Nigerian student, Zainab Habib Aliyu, was yesterday released by Saudi Arabian authorities four months after she was arrested over alleged drug trafficking, which carries capital punishment in the kingdom. Zainab, a 22-year-old student of Maitama Sule University, Kano, was released to the Nigerian Consulate in Jeddah, after her innocence was confirmed to the Saudi authorities, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Amb. Suleiman L. Mustapha, said.
Amb. Mustapha, who addressed a press conference at the ministry in Abuja yesterday, said another Nigerian Ibrahim Abubakar, who faced same charges as Zainab, will also be released to the Nigerian consulate today. Zainab is expected back in the country today.
Credible sources in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria also told the Daily Trust that Saudi authorities were fully convinced that Zainab was innocent.
One of the sources said: “The Nigerian government had provided incontrovertible evidences that the girl was not aware of the luggage in which the 2000 packs of tramadol (a pain killer) were concealed.
“Secondly, President Muhammadu Buhari has enormous goodwill from Saudi authorities…In fact, the authorities believe if the girl had anything to do with the drugs, the president would not have intervened, she would have been left to pay the consequences.
“And thirdly, the girl had passed through all the necessary layers of interrogations while in custody and proved her innocence,” he said.
Another source said the prompt arrest of the culprits at the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport from where Zainab and her family members flew to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, added impetus to the negotiations that led to the release of the girls.
“None of those arrested has denied complicity and as a signatory of some conventions, the Saudi authority felt the girl should be released,” he said.
Asked if the Saudi authorities would ask for the suspects to be repatriated, he said “No, not all. The crime was committed in the shores of Nigeria. It is Nigerian Authorities that should handle it. However, one thing that is clear is that the authorities need to strengthen their procedures in their airports.”
Zainab’s journey to trouble
Daily Trust learnt that Zainab left Kano aboard Ethiopian Airline for a lesser Hajj in Saudi Arabia on December 24, 2018. She was accompanied by her mother, Hajiya Maryam Habib Aliyu and sister Hajara Habib Aliyu. They had a stop-over at Addis-Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia on December 25 before they proceeded and arrived at Jeddah on the early hours of December 26.
According to Zainab’s mother, they were conveyed from Jeddah to Madinah in buses and they arrived around 11:30am and went straight to the hotel where their agent booked for them. “But we did not stay in that particular hotel. We only went there to inform our agents that we are not staying there and the hotel we intended to stay in case they may want to look for us,” Hajiya Maryam told Daily Trust.
She said after checking into their hotel, they went straight to the Prophet’s mosque and observed Magrib prayer. “We wanted to wait until after Isha prayer, but Zainab and Hajara insisted that we should return to our hotel to have some rest. So we left the mosque to the hotel.
“On our return to the hotel, we ate our dinner and stayed for some minutes before I retired to bed and left Zainab and Hajara watching TV in the sitting room. After sometime, they also joined me in the bedroom. However, the next thing I heard was someone at the door. And when I woke up and opened the door, I saw some Arabs and two black men standing.
“They asked us some few questions related to our luggage. They asked whether we have left some luggage at the Jeddah airport and I told them we have not left any luggage. I showed all our luggage to them. They demanded to search our luggage and we allowed them because we believed we did not carry anything incriminating in our luggage.
“After searching our luggage, they also ransacked the house thinking that they get something incriminating but Alhamdulillah they did not find anything of such nature. After the search, they said they were going with Zainab for questioning because the bag they found with drugs was bearing her name.
“At the first instance, I resisted but the two black men who were fluent in Hausa language convinced me that nothing will happen to her and that the Arab people are officials of Saudi Arabian drug agency. I allowed them to go with her believing they will return her to me after questioning.”
However, since the security agents went with Zainab, the family did not hear anything from her until the next day after Maryam called the number of one of the black men that accompanied the Arabs. The man assured her that nothing bad would happen to her and promised to find out from the security agents.
“After some minutes, he called back and informed me that the security men could not question Zainab the day she was taken. He said they will allow her to pick her calls and that I should call her line. I obliged and she answered immediately, she confirmed to me that they were on their way to Jeddah.
“We did not hear from Zainab until the next day the December 27, when a lady called my line and told me that Zainab wanted to speak with me but I should buy her 30 Saudi riyals worth of credit with which I will speak with my daughter. That was how Zainab told me that she was in the prison over alleged drug trafficking,” the mother told Daily Trust.
She said Zainab’s father also immediately reported the matter to the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Federal Airport Authority of Nigerian, Nigerian Embassy and other relevant authorities.
“So, to cut it short, this is how my daughter Zainab was arrested by the Saudi Arabian authorities over alleged drug trafficking. I thank Allah who spared my life to witness this historic day in my life.
“I thank President Muhammadu Buhari and all those that have contributed to the release of my innocent daughter. My appeal to the government to ensure that this kind of thing did not happen to others in the future,” she said.
How protesters demanded Zainab’s release
Daily Trust reports that hours before Zainab was released, students’ union groups in Kano led a peaceful demonstration calling on the federal government to expedite action to ensure her release.
The protesters expressed fears that if immediate action was not taken to secure her release, she might be executed by Saudi authorities. The protest march started at 10:30am from the Kofar Nassarawa campus of Yusuf Maitama Sule University through the government house and ended at the Royal Consulate General of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Kano.
Addressing the protesters, the Secretary to Kano State Government (SSG) Alhaji Usman Alhaji, who spoke on behalf of the governor, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, called on the students to be calm and law abiding assuring them that those who framed Zainab would be prosecuted accordingly. The protesters were also at the Saudi Consulate in Kano but were denied entry into the premises.
Since the incident came to public knowledge, Zainab’s case has garnered large social media campaigns to secure her release. Only yesterday, the Senior Special Assistant to the president on foreign affairs and the diaspora, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said when the case was brought to the attention of President Buhari, he charged the Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami to build a case for the accused Zainab and secure her release.
Saraki asked to lead Senate delegation
Senate President Bukola Saraki is to lead a Senate delegation to resolve this issue of the arrest of Zainab Habibu Aliyu by the Saudi Arabian authorities on allegations of taking drugs to that country.
A Senate resolution on the matter yesterday said Saraki would lead about six other senators on the matter. Our correspondent reports that the Senate resolution came before the news of Zainab’s release broke.
The motion was sponsored by Sen Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano) and three others. Those to be part of the delegation included Gaya, Senators Abdullahi Adamu, Aliyu Wamakko, Abdullahi Gumel and Shehu Sani. It is not clear if the Senate delegation would go ahead with the mission after the release of Zainab.