven other suspects were arraigned for “tagging additional drug-laden baggage and falsely linking same to Messrs Bashir Usman Sani and Amdani Salisu Maikasuwa.”  In yet another case, some suspects were charged with “fraudulently tagging and exporting a bag containing psychotropic drugs suspected to be Tramadol using the passport details of Ibrahim Abubakar Ibrahim.”

The envoy said Bashir Usman Sani, Amadani Salisu Maikasuwa and Ibrahim Abubakar Ibrahim were released on “25th October, 2018 and 25/1/2019 respectively.” This suggests that innocent Nigerians may be criminalised and penalised for drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia. This must not be allowed to happen.  The Federal Government should ensure that innocent Nigerians awaiting trial for drug smuggling in the kingdom are released.

Based on the findings, it is necessary to improve security surveillance at the checking-in counters at airports in the country. It is commendable that the Federal Government is treating the issue with seriousness. The Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Elimination of Drug Abuse, Brig. Gen. Buba Marwa (retd), said airlines involved in instances of wrong baggage tagging would be penalised.  In addition, the trials of those accused of checking in extra baggage using the identities of innocent passengers should be treated seriously, and the guilty should be punished.

Innocents shouldn’t suffer for a crime they didn’t commit. However, the authorities should improve socio-economic conditions in the country to discourage drug traffickers whose activities give the country a bad name.

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