Zainab Aliyu finally returned home on May 13, ending an ordeal that lasted all of six months. Zainab had earlier been released to the Nigerian Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after it became clear she was not guilty of the offence for which she was arrested. The student of Maitama Sule University, Kano, was picked up by Saudi authorities after a luggage bearing her name was found to contain a large haul of tramadol. Apparently, a cartel at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) from where Zainab, her older sister and mother had boarded the flight to Saudi Arabia, had tagged the luggage bearing the drugs to Zainab.
Her mother and sister tried to plead her innocence to the Saudi authorities but with no success and with death staring her in the face, the family had to cry to the Federal Government and the Nigerian people to intervene in the matter and prevent the execution of Zainab for a crime she didn’t commit.
Zainab’s distraught father had earlier written a petition to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). He followed up with interviews in major newspaper organisations, calling for help for his daughter. Her older sister also made an impassioned plea in a video that was posted on social media.
Following these efforts by her family, the issue soon gained national prominence. President Muhammadu Buhari intervened, instructing the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to make contact with the Saudi authorities with a view to securing Zainab’s release. Before then however, the cartel who planted the drugs in a luggage and tagged it in Zainab’s name had been apprehended at MAKIA.
These criminal elements it transpired specialise in tagging drug-laden luggage to unsuspecting travellers. Undoubtedly, the fact that the cartel members had been arrested further strengthened Zainab’s plea of innocence and obviously weighed heavily in the decision of the Saudi authorities to release the young woman.
There have been cases of Nigerians executed for drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia and it is not impossible that one or two of them might have been victims of this criminal collusion by these evil cartels at our airports. But what makes Zainab’s case a particularly cheering one is the fact that the country rose almost in unison to stand behind her. In this regard we want to commend President Buhari for the promptness with which he acted in instructing Malami to do everything to secure Zainab’s release.
This is a rare diplomatic feat for which Buhari deserves unqualified praise. We cannot readily recall any such accomplishment in a long time. That is why we find the attempt by a tiny minority of people and groups to denigrate this achievement by attempting to tie it to the release of Leah Sharibu, one of the kidnapped Dapchi Girls, as unfortunate. It has to be pointed out that negotiating with governments and shadowy terrorist organisations are two different matters altogether. So, making religious imputations in this particular instance is unconscionable.
We also want to commend the Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri- Erewa, for her effort in bringing this particular case to the front burner. Indeed, Dabiri- Erewa had earlier revealed that there were such drug cartels operating at our airports. We note her unrelenting efforts in protecting the interest of Diaspora Nigerians and those who are unfairly targeted abroad. Saudi authorities also deserve praise for their responsiveness and thorough investigation.
The newspaper organisations that took up Zainab’s case, stayed on it and made it a front page issue deserve praise as well for their doggedness and determination to see that justice was done. We also note NDLEA’s investigation and quick apprehension of the drug cartel members who tagged the luggage bearing the banned tramadol to Zainab.
We applaud their quick work but also enjoin them to intensify their efforts to rid our airports of such conscienceless operators who are prepared to send innocent people to their death for money without compunction. The six criminals who perpetrated the act and are already in police custody must be made to face the full weight of the law. We demand nothing but the maximum sentence for their nefarious activities. Again, airport and airlines’ employees must be placed under close surveillance since it has transpired that members of the cartels that specialise in planting drugs in travellers’ luggage or tagging same to them are these airport workers. Finally, travellers also have a role to play in ensuring that they don’t fall victims of devilish machinations of airport workers who are supposed to ensure seamless travel arrangements for them.
They must be more aware of their situation at airports. They should also not accept pleas by other travellers to help with their extra luggage as this is another way they rope in unwary people. The NDLEA, other relevant agencies and even the airlines themselves can carry out periodic enlightenment campaigns to sensitive travellers to the antics and tricks deployed by these drug cartels.