Zainab Aliyu was accused and arrested for smuggling packages of Tramadol into Saudi Arabia, an offence which carries a penalty of death sentence in the country.
It was later found out – after serious investigations both by the Nigerian government and Saudi Arabia, that the 22-year-old student had been wrongly accused — As she was set up by an airport drug trafficking cartel — that plant drugs in the bags of unsuspecting travellers or sometimes even tag their(travellers) particulars to bags containing hard drugs.
Zainab was exonerated and returned home last week to the joy of many Nigerians especially her family. In an interview with Daily Trust recently, she recounts her ordeal — From when she was arrested and sent to prison.
Read what she wrote below
My mother, my sister Hajara, and myself, we were sleeping in our hotel room, when suddenly some Arabs and two black men forcefully entered. They woke us up, all of us, and started asking questions about a consignment of drugs which they said we had illegally brought into the Holy Land from Nigeria. We asked what drugs and they said we left them at Jeddah Airport. Of course, we all denied the allegations and told them that we had not left any luggage at Jeddah. So, after they realized that we didn’t know anything about what they were asking us about, they searched my bag and the entire room, but they could not find anything incriminating. They told my mother that they were taking me to their office for further investigation because the consignment of drugs they found was bearing my name, and therefore I must follow them to their office to answer some questions.
I began to cry, out of a mix of fear and confusion, and my mother and sister also started crying because we all knew that we did not travel with any prohibited item into the country, not to talk of drugs. After we left the hotel, I realized that I was not the only person arrested, because I met Malam Ibrahim Abubakar, who was also arrested for the same allegation. Apparently, they arrested him first, then me. But we were taken to the office together. So, when we arrived at their office in Madinah, they gave us some forms and asked us to fill, which we did. After that, we were kept in the office until the next day.
They seized my phone, so there was no way I could communicate with my mother. In fact, at that time I was confused because I was not even myself Wallahi. I was just crying and thinking of what might happen to me, or where I would be taken to. I was completely confused. So, the next day, we were taken to Jeddah, like the security agents said, for further investigation. Again, we were given papers and directed to fill, and we did. They also snapped several photos of me, before I was taken to a female prison, while Baba Ibrahim Abubakar was taken to the male prison. I was taken to the prison located outside Jeddah, around 12am Saudi time. That’s how we were separated. You know we travelled to Saudi Arabia on the same airplane and we were arrested the same day for the same allegation, even though we stayed in different hotels. When we met, he asked me about my own situation, and I told him. He then told me about his own case, and from there we realized that we were facing a similar problem. Since then, we continued communicating, even though some of the security agents warned him to stop talking to me.
Nobody told me where I was to be taken to, and even after I was taken there, I never imagined that it was a prison, because deep inside my heart, I knew I did not commit any offense that would warrant such punishment. But after some time, I realized that I was actually taken to prison. So, I was given a room, and we were four in it. In fact, it is after I got there that one of my roommates helped me with her cell phone with which I called my mother.
After I spent three weeks there, some officials visited us and they gave us an assurance that they would do everything to ensure that we were released. But since then, nobody visited us again. They only returned to the prison the very day I was released.
Honestly, it was terrible, because you don’t have rights. You are restricted from doing so many things. You’re always thinking of your future. You have no certainty of your condition, whether you are going to be freed or not. You don’t even know your fate. So, it is a kind of life that cannot be explained; it is only when you taste it that you will understand. What shocked me the first day I entered the prison was that the inmates told me that if I was found guilty of the offence I was accused of, my punishment was death. So, understandably, I was devastated. But because my parents were always counselling me, I dedicated myself to prayers.
Well, sometimes I did, that one day, I was going to be out of the situation. But sometimes, I did give up. However, anytime I spoke with my family, they gave me the courage that yes, one day, I would certainly regain freedom. My father always told me that I should leave everything to Allah and that whatever condition I found myself in, Allah has the power to take me out of it. He always told me to have faith in Allah, and that He would surely come to my aid. And Alhamdullilah, here am I today granting you an interview, at home, in my father’s sitting room. Alhamdulillah! I thank President Muhammadu Buhari, Madam Abike Dabiri, and the Minister of Justice, Justice Malami, and all others who in one way or the other contributed to my release. To my fellow students at Yusuf Maitama Sule University, and other tertiary institutions, who showed real love to me while I was held, I say thank you all.