By Maryam Kehinde Abdulazeez
“If I knew, I wouldn’t have travelled”, was a regrettable statement from Malam Ibrahim Ibrahim.
Malam Ibrahim Ibrahim, a cleric and an indigene of Zamfara State travelled to Saudi Arabia in March 2017 for lesser Hajj also known as Umrah. Ibrahim never knew what will become of his fate as he left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia.
Upon arrival at King Abdulazeez International Airport, Jeddah, Ibrahim was held and charged for alleged drug trafficking by Saudi Arabia security operatives. He was not only surprised but shocked for such an arrest which he ended up spending three years behind the bars.
Drug trafficking according to United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is described as a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws.
So, the application of the laws varies from country to country. However, drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia is an act that the Government says it contravenes its narcotic and psychotropic substances rules. It is a capital offence, whose penalty is execution when caught.
Ibrahim, who went for Umrah, was eventually tried in Saudi Arabia and found guilty despite being innocent. This was also the fate of Zainab Habib Aliyu, a 22-year old student of Maitama Sule University, Kano who was accused and arrested for smuggling 2,000 (Two Thousand) packs of a strong pain killer (Tramadol) on the 26th of December, 2018.
Zainab also went for a lesser Hajj in Saudi Arabia with her mother, Hajiya Maryam Habib Aliyu and sister Hajara Habib Aliyu was tried for drug related offences and was found guilty.
Narrating her ordeal to a correspondent of a national newspaper., Zaynab said she became inconsolable when the Saudi Arabia officials burst into a room where she was staying with her mother for questioning over a consignment of hard substances which they said “we illegally brought into the Holy Land from Nigeria”.
She also added that she was arrested for further investigation along with one Mallam Ibrahim Abubakar over the same allegation and was taken to prison where she spent 124 days (four months).
Zainab’s release came after President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Attorney General of the Federation to take necessary action on her detention by Saudi Arabia Authorities as she was wrongfully accused of drug peddling.
She was released to the Nigerian Consulate in Jeddah, after her innocence was confirmed to the Saudi Arabia Authorities. Her release along side that of Mallam Ibrahim Abubakar was facilitated by the intervention of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM) in conjunction with Nigeria Mission in Saudi Arabia and other stakeholders.
Barely ten months after, the law took its course on Ibrahim Ibrahim the way it did on Zainab Aliyu. The Federal Government of Nigeria, on the instruction of President Muhammadu Buhari through government agencies rescued Mallam Ibrahim Ibrahim again from being executed by Saudi Arabian Authorities.
Ibrahim was tried and found guilty despite being innocent before a case of re-trial was granted. This re-trial which was facilitated by the multi- government collaboration of NIDCOM, Attorney-General of the Federation and Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Zamfara state government came up on Feb. 18, 2020 with necessary documentary evidence and he was discharged and freed of the allegation of drugs.
The delegation for this FREEDOM AT LAST include Barr. Abdullahi Bello, Head, Legal Unit of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), the Zamfara State Commissioner for Special Duties, Alhaji Mohammed Saddiq Maiturare, a team of Lawyers facilitated by Zamfara state Governor Bello Muttawale and Attorney General of the Federation made the re-trial a success story for Nigeria.
The documentary evidence provided included a written statement by NDLEA stating that they have arrested and charged three persons who planted the drugs on the defendant and a certified copy of the two counts charge sheet from the Federal High Court Kano.
The elated Chairman/CEO of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM), Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa deserves an accolade for her relentless and vibrant efforts as she directed NIDCOM’s Head of Legal Unit, Barr. Abdullahi Bello, not to come back to Nigeria without Ibrahim. And he (Bello) kept the promise….Ibrahim Ibrahim is freed at last.
Just as Zaìnab Aliyu, Ibrahim Ibrahim had been set off the hook, another Nigerian who went on Umrah and was convicted for an alleged murder of Saudi Arabia Police officer even before performing the Umrah and had been in jail for 18 years since 2002 in Saudi Arabia, Suliamon Olufemi, will regain freedom soon with the intervention of the Nigerian Parliament, Amnesty International, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NIDCOM, Ministry of Justice among others.
The bottom line is,will Mallam Ibrahim Ibrahim and others in his shoes, go for another lesser Hajj if they have the same opportunity? Your guess is as good as mine even though a holy pilgrimage to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah both in Saudi Arabia is compulsory once in a life time for every Muslim who has the means to embatk on the journey.
Maryam Kehinde AbdulAzeez writes from Media and Public Relations Unit of NIDCOM, Abuja