Zainab Aliyu as a Metaphor – By Abdulyassar Abdulhamid


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Zainab Aliyu has been flown back to Nigeria after spending four months in detention. She was detained for alleged drug trafficking by Saudi authorities.

She arrived at the Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, on Monday alongside one Ibrahim Abubakar, who was also being detained for a similar case. They must have lost some weights and have a changed mentality. Only that nostalgic feeling exhibited by their families and well-wishers on their arrival can bring an exact picture of the scenario.

Zainab Aliyu is a 22-year-old student of Yusuf Maitama University, Kano. She travelled to Saudi Arabia for a Lesser Hajj in the company of her mother and sister; but was arrested by the Saudi Police over an allegation that a bag, which was tagged in her name contained packets tramadol.

Reports have it that some callous drug traffickers in connivance with some agents at Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, planted the said drug in Zianab’s bag or, better, tagged a bag in Zainab’s name.

However, as reported, having embarked upon an investigation in connection with Zianab’s arrest, the National Drugs Law and Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) uncovered a cartel that specialized in planting drugs in traffickers’ luggage. Some arrests were made. The development of the case should be a subject for another discussion.   

Ranting, especially on social media, and peaceful protests staged by students from different institutions of learning in the state were what brought the poor Zianab Aliyu into the limelight of public discussions and spurred on the Nigerian authorities to act fast and decisively to save her life.

On Tuesday, April 30, 2019, hundreds of placards-wielding students from different institutions of learning in Kano State, in collaboration with different civil societies, took to the street to protest what they described as the unlawful detention of zainab Aliyu by the Saudi authorities.

The perspiring students in their number matched about 3 to 4 kilometers from Maitama Sule University, City Campus and stopped by Government House, Kano, before converging at the Saudi Arabia Consulate on Ahmad Bello Way to register their grievances over the detention of one their own.

Few hours away, the news of Zainab’s release from detention by the Saudi authorities and the plans of handing her over to the Nigerian mission in Saudi Arabia were broken by a TVC reporter. This automatically put down the dust raised by the issue and put smiles on the faces of Zainab’s family.

Thousands heaved a sigh of relief. The pressure put on the Nigerian and Saudi authorities by social media warriors and the protesting students had paid up. The state government and the federal government, especially the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General of the federation, who were directed by the president to swing into action, deserve some applause.

The horror – for I covered the protest and followed the saga closely – was not that disturbing until when I came back home. One aged man recounted the travails of the prisoners detained for similar case – how their fingernails are peeled off in the course of interrogation. The narrative gave a mixture of remorse, regret and sorrow.

Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Singapore are some of the countries that do not treat drug trafficking with a pinch of salt and where drug traffickers are routinely executed. What stands Saudi Arabia out is the arrival of a van that carries a convict, how he is led to the scene of public execution handcuffed, leg-chained, and blindfolded, the silent withdrawal of a sword and the swift chopping off of his or her head.

Presently, at least 23 Nigerians are on the death row in Saudi Arabia for drug-related offences. Their names were published by some newspapers. They were all convicted for contravening the ‘almighty’ narcotic and psychotropic substances control law, which attracts execution.

A fortnight before then, one Kudirat Afolabi and Saheed Sabode were convicted and executed by Saudi authority for drug trafficking related issues. They might have been guilty; but Zainab’s case is shaking the table. It raises more questions than answers.

Now Zainab, as well as Ibrahim, has escaped a public execution by the skin of her teeth. The above in mind, especially the arrest of some of the airport officials by NDLEA, the findings are casting aspersions on the guiltiness of some Nigerians arrested and executed in Saudi Arabia; therefore Zainab can serve as a metaphor.

Her misfortune, if given a pedantic look, may be a metaphor for many untold, sad stories of some innocent Nigerians who met their deaths through the malevolent mills of a skilled network of drug cartel that are sending young Nigerians to their early graves.

Zainab’s father’s version of the story is an indirect testimony to this. He told his interviewers that having received a call from his wife on the incident, he contacted the airport authorities. One effort led to another up to Roda’s confession.

In Roda’s explanation (an official of the airport), according to Zainab’s father, a bag was brought by the leader of the team and they were instructed to tag it in Zainab’s name. And Roda’s only excuse, to her, was that she was earning a living. What a woman! She would not mind killing another mother’s child for pittance.  

Notwithstanding the implications of this dastardly act, it is nothing new. Some Nigerians can go to any length to amass wealth, however illegitimate. They do not give a damn even if it involves loss of lives.

The much talked-about Zainab’s case reminds me of 2012 when my elder brother was travelling to Plymouth, London, for his postgraduate studies. Part of the counseling my late father gave him was: “Make sure you keep some amount for the personnel there, lest you miss your flight.” My father might have pre-knowledge of the dealings in our airports. Perhaps that is why the narratives of passengers missing their flights have refused to take a leave. Besides who knows how many people have lost their flights, which is born out of some orchestration?

When has this started? How many pieces of luggage were tagged in innocent travelers’ name? Is Zainab’s case the starting point? While they may be impossible questions, Zainab’s case is an eye-opener. It is pointing at something ominous in the dark.

Now the May 3, 2019 deadline given by the Saudi Arabia General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) to airliners for the submission for passengers’ allocation for the 2019 Hajj exercise has elapsed.

According to a statement by the spokesperson of the commission, Fatima Sanda, the move was pertinent to avoid repeating challenges faced during the 2018 Hajj exercise.

Intending pilgrims in Lagos State have started undergoing medical tests as revealed by Ishola Rahman, the secretary to the State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board.

On April this year, Kano State Pilgrims Board commenced induction of the intending pilgrims for the 2019 Hajj Exercise. According to the executive director of the commission, Abba Muhammad Dambatta, all the plans and arrangements for the forthcoming 2019 Hajj exercise have been concluded – other states to follow suit.  

In two months’ time, thousands of Nigerian pilgrims will be flown to Saudi Arabia for the 2019 Hajj exercise. The authorities concerned must devise some means to protect the dignity and lives of the pilgrims; and put airport personnel under check to avoid creating another Zainab.

The pilgrims must be extraordinarily vigilant. The era of that exorbitant hospitality when one keeps a bag or assortment of things for a stranger is over. Prevention, they say, is better than cure.

Abdulhamid wrote from Kano via [email protected]  

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