Death row in S/Arabia: Guilty or not, govt should intervene, By Zainab Suleiman Okino

That 11 Nigerians are in jail, one awaiting trial, one executed and 23 are on death row in Saudi Arabia is not entirely strange. Because of the severity of the case and the country involved, not much empathy or something close to prerogative of mercy may be extended to our compatriots in trouble outside the shores of the country, but if other Nigerians are handicapped and don’t have the power to stop or question the Saudis, why is the Nigerian government aloof too?

Could it be that killings, kidnappings and other vices leading to deaths have become so common place here, such that we have lost our shared humanity and emotion?

One thing is sure; it should be noted that allegations of drug-peddling and execution of nationals of other countries outside their shores have diplomatic consequences and not treated with levity.  Perhaps some of them deserve their recompense, but for the innocent ones; a further insight into the whole saga is a revelation in inefficiency, liturgy, and bureaucratic bottleneck.

According to a report published in the Nation’s newspaper recently, out of the 11 people in jail, only two of them are age 20. Others are between the ages of four and 15 including ages five, seven and 10 years all in jail for drug related offences. Without prejudice to the Saudi Arabia’s judicial system, how on earth will a four year old child willingly traffic in drugs? What does a seven or ten year old child know about drug or its trafficking with the intent to make money?  

The answer can only be located in the collusion of some adults somewhere. The implication is some experienced adults must have worked hands in gloves to put the children in trouble. It also means that the Nigerian government is not meticulous back home and has not done enough to reach out to the Saudi authorities to ensure the children are absolved of any blame especially after the investigation conducted locally that proved their innocence.

That much was revealed in the same report as the Nigerian Consular-General in Saudi Arabia, Ambassador M.S. Yunusa’s missives to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama between December last year and February this year, pleading for intervention, was never responded to until it became too late, yet Nigeria has a robust diplomatic relation with Saudi Arabia. However, the most disheartening of it all is the possibility of the innocence of those already convicted, standing trial or might have been executed.

Now we know better. The sordid event can now be attributed to “security lapse and drug syndicate” at Malam Aminu Kano International (MAKIA) colluding with officials to use “particulars of innocent passengers and baggage tags to smuggle drugs leading to the arrest of Nigerians who had no links with drug trafficking”.

In one of the consular General’s letters to the minister also said: Following the outcome of the investigation carried out by both the NDLEA and the Nigeria Police (Kano State Command), the honourable minister was notified thus: “There exists a criminal syndicate collaborating with greedy officials of some airlines at MAKIA, notably Ethiopian and Egyptian airlines who connive to check in drug-laden bags, using passengers’ particulars without their consent or knowledge. Nigerian victims of the activities of these criminal gangs were arrested and detained in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for drug trafficking offences they did not commit”.

Explaining further, the Consular General said, “The outcome of the investigation by the Nigeria Police and NDLEA absolved these victims of complicity in the crime of peddling drugs into the kingdom. 

The investigations further established beyond reasonable doubts that the victims were unaware of the drug-laden baggage that were checked in bearing their particulars by unknown persons at MAKIA, Kano. Some of those apprehended by NDLEA and Kano State Police command have already been arraigned at the Federal High Court, Kano.”

With the groundswell of evidences of conspiracy back home, I thought it should not be too difficult for the Nigeria government to consult its Saudi Arabian counterparts to fish out those guilty and release the innocent ones. No, our officials are probably still consulting and constituting a committee to look into the issue.

Can you imagine the Saudi government doing this to citizens of America, UK or any of their trading and diplomatic partners in Europe or South America? I commend the Kano Police Command and NDLEA for a good investigative work, which comes in handy for our diplomats to use to convince the Saudis to retry or release those innocent children and teenagers. If they act fast as it were.

Excessive bureaucracy leading to delayed response in matters concerning life and death is damaging our reputation even outside Nigeria. If the government had acted swiftly, the lady in question might not have died. Now that the matter has gone viral, I urge the minister of foreign affairs and SA on Diaspora matters, Abike Dabiri to close ranks, put their petty rivalry aside and work in harmony to rescue these children in captivity in Saudi Arabia. 

Otherwise the impression out there will be that Nigerian lives do not matter, and that will be proof of the value and worth we place on the lives of Nigerians back home.

Finally government must check the activities of the criminally minded scoundrels working in MAKIA and colluding with some airline officials to turn our people into inadvertent drug couriers with grave consequences and using them as cannon fodders.

These miscreants giving the country a bad name must be checkmated; we should invest in CCTVs and insist on luggage identification by passengers before boarding. Since the NDLEA and Kano Police Command have already started a good precedent by their investigation and arraignment of some of the criminals, the noose should be tightened on would be dare-devil criminals.

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