By Murtala Adewale
Kano — Nigeria’s may continue to run foul of Saudi Arabia’s strict laws on drug trafficking unless the Federal Government revamps security checks at its airports.Last week, Saudi authorities executed a Nigerian, Kudirat Afolabi, accused of drug trafficking.
The country adheres strictly to the Islamic legal code, which imposes the death penalty on murder, drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape, and apostasy.On Friday, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, also disclosed the arrest of another Nigerian at Jeddah airport for alleged drug smuggling.
Expressing disappointment over the incident, she said: “The sad thing is that there are about 20 Nigerians on death row. Eight have been executed. Just yesterday, another Nigerian, Wahid Somade, was arrested at Jeddah airport with about 1,138g of cocaine. The latest one would be added to those that could be executed. We keep appealing to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure trial is fair.”
At an average cost of $133 per gram in Saudi Arabia, 1, 138g of cocaine would amount to $151, 354 (about N54 million at the rate of $1 to N360). This compelling financial attraction may be the reason Nigerians and other nationals attempt to smuggle cocaine to Saudi Arabia despite the death penalty.
Details have emerged of how Nigerian drug couriers bound for Saudi Arabia bypass the nation’s security checkpoints. Some of the factors aiding the activities of the drug peddlers at the airports include lack of scanners and compromise by security staff.
Most of the persons already in Saudi prisons for drug offences secured visas under the cover of pursuing spiritual purposes. The peddlers take advantage of congestions during major and lesser hajj operations and poor security checks at airports to ferry their illegal substance, only to fall into the hands of Saudi immigration officials.
Scanners exist at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja; Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos; and Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano. None of the airports where pilgrims were airlifted for the 2018 hajj pilgrimage however had the facility.
Checks on passengers and luggage were carried out manually, an obsolete practice, which makes the detection of illegal substances almost impossible. Preliminary investigations revealed that three pilgrims intercepted by Saudi officials last year departed through the Ilorin International Airport. Sources close to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) said the pilgrims who were from Lagos and Ogun states chose the airport because it lacked scanners.
There are also cases where airline workers helped to pack passenger’s luggage thereby bypassing routine checks. The service is usually rendered in return for a reward.The spokesperson of the commission, Fatima Usara, however exonerated the agency and state pilgrim boards of any complicity, insisting pilgrims undergo thorough screening before takeoff.
She blamed private tour agencies operating without NAHCON’s certification for conveying drug peddlers to Saudi Arabia.
On the lack of screening facilities at some airports, Usara said the commission could only offer advice to managers of airports, as the terminals are not under NAHCON’s sphere of control.
“It is not true that the traffickers use the hajj period most of the time. Like the reported case, it wasn’t hajj season. Most of the cases recorded were during Umrah and they do pass through unregistered private operators. We keep telling Nigerians to patronise only those registered and certified by the commission because we have control over them. As for those who operate independently, the commission is taking them to court,” Usara said.
It was learnt that the late Afolabi who was detained since 2017 did not receive legal support from relatives or the Federal Government before she was executed.Records at the Nigerian Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as at August 2018, showed that 88 Nigerians were in the country’s prisons. The detained persons have reportedly not received any relief from the Nigerian government.
An official of the Nigerian Consulate in Saudi Arabia who didn’t want his name mentioned because he was not authorised to speak with journalists told The Guardian why it would be difficult for the consulate to intervene.He said: “In most cases, the consulate is not aware of their arrest because about 90 per cent of them came to Saudi through the hajj or lesser hajj visa. And when they are arrested, we don’t know about it except a case is reported to the embassy or the consulate.
“Recently, the mission applied for data of Nigerians in Saudi prisons and it was through that record that we got details of about 80. Many have been in prison for about two years, some six months and some eight months. Sadly enough, their cases have already been determined. So, there is nothing the consulate can do about it.”
On whether, the Saudi authorities follow due process before conviction, a civil activist who is familiar with Saudi diplomacy, Mallam Mohammad Mohammad, said: “I can tell you that the Saudi government will follow all known due processes when it comes to drug trafficking because they also know what it means to indict an innocent person. That does not mean due process will not be followed. In cases where the accused persons have no legal representation, they offer legal aid.”
Mohammad called for adequate investment in security at the airports and sensitisation of pilgrims to negative implications of drug trafficking to Saudi Arabia.
“Instead of lamentation, I believe the Federal Government should swing into action to check the ugly trend. This practice is damaging our image and government can actually stop it. Government should discourage people from going to hajj except for religious purpose. Aggressive advocacy on the negative implications of carrying drugs to Saudi should be launched. “Government should provide scanners at our airports to detect these criminal activities. How much is a scanner? Even if FAAN complains of lack of funds, the state government should take up the responsibility,” he said.